When indie authors have to learn and keep on top of many skills to self-publish and market their books, it's too easy to neglect the craft at its heart: the writing. J J Marsh shares her experience of an online course developed by the members of the Triskele Books collective to help each other hone their writing skills.
Triskele Books developed from an online critique group of writers who wanted to improve. We gradually grew to trust and admire each other, both the work and the critical eye, so in 2010, we discussed forming an author collective. A third way of publishing: independence, creative control and the highest standards of writing and publication.
Since then, we’ve published 21 books of our own and three of our associates. We could write a book about what we’ve learned about publishing – matter of fact, we did – and we’re still educating ourselves.
Now we operate as a business: running a virtual team, managing international communications, handling projects and launches, marketing our work and promoting our brand. Where does that leave the original strategy of improving as writers? No doubt producing more books helps our writing mature in a professional sense, (just look at the language I’ve used in the previous two paragraphs) but when is it playtime?
How We Created Our Own Writing Course
The five of us found each other because we all wanted to be better writers. Still do. So last summer, we put together our own creative writing course. We each sought out exercises to hone a skill we wanted to develop, threw them into the mix and I shaped them into ten modules.
Here’s what it looks like:
- Story Fundamentals: Premise, Prize, Price, Central Dramatic Question
- Character Foundation: how well do you know your MC?
- Characters in a series: development, arc, consistency
- On the page: Show, tell, shortcuts
- The Craft of Voice I: POV, person, tense, characters’ voice
- The Craft of Voice II: developing authorial voice, style, idiolect
- Theme: use of subconscious association, language choice
- Poetry exercise (language): hints and atmosphere
- Prose push ups: Description and Dialogue
- Prose push ups: Subtext
The course ran over 20 weeks. One week I would introduce the exercise. The following week we shared the results, gave feedback on the work and suggested how the exercise could be tweaked. We were all equally curious and cautious when starting out: ‘Really busy this month’ … ‘I’ll do what I can while on holiday’… ‘Not sure how much time I can devote to this’.
So each module was designed to be a series of 5-15 minute exercises enabling each writer to choose as much or as little as would fit into their week.
Easy to Follow Rules
The rules are simple: if the activity is useful, do it. If you want, share the results with the group. Keep criticism constructive and feel free to add suggestions on honing the exercise. For example, not all of us are writing a series, so the third session could be skipped. Personally I had no intention of doing the poetry module, but amazed myself by finding it both beneficial and moving. Some exercises were an all-round success, such as the character questionnaire created by Sheila Bugler and myself.
How and Why It Worked
As for where the activities came from: courses we’ve taught, workshops we’ve attended, exercises available online, literary magazines, writing books, etc. This couldn’t be called a Creative Writing Course in any broad sense as we specifically selected areas where we, as experienced writers, wanted to change up a gear. And because of its targeted nature, it worked.
That constant low-level guilty hum – you should be writing your 2K quota, you are a bad person – was absent. We gave ourselves permission to learn. Permission to play. All of us enjoyed the opportunity to experiment and try things completely irrelevant to the WIP. I’d forgotten the thrill of getting emotional reactions to my words which were not filtered through the ‘professional’ lens.
Not quite as refreshing as a retreat by the Mediterranean, but as a creative shot in the arm, it’s sociable, imagination-stretching, focused and best of all, great fun.
OVER TO YOU Which writing course would you recommend? What's your favourite way to refine your writing craft? We'd love to know!How to create your own online #writing course to share with author friends by @JJMarsh1 of @TriskeleBooks #ww Click To Tweet