Did I ever mention a few months ago that I enrolled on an online writing course: Short Stories From the Ground Up led by Sally Quilford?
Sally is, of course, known to we writers as the person who presents Competition Calendar in ‘Writers’ Forum’ magazine, although she has done much more than that – novels, pocket novels, lots of short stories and books about writing. Starting on 18 May and scheduled to finish this weekend, the course couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for me, at the end of term, when students were rushing about finishing work and expecting me to mark it NOW. However, Sally Quilford is Sally Quilford, so I went for it. I’m now about to sign up for another course, which falls… right at the beginning of the autumn term, another of our busiest times.
So it must’ve been good? It was.
There were only seven of us, as it happened, all of us women and of around the same age (although I think I was the eldest). The format was that we wrote a piece every week (Yes! Every week!) and most of them were short stories, increasing in length as the weeks went by, to two thousand words in Week 7. We reviewed each other’s work and then Sally would give us her professional view later. Although no one held back and some of the comments were very critical indeed, it was all done in a very good natured way and many of us have exchanged contact details for after the end of the course.
I did find the schedule punishing. Teaching is always exhausting and returning home knowing that you’ve got to produce several hundred words in the evening was punishing. Sometimes I attempted to write at work, scribbling on scraps of paper while I was supposed to be teaching and typing in the staffroom while students’ work mounted up unmarked. Several of us took holidays during the course, me included, and I’m full of admiration for the two who actually managed to write whilst away – I didn’t. I think I was the last to upload her story every week, but each time one of the others would post something like “Oh, we thought we’d lost you” or “I knew there was one missing”. The sense of relief after uploading was palpable! (Am I allowed an exclamation mark?) Throughout the time I was writing, I kept thinking to myself, ‘This is not very good’ or ‘I’m not thinking this through properly’, and I made some stupid errors, like saying ‘Money is the route of all evil’. More than anything else, I was crying inwardly I DON’T WRITE THIS FAST! Now I’ve finished the course and had time to think, I realise that professional writers do have to create and write stories within a day or so and get it more or less correct first time round.
Although some of what we did reinforced what I already knew (‘show not tell’, for instance), it’s one thing knowing that this is good practice, and quite another putting it into practice. Sally showed us a very useful headings for reviewing stories, and, as has been said before (not by Sally), if you can’t review, you can’t write. Her knowledge of the womag industry, a market I’ve been trying to break into for ages, was illuminating and we chose to write womag-type stories most of the time (although one girl was into speculative fiction and my last post was for the Christian market).
So, I now have five brand new stories to edit and make ready for subbing. None of these would have happened without the course, Sally and the other girls. Thank you, all of you.