Can you write right?

It's Sunday. That means it's Week 4 of term. There's only 11 days left until my 21st birthday. And only 296 days until The Bone Season! We're finally in the 200s.  

I've spent the week writing an essay on the influence of daguerreotypes on Emily Dickinson, which appealed to the gramophone-obsessed vintage lover in me. I've also been hard at work at what I hope will be the very last round of edits. I'm still working on a few suggestions from Imaginarium. It's taken a bit longer than I expected, as I've been juggling two essays a week alongside it, but I think I can do it tonight. I think. (As usual, I say that with great optimism)  

This week I'm going to be talking about Creative Writing as a field of study. But first, a few updates on The Bone Season.    


Thank you so much to all of you for your kind comments on last week's Big News. I'm so excited to have been able to share it with you at last!  

The next Big News will most likely be the cover reveal. Bloomsbury USA and UK have finally agreed on one global design, which they showed me last week. At first I was shocked by the changes they'd made – the colour palette is now very different – but after looking at it for a few hours, I've decided I love it even more than the first design. It's perfect. I hope you like it as much as I do! 

I'm happy to report that I've almost finished the edits. Melissa asked if this round has been primarily structural, or whether it's been mainly changing small words. It's definitely been structural. I've made some changes to the ending again – endings are always tricky – and made more of the relationship between the main characters, creating a slightly different tone. If I finish tonight I'll be thrilled.

On to this week's topic, prompted by Zac. I'm going to chat about writing being taught as a professional subject, and whether it's worth taking a course.   


Creative writing 

Other than your current studies, have you studied a writing course and what are your views on them? (

This is the classic nature-nurture question. Creative Writing was first introduced to the UK in 1970, as a Master's degree at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Clearly there were writers before 1970 who received no professional instruction – but as the market grows more competitive, do modern writers benefit from it? 

I've never taken a professional class in CW. Most are very expensive, competitive and often time-consuming, and as a student I simply wasn't able to afford it. I was considering taking an MSt in Creative Writing before I got the Bloomsbury deal, as they'd just introduced the course to Oxford and I was interested in staying on for grad study, but it was mainly because I was lacking confidence after Aurora was rejected. I needed someone to tell me that my writing was good, or publishable. I wanted an experienced eye to pick out my mistakes. In the end I realised it was the awkward perspective and underdeveloped characters that had affected Aurora, not my style. 

In my first year at uni I wrote a short essay on the study of English Literature. I was curious about why we are 'taught' to read, but not to write. It seemed to me that more emphasis was placed on the critical side of English than the creative. There's quite a lot of academic snobbery around Creative Writing, and confusion about whether it's a craft or a discipline, like geography or maths. You can certainly be taught the basics of making sentences flow: syntax, punctuation, that sort of thing. But that's just writing. This is creative writing.  

I see writing as a subjective craft. It is absolutely unique to each person and each reader. Some people think Ulysses is a classic; others can't make sense of it. The written word is personal in a way that fact-based disciplines are not. There is no right or wrong answer. But couldn't we say the same thing about art or dance, both of which are taught at GCSE and A-Level? If we can teach someone to paint or sing, why can't we teach them to write?   

Kazuo Ishiguro
In an interesting 2007 article, Professor Russell Celyn Jones, director of Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, says his field of study "is the more engaging way to impart to students what literature is: a living subject. Writers know what it is like to live inside the novel; academics know what it's like to live outside it". I can't speak from the perspective of someone who's studied CW, but as an English Literature student and a writer, I can see his logic. English Literature approaches a text from outside; it encourages scholars to look in, to criticise, but not to create. Writers, conversely, are at the heart of literature. They construct the words that academics analyse. The rivalry between the creative and critical faculties has splintered the study of English.

I think writing courses work for some and not for others. Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan are both creative writing graduates from the UEA course, which has had a great success rate for published alumni. Academic courses will most likely help you avert basic mistakes, and will encourage you to experiment with multiple styles and perspectives. Being introduced to the wider world of writing will mean you're well-informed when you choose what you want to write. Short stories? Novels? Second-person? Unreliable narrator? You can also choose to specialise in poetry or prose, which is useful if you know you want to be a novelist. 

UEA claims that their programmes are "best seen as an opportunity to explore and develop literary intentions in relation to the wider social and literary context, to work under the pressure of deadlines, and to share the experience of writing with colleagues in a critical and creative atmosphere". I agree that this would be the best environment for a course: exploratory, friendly and structured to deadlines, with equal emphasis on writing and subjective feedback. I say feedback, not instruction. No teacher should say "no, you shouldn't write like that", but they might suggest doing something differently. Discussion reaps constructive criticism, and if you're comfortable sharing your ideas with other people, you might find feedback invaluable. I popped into a local writing group for a few sessions when I was still working on Aurora, and the exercises they gave were always thought-provoking. The group's organiser would encourage us to experiment with unreliable narrators, multiple perspectives and so on. You might find, in doing these exercises, that you find a style you want to develop. 

Be wary of courses that tell you 'how to write', especially if they charge you excessively for the privilege. Everyone has a style, and in my opinion that can't be taught  it has to be discovered and developed by the writer. Professor Celyn Jones believes "students want to be taught by writers with proven creative integrity in an aggressive market", but what counts to one person as "creative integrity" might be sheer luck to another. 

Writing is an art, and like all art, it's based on experience rather than fact. That's the beauty of our subject: every eye brings a fresh perspective. If you do choose to take a course, listen to what other people have to say – they might just inspire you to look at your work from a different angle – but always trust your gut, and never let anyone force you to write what they want. If there was one correct way to tell stories, all books would be written by machines.    

Have any of you taken Creative Writing? How did you find it? 


  1. I haven't taken Creative Writing but I have few friends who read my text during writing process and give me feedback. I find it very useful. Fresh eyes make wonders.

    Good luck with the editing!

  2. Weee!! Thank you!

    My question came about because I will be studying a Creative Writing course next year and have been on both sides of the fence regarding the topic. Once upon a time I didn't believe they were needed (if someone was good they didn't need a bit of paper telling others that, just a well-written story) but now I'm more under the impression that it will help the growth of an amature writer, like myself, so why not? I love writing, why not study it?

    And Tom Clancy (who's written way too much for me to list here and also shares my birthday) proves the point that you can become a squillionaire writing books and not need to study creative writing beforehand. You are right, it is for some and not others, but God I hope I am one of the former and the next two years are not wasted.

    Actually, I doubt they will be. If anything, it gives me an excuse to think about my writing all day. Even if studying CW isn't for you, as a writer, that's a plus.

    Oh well, enough of my super long comment. Congrats again on the Gollum-Deal and I can't wait for the revealing of the cover. It's going to look awesome, I know.

    P.S. Please don't forget us when ARC-Time comes around!

    1. I think the important thing with a CW course is to be open and experimental, so it sounds like you're coming at it with the right attitude! And like you say, nothing bad about getting to write all the time while you study. Just make sure the teacher allows you to develop your own style, not his or her idea of a good style.

      And I won't! Hopefully ARCs will be early next year.

  3. In university the majority of training I received was in screen and playwriting. For that reason I have thought about going back to study CW for purely on page fiction. Oddly enough we were asked to find a screenwriter we shared a birthday with (for me it was Aaron Sorkin) and study up. I found I had similar writing habits: solitary confinement, and physically pacing while reciting dialogue to ensure its conversational sound.

    I focused so much on dialogue and rhythm of speech when spoken, I've wondered if it would come off the same way to every reader. That is besides the obvious issue that I was never formally trained in senseful writing. It would be literally seen on screen or stage. I wonder how a CW courses compare across something like fiction, screen writing or writing for radio.

    1. That's very interesting, I didn't think about the various screen/stage/page slants on CW. But I don't think a sharp awareness of dialogue can be a bad thing.

  4. Hi what are the names of the seven streets of Seven dials?

    1. Monmouth Street (counts as two streets as it bisects the junction), Mercer Street (also counts as two roads), Earlham Street (two roads) and Shorts Gardens.

  5. Studied Technical English writing in Uni, which is i am sure not so deep subject as Creative Writing.

    Just wondering, when will the 2nd volume of TBS going to be released? 2014 or 2015? Any idea?

    Waiting for cover reveal news!

    1. I think it will probably be late 2014. My deadline for handing in the manuscript is December 2013 and I don't think the editing will take quite as long. :)

    2. That's soon! Great! I just wrote the Bone Season release date on my calendar :)

      How do you find the writing of the 2nd book? Is it easier now when the first is written?

    3. Much easier, I think. Now I've edited the 1st book, I think I can approach the 2nd one with a much better understanding of how to structure the story. Plus the second one will be written with a deadline in mind. I wasn't expecting my agent to take 'The Bone Season' on so quickly, so it wasn't really ready in its original form!

    4. Sounds logical - and good. Do you think that a deadline is useful? Does it give you motivation?

    5. Definitely motivates me at this stage, although we'll see how I feel when the deadline is closer!

    6. Do the deadlines every start making it feel different: like work instead of something you love?

  6. Hi i want to ask you about writing the first or opening chapters of a book particularly a first in a series. Coz i find it really difficult to write the opening chapter.

    1. Sure. I'll do a post on that as soon as the editing is finished for good - I've edited the first chapter a LOT so it'll be interesting to chat about!

    2. Interesting question. Looking forward to that post!

  7. how do you plot? can you explain the process of plotting. thanks seriously can't wait to read your book


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