Thursday, September 30, 2010

Teaching and learning

I've just come back from a few days teaching a residential course on writing commercial women's fiction. It was held in the Oxfordshire countryside, at a manor house which is over 700 years old in parts. Now it's a Quaker retreat, and it's a quiet, contemplative, inspiring place which I love returning to.

But I was most inspired by the authors on the course. Most of them were working on their first novel, though some were on their second or third; they were all looking to learn the techniques and craft that would help them get their work published. It was my job to teach them.

I'm crazy with work right now; I've got a 500-page novel to revise, with a tight deadline and a lot of research to feed in. But it's just so good to spend time with hard-working, passionate people, talking about reading and writing. I love going through the basics of our craft: the essentials of character, conflict, pacing and style. Talking about process, the high points and the low points. I know all this stuff already, or I wouldn't be teaching it, but every time I do teach it, I learn something new.

At several moments we were talking about someone's work and suddenly the air fizzed with ideas. That weird and wonderful alchemy when creativity and talent and graft pool together.

I'm feeling energised and ready to get back to my own work, now, and that tight deadline.

What's helped you to learn the most, recently?

Come back on Sunday, when Anna Louise Lucia will be posting.


  1. Going out to a spoken word event or meeting up with friends at a book launch or poetry reading has helped me most recently. I spend the evening on a creative high talking to other people who get what I'm on about and we share what we're working on, any problems we're having and just talk through it. I always come back from events raring to go with my head full of new ideas that I can't get down fast enough in a notebook.

  2. Two things - a walk in down a leafy path and a chat with a writer friend......all sorts of loose things in my head connected.


  3. Being with other writers, especially my critique partners, always gives me a buzz too and makes me want to go home and write immediately. And RNA parties and conferences are just the best!

  4. As far as learning about my story and characters, quite a lot of my thinking (and also my epiphanies) happens while I'm either driving or hiking.

    For craft and just plain inspiration, my best relatively-recent experience was the Ontario Writers' Conference in May. In particular it was Susanna's workshop (which led me to her books, which led me to her website and here) and the lunch address by Robert J Sawyer that I found the most helpful and inspiring. Robert's address was videotaped and is available on YouTube; I wish Susanna's had been, too!