Good weather for ducks and writing

I have long admired Cate Kennedy. I first met her when she went to Mexico as a volunteer with Australian Volunteers International in the 90s. I worked for the organisation and met all the volunteers both before they left and after they returned. Australian Volunteers were a unique breed – adventurous, generous and curious – driven to explore others, live as they lived, and share skills and knowledge.

Last weekend I experienced this generosity in Cate again when I attended a Writers Victoria workshop she facilitated called Avoiding Conflict Avoidance: Jump-Starting Stalled Stories.

A soggy Saturday was perfect weather for a writing workshop dedicated to investigating the avoidance and procrastination that can plague writers. I had an ‘ah ha’ moment quite early in the workshop when Cate pointed out that we procrastinate to avoid the feelings of a story and the creative process because both require conflict. Story telling revolves around a point of crisis, but as humans we tend not to like conflict and fear wading into the very material that makes the best stories.

We did a great personal writing exercise that was exposing and informative. Cate asked us to write one sentence about a secret or regret in our lives. The instructions for the exercise are below if you’d like to give it a go. Whenever we got stuck, we had to ask ourselves the question why? to facilitate continuation of the writing. The exercise drew me deeper and deeper into the topic and associated feelings and I will use it again in the future as it was a great way to tap into those deeply held emotions.

We explored the fears that stop us from doing the things we want most to do – to document our fascination with the carnival of human foley and make people uncomfortable, to feel emotions, to react and transform. Writing calls us to face our hidden preoccupations and expose ourselves by facing our inner demons and creating characters that have agency, face disruption, and doubt their own capacity.

Cate Kennedy is the author of two short story collections, a novel, three poetry collections and a memoir. She was an engaging and knowledgeable facilitator and I highly recommend any courses led by her if you get an opportunity.

pile of dictionaries, pruning implements and an orange

Online course review: Cut, Shape, Polish by the Australian Writers Centre

If you have a completed manuscript ready to edit and you’re not quite sure where or how to start, I have a solution for you. The Australian Writers Centre online Cut, Shape, Polish course is one of the most useful writing courses I have completed to date, and there have been quite a few.

Cut, Shape, Polish is a practical step by step course that will provide you with a framework, tools and templates to complete a comprehensive edit of your manuscript. The course has five modules with audio tutorials and downloadable handouts.

It starts from the macro. Get your plot and structure right to ensure a satisfying outcome, identify themes and the questions your story is asking. Learn how to map your story structure with easy to use templates so that you can dissect it for plot holes, inconsistencies and gaps and make sure tensions rise and fall in the right places.

Module two dives into character to ensure your characters develop and drive the story. Learn how to check if your characters will be engaging and believable for readers, and if their dialogue is convincing and moves the story along. Identify and resolve issues with tone, voice and motivation so that your characters are convincing and keep readers engaged throughout the story arc.

Module three covers theme, setting and descriptions. Check if you are getting your point across through layering a cohesive thread through your work. Identify and resolve issues with world building and setting, build in motifs and symbols where they can improve your story. Bring to life the story your unconscious wanted you to tell.

You will move your focus from the macro to the micro in module four and study the sentence level. Make sure your point of view is working for the story. Interrogate the balance of show versus tell, info dumps and exposition, make sure your tense is consistent and consider sentence structure and style.

The last module hones in on openings and endings of sentences, chapters, the story and the overall story arc. Catch your cliches, find the words you repeat over and over, and over. Consider the value of Beta readers, taking feedback like an adult and whether you would benefit from the services of a professional editor.

The best time to start this course is after you have completed a first draft and left it to rest for a few months. This will give you twelve months of course access to work through your edits alongside the lessons. There is a lot in the course, so you’ll probably want to complete it more than once.

Online course reviews

Writing courses can be a great way to learn new techniques, think more deeply about your writing, and motivate you to keep putting ink on the page. Here I review a couple I have completed recently.

Kill Your Darlings: Mastering Emotional Honesty with Lee Kofman

One of the main pieces of feedback I’ve had from editors has been ‘put more emotions and/or drama into your work’. I took this online course to focus a bit of energy on that feedback.

Dr Lee Kofman, who delivers the online course, is a Russian-born Israeli-Australian author of five books and editor of two anthologies. Kofman unpacks the complex and hard task of writing with emotional honesty and helps you discover the rewards of making your writing more prolific and productive.

In the introduction to this course, Kofman suggests a writer should be ‘like a firefighter whose job it is, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, to run straight into them.’ Intellectually safe writing is easier to do, but does not engage readers as effectively – if you want to touch their hearts you have to take risks.

The exercises in this course challenge you to tap into personally emotive events to develop and challenge your writing. It covers concepts such as moral outrage, internal contradictions, sentimentality, nostalgia, emotional complexity and creating emotionally rich complex characters.

Example texts identified in the course include fiction works like Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Hanif Kureishi’s Something to Tell You; and memoir including Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty and Alice Pung’s Her Father’s Daughter.

KYD courses are good value, well structured short courses with a mix of audio/audiovisual, text, and exercises. Once you purchase a course it is available to you in perpetuity. The learning platform is easy to navigate, so if you are a bit of a luddite you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Australian Writers Centre: Anatomy of a Crime: How to Write About Murder with Candice Fox

I’m a big Candice Fox fan and she’s written about fourteen crime fiction novels so she knows a bit about the genre. I love her bold characters and unpredictable, and sometimes outrageous, but still believable plots.

There is a lot of content in this course. The course has eight modules estimated to take eight hours of study time. However, if you go through all the available resources provided you can go a lot deeper and further than the estimated time to complete.

Candice’s great character writing comes to the fore in the course as she explores the psychology of crime, what makes people kill and what happens after they do. Topics covered include premeditation; types of murder crimes; writing crime scenes; looking for suspects and the killer; making the arrest; trials and prison life.

AWC produces quality content using a mix of audio, audio-visual, and practical exercises. Each course is accessible for 12 months from the date of purchase and AWC has regular specials that make them more affordable.

For other online course reviews see here and here and here.

Online writing course reviews

I love a good writing workshop, and there are quite a few online options around at the moment. Soon after the COVID lock down began I panic bought a load of writing courses to keep me amused in my spare time. Here’s a wrap up of them so far.

Writers Victoria

Writers Victoria have traditionally run face to face workshops, but have been moving their offerings online in order to continue their programs by pivoting their one day workshops into webinars. I have done two of these now: Showing and Telling with Emily Bitto, and The Art of the Redraft with Penni Russon. The format for both these workshops mirrored their live options as closely as possible. There were two eighty minute learning videos, and a one hour live Q&A session with the presenters so you could get all your questions answered. Both courses included handouts and exercises, and the big bonus for me was the personalised feedback on a 500 word piece of your own writing. The presenters are all accomplished writers or writing professionals in their own right. The courses cost $155 dollars, and and you can watch the webinars again at your leasure via a link again later.

Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings have a neat online learning tool for their suit of self paced courses. I completed their Writing A Thriller course with J.P. Pomare, author of Call Me Evie recently. It took about six hours total to complete, including exercises. The course is a nice mix of reading, audio and video lessons, and practical exercises, and the $149 purchase gives you lifetime access to the course materials.

Australian Writers Centre

I’ve done and reviewed the Australian Writers Centre’s online courses before in some detail (here and here). My most recent sojourn included Fiction Essentials – Grammar and Punctuation; Fiction Essentials – Dialogue; and Fiction Essentials – Characters. These three self paced courses took about 2.5 hours each to complete. The first included some online exercises to test your knowledge as you go, the other two have handouts. All three were a mix of video slides and/or audio lessons. They cost $137 each (usually $195), so a little on the pricey side compared to the others, but the course content is good.

Writing courses are a fun way to spend some of your free time, and a good use of the funds you’re saving if you are working from home and not going out. Writing courses help keep me motivated for my own writing, and I get some valuable tips to improve my writing practice. I also feel like I am supporting the creative writing industry to get through these lean times. I for one want to see the creative industries survive through the current global malaise so will keep doing what I can to help keep them afloat. Now to choose what to do next…

What online writing or reading experiences have you had of late?

Image: Jerome, Arizona

Online course review: Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers

It the second Australian Writers Centre course I have completed this year. I signed up for Pitch your novel: how to attract agents and publishers as I thought it would be a good companion course to Inside Publishing which I reviewed in August, and I was right.

The online self-paced course was created by historical novel writer Natashia Lester and includes nine modules. As with Inside Publishing purchase of the course gives you twelve months access to it online, and allows you to download the resources. The course presents advice on strategy and practice tips to get yourself pitch ready.

Module one focuses on developing a writing CV which includes building an author platform, an overview of relevant writers societies, creating a pitch package and putting yourself out there to build a writing network.

In the second module Natashia provides advice on how to make your manuscript pitch ready including what professional services are available to provide assistance, and free sources you can tap into for help.

Module three focuses on literary agents – what value they add, why your should consider pitching to agents before publishers, how to identify agents to pitch to, developing a pitch and keeping track of your approaches to agents.

The fourth module focuses on the pitch itself. Natashia provides advice on developing three different types of synopsis and when to use them, including examples from her own work.

Module five covers preparing a pitch package. It explains what research you need to do to develop your pitch package, what to include in the package and in what order.

In modules six and seven you’ll find out about what to do when you get a response from an agent, other than get excited. These modules provide practical advice about how long the process might take and what to do if you receive feedback from an agent.

Module eight moves onto pitching directly to publishers including which publishers are out there, how to find them and decide whether you should pitch to them. Practical advice about submission guidelines, how to organise your material and decide in which order you should approach publishers.

Natashia explores other ways to get published in module nine, including entering competitions, how to find these opportunities, information about some of the main ones in Australia and things to consider when submitting to these programs and prizes.

The final module looks at what to do if you get an offer including some basic advice about contracts and when and how to get help (I recommend Inside Publishing for more detail on actual contracts), as well as dealing with rejection because we all know we’re going to get some of that.

After completing a couple of the Australian Writers Centre online course, I’m a convert. They are professionally constructed, practical and chock a block full of good advice and resources.

Main image: Everything You’ve Got, Epi Island, Vanuatu

Online course review: Inside Publishing by the Australian Writers Centre

I recently completed, the Australian Writers Centre’s online course Inside Publishing – What You Need to Know to Get Published, which delivers a comprehensive overview of the global publishing landscape. This is a must do course for anyone thinking about publishing a book and not already familiar with how the publishing industry works. The course is self paced and contains five modules, each consisting of videos, handouts and links to relevant resources, all of which you can download for future reference. AWC does a great job of breaking down complex legal and technical concepts and explaining them in accessible language. It offers a terrific overview of how the publishing world its together, as well as providing handy tips for writers about to launch themselves into it.

The first module is about copyright – boring right? Surprisingly I found it fascinating. It explains in plain language how copyright works and the curious way it is carved up across geography, languages, film, television and books. It delves into what you own, what is yours to sell and the role of agents in getting you the best deal. Learn about the structure of the global publishing industry, the professional roles of various people who work in publishing houses, and how they make decisions. There are also tips on what to look for and what to avoid in the industry.

Module two focusses on the broad array of book formats – hardcopy sizes, audio, ebooks, why different book formats are produced and what it means for the author. This module then goes onto to explain how different formats relate to book marketing, buying, distribution, audiences, how sales are measured and how this guides publishing decisions about printing, as well as what happens to books that aren’t sold. The module also touches on the differences between the traditional publishing route and indie publishing and things to think about when considering which way to go.

The third module goes in deep on author editor relationships from the time they pitch to the final proofread. It explains all the different types of edits, the difference between editing and proofreading and the value of a good edit. Of course first you have to submit a manuscript and this module covers the pros and cons of submitting to agents versus direct to publishers and what you need to think about with both of these approaches. The resources include sample pitches and submissions, dealing with rejection, how to use rejections to improve your work and what happens after your receive an offer from a publisher.

Module four gets down to the nitty gritty of offers and what you need to think about, including how advances work, marketing, royalties, public lending rights (libraries), and educational lending rights, and an introduction to some of the things to look for in contracts.

Contracts is the focus of module five, which sensibly comes with a disclaimer that it’s not a substitute for legal advice. Make sure you’ve had your morning coffee as this is the serious end of the business and requires some concentration. This lesson talks about negotiating contract terms and goes into quite a bit of detail about the various clauses in standard publishing contracts. It ends with a little reminder that publishing is a business, so you have to approach your author journey professionally and do your best to educate yourself about how the industry and the publishing process work.

I got a lot out of this course and one of the best things about it is that when you enrol, you get access to the online materials for twelve months. I’m confident I’ll go through it a couple more times before that time is up and will learn a bit more with each viewing.

Image: The Met, New York City