Writing competitions and courses

Previously, I wrote a blog for another website (coincidentally, MY website) about whether new writers should enter writing competitions / attend courses that cost a lorra money. I could see the pros, cons and ethics of either side of the argument, but as sitting on that fence and wobbling side-to-side was hurting my butt, I asked for guidance from my readers. None was forthcoming, probably because roughly 10 people read the blog and 0 people cared / knew what the answer was.

Here’s the blog, btw. Reading it back, my ‘don’t do it’ argument is more convincing – CLICKETY-CLICK THIS.

However! Since publishing that blog, I invested a large amount of £££ in the Curtis Brown Creative course ‘Writing for Children‘.

Why did you do that, then?

I’ll tell you why, voice-in-my-head. In fact, I’ll show you my thought process…

I came across the course blurb around March 2016 while perving over the CB website. ‘Oooooh!’ I said, rubbing my thighs in the style of late 90’s Vic and Bob. A well-respected agency that I had designs on wanted to hear from new writers of MG and YA fiction, and they wanted to teach a chosen few how to get published! What a great opportunity!

But the course cost a lot of £££… could I really justify the expense?

At first, I decided not to think about the money, as I might not even get in. It was competitive, after all. I’d cross the Bridge of Many Pounds when/if I got to it. Plus acceptance or rejection would give me some indication as to whether my writing was heading in the right direction. Submitting 3000 words was free and, I decided, would be an education in itself.

So I submitted and (spoiler alert) they offered me a place, which was exceedingly welcome validation. Evidently my writing was good enough to pass the first test.

The trouble was, I didn’t have the money to pay for the course. I’d have to turn it down. End of story.

…on the other hand, I could put it on a credit card, and the debt wouldn’t be unmanageable, soooo…

No. No, no, no. I could buy a lot of quill pens and skins of mole for that money. I should just keep writing, and then, when I was confident that I was ready, I could try to get an agent by submitting my best manuscript via the normal portals. That would certainly save me paying the toll on that bloody bridge.

But what if I marched off in the wrong direction, my little dog snapping at my heels as I blithely walked off a cliff? I might compound error upon error on my own. My writing might never recover!

Or/and maybe I’d be over-confident and submit to agents and publishers far too early, and then my name would be chalked on their ‘Idiots to be Rejected for Evermore’ board which they definitely have in the middle of the office.

I needed an outside eye on my work, preferably from a well-informed head. The course offered that. Or I could, of course, employ a professional reader instead…

But what if the course did more than just offer feedback on my writing? What if it did… other things? What if it told me secrets?

And I also really wanted an introduction to Curtis Brown.

Could I pass that up?

Evidently not. Was it worth it?

Yeah, it was. Phew!

Why was it worth it? And tell me quickly. Less of this ‘and then I thought ‘wowee wow!’ and rubbed myself’ nonsense

Alright, Ms Bossy-Pants! Geez. Will you accept bullet points?


OK then! It was worth it because the course provided –

  • Advice from agents on my covering letter.
  • Q&A session with agents.
  • Interaction with multi-published author-teacher for the duration of the course.
  • Validation supplied, as well as critique of work.
  • Support and knowledge-sharing with fellow students (still continuing).
  • Mystique removed from the role of the agent. Everyone from CB seemed jolly nice, basically. Plus agents are book-fans. We have so much in common!
  • Top tips about every step of the process, and the ability to question anything I didn’t understand.
  • Preciousness removed. In the second week of the course I realised I had to delete over 25,000 words and change the period in which my novel was set. A good lesson in killing your darlings.
  • At the end of the course, someone from CB read my opening 3000. They liked it and asked to see the whole thing. Hurrah!
  • It was a lot of fun.

Actually, bullet points don’t give the whole picture. Sorry. Do you mind if I..?

Ugh. Go on, then.

Right. Basically, you don’t need to do the course to get published or get an agent. The writing has to eventually stand on its own, and no amount of Q&A sessions and top tips will turn you into the best writer you can be. Plus top tips on getting an agent and being published are available online, there for anyone to read.

What it really provides is support, validation, confidence, and the realisation that you’ve got to put the hours in if you want to improve. I’m glad I took it because I enjoyed it so much, and because I now feel more like a writer, and I’ve found a great writing group to chat to. That last one is important when you work alone.

But I suppose that’s a luxury, not a necessity. And that’s how it should be, really. Those who really can’t afford the course shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage. Those who can afford it… lucky us!

Now I’m going to take my privilege and use it to extend my credit card limit! And then I’m going to BLOODY WELL WRITE UP A STORM.





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