ABC Wednesday - U is For...

Gate detail - Pound Arts Centre, Corsham

... Undecided

The past few Wednesday mornings, I've been attending a Creative Writing course at our local Arts Centre. It's not been the most pleasant of experiences for me and on the whole the quality of my work there hasn't even been up to the standard of this blog. I wasn't sure if the course was the right one before I started, but it did say it covered non-fiction and as I haven't the first idea about writing (and I'm always keen to learn and improve), I decided to take the plunge.

Today's the last session and I've been trying to decide whether to return next term. Last week the tutor announced a radical revamp of the proposed course based on the needs of her students. A pity it didn't happen earlier. Whilst it sounds much better, I'm not sure the delivery will be executed. That'll be a no then. Creative writing wise, I got much more out of November's Your Messages project and the best piece I've written for the course itself was about having writer's block for the set homework! I've also been doing some snooping around the internet: I do envy Garden Wise Guy's attendance at the USA's Garden Writers Association symposium last September as it looked just the kind of thing I'm looking for. The closest I've found so far in the UK is the Arvon Foundation's Nature Writing course but the dates for next year aren't available yet. It's a bit pricey too, so I need to be sure I'd get a lot out of it.

So what to do next? I've discovered this year that I want to write and to write well, but I've got so much to learn. What you've seen so far is lots of quantity from a first-time writer who still hasn't a clue what it's all about and writes by instinct. I'm drawn to web content and garden writing, so perhaps I need to add some anthologies to my Christmas wish list so I can learn from the great and the good. A subscription to Hortus, some Ursula Buchan et al., and a re-read of all my Christopher Lloyd (the first garden writer I really started taking note of) are on the cards for the new year. But I'm worried my writing's not original or interesting enough for a wider audience, so today I'm all a dither and undecided about whether to continue at all. Perhaps I'll feel better once the course is over...

For further articles on the theme of U, do visit the ABC Wednesday Blog.

Update: Thanks very much for all your comments, I wasn't fishing for compliments, though of course they're much appreciated. This was just a way of ordering my thoughts from the past few weeks. That's the great thing about taking part in ABC Wednesday and grappling with the more 'difficult' letters, it allows you to try out new things and directions. Thanks too for all your suggestions, I'll be keeping them in mind. The other thing I've worked out at this morning's class is that I'm afraid of losing my 'voice' and will cease to be me if I try to 'learn' about writing. Your tips about never stopping from looking, lots of practice and writing from the heart should I hope, help to prevent that from happening.


  1. I think your writing is charming and interesting.

  2. I'm one of your fans too. I once heard a writer say...he knows he's going to get better when he isn't satisfied with his current status. I think we grow when we realize we could be better. That's probably not so profound if you are going through it but I know a lot of non-writers who feel perfectly satisfied with how they are communicating. So just the fact that you are trying to better yourself...and knowing your determination....I'm betting you will reach those goals. No doubt!

  3. Undecided is an unusual choice for the letter U on ABC Wednesday.
    But your writing about being undecided is wonderful.
    You are a great writer and I always have enjoyed reading your posts.

    Bear((( )))

  4. VP,

    Have you thought about joining a writers' group or starting one? There's a lot of literature out on the net on how to do just that. Several of my friends are writers and love the addition they do take classes and attend seminars. Not an inexpensive endeavor!

    In the meantime...your writing is already quite good! You make me laugh and think, sometime in the same post!


  5. VP.
    I always enjoy reading your blog, I think the important thing is to develop your own style, no one can teach you that but they can give pointers. I will be honest when I hear about Creative Writng course I think of Ed Reardon om radio 4, if you haven't heard it you should.

    Hortus is great.


  6. ...writing by instinct...yours is a pretty good instinct! I always enjoy what you write.

  7. Hi VP

    I was wondering about your creative writing course - we run something like that where I work and I always wonder. I dont think you can teach people how to write well. You can teach them grammar and maybe style but I think great writers have a natural ability that shines through.

    Having studied literature all the greats learnt their skill through reading extensively and studying literature. They werent taught how to write it was something they wanted to do.

    You write well and manage to put across what you have to say in a concise and humourous manner. As flowergardengirl says the fact that you want to improve helps as well. I think you should continue to do your blog and maybe consider joining something like a book club - through analysising how others write you will be able to develop your own style.

    At the end of the day the more you write the more you will improve and if you are enjoying writing the things you do then thats half the battle.

  8. The important thing for me about writing - is speaking with your own voice - and here on your blog you do that - and I enjoy it.
    Warm regards

  9. Hi VP, I think your writing is already top notch. And I agree with Helen and Karen that the most important thing is your own style or voice, coming from instinct. I don't think good writing can be taught, but happens from osmosis by reading the work of others. Christopher Lloyd was an epiphany for me also. And dear Beverley Nichols!


  10. Undecided is why I am so frustrated at the moment here too.
    Hospital cannot decide that now it is my turn

  11. When it comes to writing I have only three suggestions:
    1. Read a lot to absorb techniques
    2. Be yourself when you write - not one of the others.
    3. Practice, practice, practice....

    A course can teach you some basic techniques - it can't teach you to be yourself.Only you can do that.

  12. A UNIQUE photo, VP!

    As a former English teacher who taught a course in Creative Writing--granted to teenagers--may I offer my opinion? Your writing is already so good, I'm not sure a creative writing class is what you are looking for. I think you are doing the right things already--reading a lot of other writers, particularly in the genres you're interested in, and writing every day. Add to that your knowledge of plants and gardening, you have all the tools right now to be a great garden writer. I would think a gardening magazine would love to have you as a contributing writer right now!

    Sorry I haven't been around the past week--I won't be home until tomorrow night. But thanks for the reminder about the breast cancer site; I'd forgotten about that.

  13. I enjoy writing, but I dont think I could take it to the next stage, especially having read Ben Vogt's blog about rejection letters recently, that would just be soul destroying!

    My youngest is doing a degree in Journalism and her beau is at Goldsmiths doing Creative Writing, the courses have very different emphasis. Maybe the former is more where you want to be?


  14. I went on the Arvon Nature writing course last year, and it was great. The setting is just fabulous, never mind the food and the teachers. And I think Anna Pavord is teaching it this time round... who is like... the nicest sweetest woman in the entire world. I think that - expensive though it is - I learnt more in that 5 days than I had in about a year of writing every day and being published at least weekly.

    i think there is a real logic, however good you are as a writer, to being exposed to new situations, ideas and criticisms. Clearly there are a few unfortunate people who are never going to make great writers, because their prose is completely turgid. But for practically everyone else there is room to be made to look more closely, to describe with more care, to think about how to use telling details, and to consider when to stop trowelling them on. And the technical stuff is really important: where to use quotes, how to use descriptions of places, it's all quite technical and worth actually studying. It just sounds to me like you had a crap teacher, but I don't imagine that all creative writer teachers are crap. I've only had three so far and they were all inspiring.

    Very interested in what everyone else has to say too. I would happily form an online writers group if anyone else was interested!

  15. PS i am a friend and already have the brochure - May 11 Nature Writing in Devon with Anna Pavord and Dominic Couzens

    or you could skip all this loving the environment and just do writing a bestseller with my auntie, or does salacious aga sagas....

    Are you still doing your voluntary work? Arvon gives a full grant to voluntary workers. That might solve the ££ question

    am emailing you the brochure right now as pdf

  16. You write well. You cover what you want to say in an interesting way, and you have a good command of English. I think the main advantage to be gained from a writing course is the understanding that you know when your work is good. Also managing to write a set amount on a given subject. No tutor can give you ability if you don't already have it. Just keep writing.

    ABC Team

  17. I have not only enjoyed reading this article, and all of the others you have posted thorughout the year, but also reading how other people respond to your writing.
    There is little I can add here, as I think others have made such good suggestions for you. I agree that the most successful writing comes from the heart-and knowing you, I can say that your writing comes from there.

  18. ummmm
    EmmaT - what would an online writers group involve?
    What do you think VP? ... online writers group?

  19. I don't think you can lose your voice. The good thing about courses is that you are under pressure to write - and it's what you're there for so it's allowed. If you try to do it on your own, you'll find excuses not to. That's what I find anyway.

  20. I love your blog, I love the way you manage to put across your huge enthusiasm for, well... life, really. That's the secret of being a good communicator, I think, that you can pull people in and carry them along with you. There are lots of supposedly good writers that I find unreadable because they just don't engage me on any level. I agree with Emma, though, if you have a chance to go on a creative writing course with Anna Pavord, do try to go. She is one of the nicest people in the whole world.

  21. I think that it has all been said :) I agree with the other comments that writing well is something that can't be taught. However it is like every other skill we have is and is something that can be developed. You are already writing regularly which I would think plays a huge part in developing those skills and more reading about the subject you love will certainly inspire you. Whatever you do you do not want to lose that instinct,fun and enthusiasm that you show in your writing here and which draws many of us back as regular visitors.

  22. re: your update

    I think every time you write in a different place you change your voice. [Not you personally! Just, everybody.] Very slightly, perhaps, but you still change. I've noticed it vis a vis blogging here or for the Independent, writing "real" articles, writing academic papers... they all come out differently! I am a slightly different person for each job, apparently. So I don't know about "losing a voice" - it's very, very interesting to me, because I think I have many to start with.

    But I think you are one of the least self-conscious writers on the entire internet, so perhaps you are rightly worried about becoming more conscious of yourself and that getting spoilt. ??? xx

  23. Do you remember VP - when I wrote my first blog installment (admittedly there haven't been too many yet but more to follow) and I said that I had always been told at school that I couldn't write? That wasn't physically you understand - and you said to me 'what rubbish'!

    Girl - listen to your own advice and just look at the followers you have. Do you think we'd all look every day if we didn't enjoy what you write.

    I'm going to put you in a bag and give you a really good shake! Forget writing courses, just get on with what you are doing, and doing so well. Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky (sic) you may not be, but who reads them any way.


    PS My verification is boondogi which has brought me out of righteous indignation into fluffy bunny, which is much the better temper for going to bed. x

    Eek - that one didn't work - I must have gone so fluffy bunny that my fingers went haywire. (It's now lation which isn't half so much fun).

  24. Hi - interested in the on-line writers group - also can you email me the info about the writing course in Devon - probably way out of my league pricewise but am looking for something at the moment to engage with.

  25. Umm, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that writing well can be taught. Everyone has room to get better, and a good teacher can bring that out in the writer.

    That said, I think your writing is lively and organized (extraordinarily important). So the next question is, what are you looking for in improving your writing? You say you are interested in learning to write non-fiction--does that mean you are looking for how to structure an essay? Or are you looking for creative ways to write about nature? There is instruction available for both. If you are looking for the latter, there are several books that could help. For the former, you might look for a writing workshop, or a better teacher in a more suitable course.

    If you like, I can recommend some books that might help. And I think that someone in the comments recommended a workshop in the UK. They are pricey, but can be very helpful. Writing groups can help, too, if you get the right mix of people involved.

    Also, to echo some of the earlier comments, read, read, read--but read as a writer. That is, if you like something, ask yourself why. And if you don't like something ask yourself the same question...and then, apply those lessons, in your own voice.

    Writing helps us discover and shape who we are. So no matter how discouraged you might get, keep writing, if for no other reason than to explore your own thoughts.

  26. Susan's excellent comment made me think of this book which I read last year which I think is just along those lines

    Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose

  27. There are a variety of good writing classes at Oxford U Continuing Education, with v good writers, and covering different things - fiction, memoirs, etc. Some day, some evening, some long, some short. They get booked up well in advance, but people come from further than Chippenham to attend (and you can stay overnight if you need to)

    I do think you can learn something in a writing class. But not if you're hopeless in the first place. Which you're not. Obviously, otherwise none of us would be here.

    Good luck deciding (perhaps you'll follow up this post when it turns round to D)


  28. Interesting U.
    There are loads of writing courses available so if you are still bent on taking one, I am sure you'll find one that works for you. But from what I have read on that post you you do not seem to need one so why not do as most writers do and just write?

  29. Wow! So many comments and good advice. Thank you so much everyone. This is a resource I shall be returning to often at least over the next few months I'm sure.

    A special thanks to Emmat for returning several times and to those of you who've commented for the first time.

    I'm coming over for a visit to you all right now...

  30. You might look at some of these for a start:


    Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

    Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg


    On Writing Well, William Zinsser

    Telling True Stories: A Non-fiction Writers Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, eds.

    The writing life:

    On Writing, by Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King)

  31. Honestly, I really enjoy your writing VP. I think that you are correct - keep writing from the heart and you won't lose your "voice".

    A good book about non-fiction writing is "On Writing Well". My husband's publisher sent him a CD of the book to listen to when his first book proposal was accepted.

  32. Susan - thanks for your follow up. Stephen King's book is cropping up everywhere I look and Garden Wise Guy also speaks highly of Bird by Bird. I'll email you as suggested, but I see you're occupied for the next few days, so I'll wait a wee while.

    Blossom - thank you. It looks like I have a good set of resources here, just like you did recently with your photography post :)


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