Future Learn: Start Writing Fiction – How can you approach learning something you already know how to do?

OUFiction courseSo 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.




11 responses to “Future Learn: Start Writing Fiction – How can you approach learning something you already know how to do?

  1. I too am taking the course, but I don’t feel compelled to follow any instructions that don’t work for me. Rather than going back to develop my characters further, I have worked on new pieces that allow me more freedom. I will go back to any of the pieces and characters I feel are compelling, but then and only then. Meanwhile, I don’t rely on feedback from the group because the number of students in the course is large. Even though I am following others and being followed, this has not engendered the regular feedback I had hoped to give and receive. Nevertheless, having a course to follow is compelling me to write daily, as well as read the myriad books I have on various writing topics including character, dialogue, and plot development. There are other writing courses that provide more instructor feedback, but generally they are not inexpensive. That said, one of my writer friends, after taking one of these more expensive courses, won a short fiction contest – she said the instructor comments and suggested edits made all the difference in her polished final prize-winning product. So…it’s all a process, and part of that process is figuring out what works and does not work for us. Hope to bump into you over on Future Learn. 🙂

  2. Pingback: The ambitious curve of learning | Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

  3. Many of the people on the FL course are genuinely just starting out writing, but there are plenty of us on there who have quite a lot of experience. I’m participating for the same reasons as yourself, to see if there’s something I can learn – cos we can always be learning! I enjoyed the peer review this week, too 🙂

    • I agree, we should always be open to learning. I think it’s difficult to guide someone through the process of writing, as we are all so different and certain techniques don’t always work for some.
      It’s definitely great to read all the differing responses to the exercises, I suspect I’ll learn just as much from observing how others approach the task as I will from the course content.
      Hope you continue to enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting – will look out for you on the FL site (though there are hundreds of contributors!)
      Take Care, Cat

  4. I’m doing the same course and sharing the same feelings. During the first exercise I rather rushed off the character, not realising he would become a commitment. Like you I have found it difficult to add details or go ‘deeper’ but stuck with the exercise anyway, if only because I want to learn to be a better writer. I’m sure diligence will reap rewards. And at least I will learn what works for me and what doesn’t.

  5. Definitely be gentler to yourself. Just remind yourself that you are trying this approach on for size. Maybe it might help if you look at it as a way to somehow tweak the process you are already comfortable with – instead of trying to adhere too strictly to it. This might be bad advise but always trust your Muse, she knows what’s best for you! x

    • Thanks Rilzy, think that you might be right. Adapt the approach to make it way for me…muse needs to be happy after all. 😉
      Appreciate you stopping by to offer support.
      Take care, Cat x

  6. Sorry to hear that you’re having difficulties. But it’s only two weeks in – there may be more freedom later on. And you’ve already gained something if you’ve been enjoying the community aspect so much.

    • That is very true. Writing can be quite a solitary act and I don’t think I would have got this far without the support and advice of many of my writerly friends. It’s always great to find new people with similar interests who may be going through comparable issues.

      And yes, it is only week two. I shan’t be giving up, but perhaps I need to be a little gentler on myself. After all, I’m supposed to be doing the course because I enjoy writing!

      Thanks for stopping by and reminding me what I AM getting out of the course. 🙂
      Take Care, Cat

  7. I am sorry you are struggling so much at something you were hoping to enjoy. I recently started doing a writing course as well. I am only on week one of an eight week course on character development. The down side to the one I am doing is it is a paid course, but it was only $27. There are some free resources on the website too. http://www.creative-writing-now.com I have enjoyed it so far creating character sheets (which I never do), but I have learned stuff about my secondary characters based on the driving forces behind my main character. Hope your course gets better.

    • Thanks Amanda. Might have to check those out. I think it’s just the methods that aren’t working well for me and that I need to stop trying so hard to complete the assignments exactly as they expect me to and start putting my individual approach in place. I’ve created character sheets before and find them quite useful.
      Thanks for stopping by to reassure me with a comment. Hope your own course goes well. Thanks for the link.
      Take Care, Cat

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