Since the pub conversation and subsequent plotting (described here https://readingroomcafeproject.com/2017/01/08/writing-workshops-and-courses/ ) I have been trying to think about how it would work. It would work with just 3 students, but would be better with more. It’s obviously something I’d love to do, something that would be worthwhile for both me and my students, but how can I make it work? Who would my students be? Would advice from a publisher and author be enough? Do you need to be a somebody in order to impart knowledge this day and age? Will people listen to the ghost writer who rejected a living in traditional publishing and “work for hire” in favor for artistic control?
The who part, as I read into it, of my students is a little more complicated than I’d thought. The idea is that everyone has a novel in them, so I might not just be working with people who are already confident in their talents. Good. I like writers, but I like little old ladies with ideas and board teachers and pissed off bankers and housewives and stay at home dads and delivery drivers and shop keepers and personal trainers, music conductors and professional dog walkers and everyone in between too. Who might want to write a novel in their spare time but isn’t confident enough to start, or contact publishers? Everyone. Well, anyone, at least.
The thing is, I would ideally want about 10 students but I couldn’t have a group of more than 15 – that would be the limit, but I wouldn’t test people. They wouldn’t be admitted based on previous experience or academic success, because those things aren’t an indicator of anything, other than previous experience or academic success. They would have to be able to get to Bury, near Manchester, once a month for 4 hours on a Sunday. They would have to want to write a novel. That is all.
I think the main thing I will need to do is to be prove that my methods work for at least me as a writer – the actual writing and production of the book. I’ve got the second in the series of my children’s novel coming out soon, so obviously I can write quickly and produce the books. So that’s sorted. But how do I do it? I have been having a think about how I would go about teaching this course and as far as I can see it’s all about the plan. I’m quite like a lot of other writers who work quickly in that I use very detailed plans. With huge gaps so that I can come back and add or move things. I think that that’s important. So the first of my 12 sessions would be on planning, among other things; story telling exercises; descriptive writing practice; lists of things we hate to see in other people’s work and how to avoid them in our own.
I was a story teller, once upon a time, that must count for something, too. I used my degree in Education Studies and English to go out there and tell stories, mainly to little children, but I earned a living at it, for a while.
One thing that I haven’t done well for myself that I wish I’d had the contacts, confidence and group support to do is to get the word out. That’s what I’d do with my group from day one. They’d all interview 4 of their classmates for their blog. They’d conduct the interviews with 4 different classmates each month and release them one a week on a blog – cross promotion. That’s one thing that I wish I could have done for myself, but I just don’t know any other novelists.
And they would have other promotional homework too – a youtube channel, where they could talk about their process and progress and use the fact that it was homework as a convenient excuse to shamelessly self promote. I am far too shy to get on the web and say “hey! this is how I do it, this is where I’m up to, this is an extract form my book.” I would have done it if I had some other pretext. I will do it if I make this class work – the pretext will be I’m being an example for my class. I would be more comfortable doing that.
Another reason my course would work would be the group itself. The incentive of other people knowing the plan. Everyone else on the course would know that you had a novel in you and intended to produce it within a year. They would encourage each other, but it’s more than that. When I decide to do something that I’m likely to try to back out of I tell other people that I’m going to do it. When I decided to go move to Thailand I knew that I’d try to back out, so I told everyone that I was going. It was, for various personal reasons, a short lived adventure. But I made myself do it by having that extra incentive of not wanting to loose face.
The second session would have the 4 interviews but would also start the group critique process. They would each share their plan and make revisions based on the notes they’d been given. At this stage they would probably need heavy input from me on the notes they give each other, but eventually they would become more confident about helping each other out.
Each month there would be exercises and workshop activities that would produce bits of work that could be added to the novel (or not) as the students worked. They would also bring in extracts of their work and help each other to improve either in technique or confidence. They would proof read short sections of each-other’s work. The students would be asked to write 10,000 words before each session. It sounds a lot, but it’s less than 400 words a day, and I’ve been known to write 15,000 words a day when I was a ghost writer. It was a long day, I drank a boat load of tea and the quality wasn’t as it could have been, but that’s what editing’s for and I needed the money.
Between the sessions I would do a weekly catch up with each of my students by email or phone to keep track of progress -how much have you written? Have you done your weekly blog yet? Where are you up to with your youtube? How are you doing? Actually, human you, not writing student you, how are you doing? That helps me – if I know someone will check. I’ll also set up a forum for them to connect with each other outside class. It’ll be somewhere to offer or ask for support and guidance – Should my character be doing this? I haven’t written anything this week and I feel like shit. Does anyone know how I should add a little tension to my story? I had a crap day at work.
The 11th session would be the hand in day. I’ll bring each of them 3 cover designs to choose from, unless they’ve already decided to make their own. The group will help each other to choose their covers. The exercises will be writing different styles of blurb for their books and different author bios for the inside front cover. Then they’ll help their classmates to choose – this bit needs the students to have control too – that’s the point of rejecting conventional publication.
In the last session the students would all have to interview everyone. It will probably over run. I’d talk to them about contacting papers, distributors, shops, setting up co-operatives of their own, printing costs and selling online. I would be so proud. It would be like the feeling I get when my competition books get sent out and those writers who deserve to be able to hold their books in their hands actually get a chance to. I love that. It’s like joy. Like putting a little bit of joy into the hands of a stranger.
The website http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/21-ways-promote-your-event-or-workshop has some fantastic ideas on how I could promote my course, so I’m going to make myself do those 21 things. I’m telling people, so I have to do it now. Each day I’m going to do something from the list – this has been one of them. I might try to work out how to work youtube…later.
If you’ve made it this far and have any ideas I would love to hear them. If you think it wouldn’t work, tell me why. If you think I’ve missed something, tell me what. If you have any ideas on promotion, let me know. What would you want from a course like this?