Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Workshops, courses, know hows and don'ts

Along the journey to becoming a professional author lots of people will try to take money off you. Open any magazine that might possibly have a wannabe author reading it and you'll be swamped with adverts offering help. Personally, I'm deeply dubious of anyone who says they can explain how to become a best selling author overnight. Best selling authors make a lot of money (much more than your average UK author's income of £5,000) and if said instructor knows how to do this why is he or she teaching? Similarly, there are thousands of distance learning  courses and people who will read your books for a fee and proffer advice. And then there are the courses you attend. Aspiring writers are positively besieged by people promising success for cash. But can they ever actually help? Common sense tells you that the majority of people who attend courses, workshops, pay fees for this and that aren't going to make it. There simply aren't that many books published.

However, there are some reputable agencies and tutors. The Literary Consultancy and Cornerstone reading services have very good reputations. That MA in East Anglia keeps turning out best selling authors. The Arvon foundation gets some pretty cool tutors. All in all there are some fine opportunities out there, but there are also a lot of charlatans. Whoever you're thinking of giving money to research them very, very carefully. Although Preditors and Editors is US biased in this global day and age it's always worth checking out. And of course you all have your copies of either The Writers and Artists Yearbook or The Writer's Handbook to keep you straight.

And sometimes you benefit greatly from meeting people who are a little further along the journey than yourself and are able to point out the potholes.

I've just finished preparing my workshops for the Edinburgh International Book Festival next week. One is on dealing with rejection and the other on the difficulties of solitary creativity. The workshops are for twenty-five people and sold out within twenty-four hours of booking opening. However, I have no idea who is coming, nor what level they are at. Therefore I have to take a lot of decisions blind.

I've run workshops at the EIBF before and so I know for a lot of attendants the most important part is being with other aspiring writers. Some of them will be very well published and looking for a few tips, and some of them will be just starting out. I deal with such a mixed bunch by both providing basic and essential information and also incorporating a number of exercises that make my participants dig down deep inside to understand why they write and what they want from it. (Being a psychotherapist definitely helps with the latter.)

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