Lessons from Laura Jane: what #SRSummerSchool taught me

If you followed me on Twitter or Instagram throughout the month of July, it’s likely you noticed that about 80% of my updates included the hashtag #SRSummerSchool.

Throughout that month I took part in Laura Jane Williams‘s first online creative writing course, ‘Don’t be a Writer, be a Storyteller’. This was my second foray into Laura’s ‘classroom’ after attending my first course with her in November. I learned an awful lot from both.

Yes, #SRSummerSchool taught me about practical solutions to writing problems and introduced me to new techniques and perspectives – but it was so much more than that. I learned about myself, my writing habits, motivation and passion. I discovered my weaknesses and my strengths on and off the page.

Since finishing the course, I feel more passionate about writing, and I’ve got my mojo back; I’ve rediscovered my thirst for creating and putting thoughts on paper, and I feel like I can finally start taking my poetry and thought pieces seriously. Even my Instagram captions have improved (I think!).

So, what did I learn from Laura Jane in July?

#SRSummerSchool

Writing every single day, to a deadline, is hugely beneficial

A bit of an obvious one to start with. During the course we had to write numerous exercises each week, before submitting a final piece by 9am on Mondays. Having deadlines again kept me on my toes and for that month I spent most of my weekends working through the tutorials and trying to nail the coursework briefs.

This pressure gave me a taste of what I should be doing; making writing an everyday habit, a ritual and an obligation. Each week I felt more focused, and saw an improvement. I need to keep that up.

Forcing out words can be unexpectedly successful

Following neatly on from the above…I realised that I have to write even if I don’t feel like it.

There were times when I started a few of the tasks with a heavy heart and cotton-wool brain, lacking in ideas or motivation…but then ended up writing something that surprised me – like this post.

Forcing words out can result in some good quality pieces, and I should do it more often.

Courses like this introduce you to a vast community of like-minded, lovely people

We know this already, really. So many of us have formed friendships with people we’ve only ever met from behind the safety of a keyboard, but taking part in this course has really made a difference to my online community.

I’m now following so many more like-minded writers from around the world online; we also have groups on Whatsapp and Facebook to share writing, thoughts and updates, even discussing who’s drinking what to celebrate the weekend!

Everyone who took the course has such a supportive and nourishing attitude and we keep each other posted on successes and hurdles, offering advice and a proverbial pat-on-the-back to celebrate achievements and milestones.

Not only that, but my God they’re talented. My twitter feed is now rich with quality thought pieces and creative short stories, and they inspire me continually, even now that we have formally ended our studies!

The #SRSummerSchool lot are a good bunch and I really hope we continue to stay in touch. Finding a community like this is such an important part of writing, but I would never have known if I hadn’t joined in!

Accepting weakness is a huge step forward in writing well

The thought of writing dialogue fills me with dread. Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but I really don’t enjoy it. Despite both courses I’ve taken having discussed and practiced THAD (the Talking Head Avoidance Device) I still have trouble transforming my dialogue from a dull verbal tennis match to a work of conversational art.

However, without these courses I would have continued to blindly write mundane exchanges between characters without the desire to improve. Now I know it’s a weakness, I can focus more energy and effort on getting better in this area.

I haven’t mastered it yet, but now I’ve got the tools and knowledge to do so.

Adverbs aren’t all that; really, honestly, truly, completely

I never realised how much I used adverbs until my editing partner and Laura pointed it out. Using adverbs – ‘ly’ words – just stamps down the point you’re making even harder, and it’s unnecessary. You’re basically (oops) ramming your writing down your reader’s throat.

I’m trying to use them less. In fact, I’m paranoid about using them now; taking them out of my work makes my writing more direct and concise. Even if I am not confident in my writing, it should at least sound as though I am!

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs” – Stephen King

Writing is hard work; success is not instant

Just because you feel you were ‘born to write’, it won’t just happen. There are always ways to improve, and there will always be someone who nails it before you do.

Just as you allegedly have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find ‘the one’, you also have to write a lot of crap before you hit gold.

During the course I learned that good writing won’t just automatically appear as soon as my pen hits the paper; there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes of great writers, just like in any form of art. Practice really does make perfect.

It may seem like authors merely need to put words on a page to create magic, but it hasn’t come easily; it’s time for some hard work!

Criticism doesn’t mean you’re incompetent

One of the biggest challenges that came with this course was receiving regular, honest and focused feedback from Laura and my peers.

I’ve always found it hard to face criticism; as a perfectionist I find it difficult to accept that what I’m making or writing might not be the best. This has been one of my flaws since childhood; I don’t like being told off, and I don’t like underachieving.

It seems, however, that I am finally learning to ‘grow up’.

Each of my pieces were returned to me with suggestions of improvements, pointing out what didn’t work, with blunt and honest comments.

Instead of feeling despondent, or taking things personally, I felt determined to improve and master those tricky parts, and learn from my mistakes.

Write outside of your comfort zone

In week three, I was encouraged by Laura to dip my toe into sci-fi – a genre so far out of my comfort zone it genuinely may as well be in space.

I tried – hard – and while the end product wasn’t awful, it certainly isn’t where my future in writing lies! I won’t be publishing poets on AI and martians any time soon, that’s for sure.

Despite this, I still learned a lot, and it was worth it. If anything, it means I’m now more likely to try new things to see if I can surprise myself. Maybe my future is in children’s books, or non-fiction – I won’t know until I try!

The end goal doesn’t have to be a novel

I would love to write a novel, but at the moment it’s not looking likely, for various reasons. However, I’ve still been able to use the storytelling techniques I’ve learned from this course in blog posts, poems, at work and even Instagram captions.

Everything I write needs to be carefully crafted, and each social media post can be a mini story in itself – microblogging is booming, and it’s a great way to practice.

Write about what you know, like you don’t

My favourite exercise during the month was one focusing on defamiliarisation. I love to write about my personal experiences, drawing on real people and situations, but it can be overdone, or even a little ‘too close to home’.

Simply looking at something / someone in a new light, as if I had never noticed it  / them before, can create something that is so much more exciting. Some of my best pieces came from this exercise, and it’s the one I’m most keen to continue with.

I’m going to work with this more. and try to see the familiar through a new perspective.

 


 

I’m hoping to finally publish some of my pieces from the course over the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled. You can already read the results of one of my exercises here.

If you want to rekindle your love of writing after a lull, or dip your toe into taking things further, I can’t recommend taking one of Laura’s courses enough. You can find out more by subscribing to her course alert emails. Thank you Laura!

 

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from Laura Jane: what #SRSummerSchool taught me

  1. Ed A. Murray says:

    This is a fantastic post and great advice! There are so many generic advice articles out there for writers, but this one certainly stands out as original — probably why the course was so beneficial to you. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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