Friday, July 3, 2009

Courses, credits and colons

I have been a 'closet writer' and have only stepped out recently and began the journey. Having read most the answers to my question on your blog, a few still elude me.

Question One and Two: To be a writer (or published writer) would it be benefical to undertake some sort of study in this area? E.g. Bachelor Degree or other writing course? Also, by doing these course/qualifications, does it add more credit to you as a new writer? I have completed a few writers' workshops and online courses. The advantages of participating in a writer's camps etc are geographically difficult. Though not an impossibility.

I know that I need to improve on my grammar and puncuation (however, I can only assume that, to a certain point, that this is what editors do well and get paid for). Which brings me to my third question: I am wondering if I should hone these skills, before I continue my writing or just continue with the flow of words?

Answer One: Courses are beneficial for some writers because the writers then have enforced deadlines and structures, and that can help them get into a writing rhythm or finish a manuscript that they've otherwise left alone for too long. I do not believe that courses can 'make' a writer if they don't inherently have a talent for it, much the same way I do not believe that taking singing lessons every weekend for the rest of my life will make me Ella Fitzgerald Mark II. I also don't believe that courses/diplomas can give you the storytelling spark if you don't naturally have it. It's a bit like trying to be a professional ballet dancer with short hamstrings - it ain't gonna happen. That should not stop anyone from doing a course, though, if the experience gives them pleasure. And you won't know if you have that storytelling spark unless you give the writing thing a go - if you choose to do that within the structure of a course, then that's great. However, a lot of writers I represent have never been within sight of professional writing credentials.

Answer Two: No, it doesn't add credit - at least, not for me. Your writing has to speak for itself. If you've done ten years of courses and your writing is still no good, that's going to make me (a) think the courses don't work and (b) wonder why ten years of adult education didn't help you, personally, improve.

Answer Three: Anyone who has read Lynne Truss's Eats Shoots & Leaves will know that she believes that punctuation is simply good manners, and I agree. Punctuation provides a road map for your reader and if it's absent or misused then the reader is likely to get lost. Grammar, on the other hand, is a murkier subject. A lot of modern English usage is not grammatically correct. That's probably because a lot of us weren't taught grammar in school - I had an English teacher who wistfully told us that she'd love to teach us grammar but she wasn't allowed. In fact, the first real experience I had with the rules of grammar was when I learnt foreign languages. Thus, the Queen's English has been on a slippery slope to Bedlam. And that's quite all right, because while grammar is like punctuation in its road-map qualities, it's also there to say, 'Psst - there's a short cut.' Colloquial grammar is quite acceptable and accepted. BUT if your grammar AND your punctuation aren't all correct and present, that's a problem, because then how do you keep your reader on the road and heading for the right destination? Can your writing really flow if it is, in fact, off-road racing? Don't you hit trees and rocks?


Anonymous said...

If I read one more writer's description of starting a book as 'beginning the journey' I will begin the journey - to the gunshop.

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Desolie said...

Well said!
As an editor of business and technical writing, I'm constantly telling my clients that they will lose their readers if the document is not easy to read. That means good grammar and punctuation.
Yes, I help them with those details, but they need to know what they're wanting to say.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of some of the contents in the post, at least the person had the courage to ask the questions (as some a considered valid) and for all of those writers who are on their 'journey', it may come down to talent (blood, sweat and tears),the shifting trends of the industry, perhaps the likes/dislikes of the agents or publishers and sometimes it may come down to a bit of luck (being in the right place/right time scenario). Whatever your aspirations for writing, at least give it a go, make sure you follow the submission guidelines for any agency/publisher and realise that it will take some time.
'May the words flow for all of you'.

Zara Penney said...

Ann-kpn should consider conducting a course in persistence. It will keep the one brain cell they possess busy and out of mischief.

Punctuation is important to help the flow. For me it is suicide if the reader, for whatever reason, has to double back to re-read something they didn't understand.

Grammar - this will be the main aim in order to get published. Without good grammar it isn't going to work.

Unfortunately for most of us, the sixties saw in the loss of the mechanics of grammar and it's almost a lost art for anyone who isn't about 60 years old and above.

However, I know my language and what works and what doesn't so even though I may not always be able to explain it, I know it like a blind person can use braille and a deaf person can use sign language.

I found that courses don't always guarantee success. In fact sometimes I wonder whether they can destroy a writer's voice, or squash spontaneity.

Once I took tennis lessons. I was quite good at it especially backhand. I didn't get better. In fact I got worse. My amateur backhand, innocent and spontaneous was turned into a "I know what I'm doing wrong but for the life of me I can't do it right".
I gave up tennis and went back to the library to get my exercise.

I keep going back to some very wise words told to me by an art teacher.

Those that can - do. Those that can't - teach.