Thursday, 27 February 2020

#writingishard5 - you never stop learning

Imogen Cooper & my best friend
It doesn’t matter where you are in this writing malarkey you never stop learning. I have an MA in Writing for Children, a creative writing PhD which looked at the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in young adult fiction and included writing a piece of young adult fiction; I was lucky enough to be mentored by Imogen Cooper while I worked for the Golden Egg Academy. Yet I still learn something new about writing on a regular basis and can look at a blank screen starting a new novel, thinking: ‘How do I do this again?’ I have also heard of many a famous and successful author say they feel a similar thing when faced with that blank paper or screen.

You never stop learning. It is important that you keep reading about writing. Not only do you need to keep reading fiction, watching films, going to art galleries and the theatre but continue to research into the subject. Understand what it means to write. 

People often ask me whether it is worth taking a degree in creative writing or undertaking a course. My answer is simple, it depends on what you want. You will hear plenty of people saying that they
got published without them. But taking them shows you are serious about your writing. A degree allows you to experiment with a variety of different voices and enables you to find your voice. To work out who you are as a writer. That is certainly what happened to me. I was doing a degree in English, but it had strands of Creative Writing, which is why I did it. I had a very set idea of what sort of writer I thought I was and that was certainly not a children's writer. I'd never even considered it. One of the modules gave me the opportunity to have a go at writing for children with Judy Waite. It felt like coming home. My voice felt natural and my writing flowed. If I hadn’t taken that degree, I’d never have experimented like that. You hone your craft in an academic situation.

Working with organisations like the Golden Egg Academy means you can hone your manuscript and your craft while working with professionals, who have their finger on the publishing pulse. By the end of it, you really understand the editing process and how to apply that to any future projects. It also means you are not daunted by any potential editing undertaken by an agent or publisher.

By taking either an MA or working with an organisation such as GEA you learn not to too precious about your work. I’ve heard stories of writers who’ve refused to make any changes to their work because it is their ‘baby’ and it is perfect. I can’t imagine feeling like that about my work. I know a lot of writers, including myself, who won’t look at their work once it is published as they will see areas they want to improve as they don’t consider it good enough. All that happens to those who won’t make any changes is that they don’t get a publishing contract as they are deemed impossible to work with.

Personally, I love listening to writers talking about their writing processes. I always learn something or find an affirmation because they write the same way as me – such a good feeling. As a lecturer and workshop leader, I always find these inspirational as it is so good to hear the students and writers talking about their work. Again, I quite often learn something from these sessions.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great organisation where you can meet like-minded people. They run socials, masterclasses and wonderful conferences. 

Writers are invariably generous of heart and very willing to share. They are happy to talk to a certain extent BUT don’t take advantage. Don’t keep asking them to read your work. They are busy people. They have their own writing to do. Don’t assume you are the only person that asks them to look at their work. Don’t keep asking for tips. Also, if you don’t have anything nice to say about their book, don’t say anything. Writers have feelings you know.

I’ve listed some resources that I’ve found useful but there are many, many more. Feel free to add to them in the comments. This is not an exhaustive list and this is a personal list.



Janelle Adsit ed. Critical Creative Writing: Essential Readings on the Writer’s Craft

Amanda Boulter, Writing Fiction

Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer

Kevin Brophy, Explorations in Creative Writing

Andrew Cowan, The Art of Writing Fiction

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

James Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway on Writing 

Henry James, ‘The Art of Fiction’, Longman’s Magazine

Colum McCann, Letters to A Young Writer

Robert McKee Dialogue

Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Andrew Melrose, Writing for Children

Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing

William Storr The Science of Storytelling


Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter, What If Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

Martin Griffith & Jon Mayhew, Storycraft: How to teach Creative Writing

Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation

Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel

David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife

Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling

Katherine Rundell, Why you should read Children’s Books

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Judy Waite, Wordtamer: Activities to Inspire Creative Thinking and Writing

Jen Webb, Researching Creative Writing

J. Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

John Yorke, Into the Woods


Media & Organisations

Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators (including Words & Pictures)

Golden Egg Academy (Sign up to receive their free newsletter) also follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see their writing tips and prompts.


  1. I go along with all that you say here. I also have an MA (from Winchester no less) and a PhD in Creative Writing and still finding as well that I'm learning something every day. I think writers (and teachers btw) are natural action researchers. I think the degrees sharpened that process a little and also took me to places I might not have otherwise explored. But, hey, don't we have a great way of spending our time?

    1. I agree, we have such fun doing it, don't we Gill?