So on the 28th April I began the Start Writing Fiction course offered by the Open University’s Free Future site. This is a course that aims to encourage people to start writing who may not have any experience, but I thought it might be useful to follow the exercises and develop my skills whilst also getting some peer feedback.
The community has been great – not only have I connected with other budding writers on Twitter but there is also a Facebook group that is pretty lively and very supportive. The modules are short, some only involving watching a short video whereas others ask you to write something in response. So far we’ve been focusing on character based on observation and working up a character sketch from this.
However, I’ve found it very difficult to adapt my current approach – write first, edit later – to writing a short piece and then consistently going back to add layers of particular detail based on what you learn from reading extracts from other authors. I’ve actually begun to really resent the character I created because I’ve had to go back to the description of her three or four times and find things to add. My typical technique when starting with character is to put them in a situation and see how they react – that’s how I learn more about them. However, the method the course is trying to build upon is one of minute detail, making observations and using those in your writing to create an accurate and intriguing portrayal of character.
I think what has struck me is that this is not a method that is working for me, and if I didn’t know better I might think that I couldn’t – or shouldn’t – be writing. Only today I posted a comment after struggling so much with one of the week 2 tasks – of comparing my character to those of other, established, writers and incorporating yet more nuances – to say that I didn’t think that the course was for me. Fortunately, I’ve had reassuring remarks from my fellow students advising me not to adhere so rigidly to the course outline if it isn’t working, but rather learn what I can and leave the rest.
The course begins with a reminder that all writers are different and have various techniques and methods to how they approach and think about their writing, and yet the process of the module seems to be taking a very particular path that may not suit individuals. Especially, if like me, they are doing their best trying to follow the advice provided at each step on the course and not fall back into habitual ways. Rather than accepting the multiple ways of creating character, this second week appears to be offering only one option: of building a character through observation, detail and description before inserting them into a story. For me this isn’t how I work: I find a character and the seed of a story and put them together to see what happens.
I don’t know if the next few weeks will explore other methods that might suit me better, but if it continues in this vein I may very well end up simply reading course material to learn what I can and not participating in the writing much at all. As a writer I have my own techniques, and while I’m open to trying new things, if I’m struggling and resenting the writing exercises set during the course then it’s clearly not working for me in that respect.
So far, then, the course isn’t really striking the right balance between creative license and creative guidance for me – they are guiding, but only down a particular route and it’s not one that I’m inclined to follow if I feel it is compromising my ability to be creative.
I’ll keep you updated.