No one holds a gun to our heads and forces us to write but, for me, the writing habit is impossible to kick. Harder than the bottle of Prosecco in my fridge that will be empty before bedtime. On a bad day, the urge to write feels like a disease: a virus that inhabits my body and steals my soul. When writing is going badly, feelings of rejection can be crippling. It’s tempting to despair, press delete or stick an unfinished novel in a drawer. But do we give up? Of course not.
Perhaps – like me - you’ve been a secret scribbler since you were seven years old, garnering some praise along the way. Maybe you’ve won a competition or your work has been published. Nothing compares to the buzz of receiving that email or phone call saying: We’d like to publish your story. That’s it - you’re hooked.
Suppliers and Dealers
Out on the mean streets there’s no shortage of suppliers waiting to feed our craving and relieve us of our cash. Creative Writing courses are booming: undergraduate and masters degrees, plus a proliferation of short courses from reputable providers like the Arvon Foundation. Other respected organisations, such as the Guardian and Faber Academy offer master classes so demand from punters must be strong.
Given that many full-time, professional authors struggle to make a living from their books, a cynic might suggest that some of those courses exist to provide lecturing roles for writers to supplement their income.
Going Down to Rehab
Confession time. I was one of those suckers who gave in to temptation, parted with £4,500 and signed up for an MA in Creative Writing. As the family breadwinner, I’d laboured for years in a profession that was dusty, dry and uncreative. I wrote in my spare time but felt as if I was sleep walking through life. Like other addicts, I put my whole family at risk. I left corporate life and became a student. My income plummeted from comfortable to zero but, fortunately I picked up well-paid part-time work alongside studying for my masters.
So, was I lured in and fleeced by the university? Absolutely not. The screening process was robust. We had to submit a preliminary portfolio of writing so everyone on the MA course had talent; we learnt from each other and the shot of inspiration continues to feed my addiction. Perhaps keeping on writing is a struggle and you’re thinking of giving up? Before you go cold turkey, you might want to try one of the study options as a quick stimulant. If you choose a masters degree, don’t expect to be cocooned in a hushed clinic environment. You’ll be nurtured, but you’ll also be challenged. Feedback on your work from lecturers, colleagues and visiting writers will be robust. You’ll be boiled and grilled in public but your writing is guaranteed to improve.
Next time I’ll discuss developing a thick skin and coping with rejection when you send your novel out to agents and enter writing competitions.
The Modern Slavery Helpline run by the charity Unseen UK is at risk of closing if new funding can't be raised. I'm re-sharing a blog I wrote recently for Unseen that explains why I support their work. If you want to help the appeal, the link to their website is below.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me an advance copy of The Rule Breaker's Guide to Step Up and Stand Out by saxophonist, poet, speaker and performer, Georgia Varjas. Here is my review.
This article first appeared as a guest post as part of my blog tour for Lies Behind the Ruin. I'm grateful to Books, Life and Everything for hosting me and have included the link to the website.