Sunday, May 31, 2009

Publishing Success: Do you need to go down the university route?

One of the first things that writer, Della Galton, says in her book 'How to Write and Sell Short Stories' is 'Don't let anyone tell you that you need a university education to be a successful writer'. [This is an excellent book by the way, I highly recommend it.] Not that there's anything wrong in obtaining a university education, far from it. I was so proud of my daughter when she got a 2:1 in psychology last year and I watched her graduate.

I think I know what Della means though.

Last year I took a course with the Open University on Literature and Creative Writing, something I have wanted to do for ages. I think there is part of me that yearns to get a degree. A kind of 'Educating Nettie' if you like.

Yet, while I felt the course was quite good, I think it could also put people off writing.

Why? You might ask.

Because I feel it boxes people in. It puts limits on their writing. For example, some students were told they needed 80% and above for their work to be of publishable quality. I disagree. Although I have passed my assignments, mostly in the 70 - 75% bracket, I never once achieved an 80% score. Well not yet. Although I have to wait for my ECA score to be marked which is worth 50% of the course marks. So, I haven't achieved those marks [as yet] but I am already published.

I wasn't happy with the way my tutor marked some of my assignments in any case. For my first assignment she gave me a 0% for my free write because I'd used punctuation. I free write all the time, but I'm so used to doing it that I automatically use punctuation. Some other students on the course had also done the same thing but their tutors didn't mark them down for it. So as a result, for one assignment, I immediately lost 20 % of the marks. I should have challenged it at the time of course. Too late now, it's sour grapes.

To get back to that 80% required for publication...I believe it's far more important for a writer to read guidelines, target the right market, then write an engaging piece that's so polished it positively sparkles on the editor's desk.

From reading some of the other students' comments, although they have done fairly well, it sounds as though they are still doubting they can be published. I am so glad I didn't take this course ten years ago when I first started seeking publication. I took a short course back then that was run by the university at my local library. I learned so much from other students there.

Next I joined a Yahoo group called Momwriters. It still exists today. As the group name suggests it's a group of mothers who write [although fathers are allowed to join as well.] Finding that group was like discovering a precious gem. Some were editors, others experienced writers who wrote for magazines or had books published. One was the ex-comedy editor of Playboy Magazine and the writer of the movie Blue Streak. I learned so much being a member of that group. If I wanted to write a magazine article there was always someone to interview about something or other. Whether it was an article about extended breast feeding or how to cope with your pets on holiday. There was someone who could give me valuable advice or a read through.

Back then, I didn't see any obstacles. There was only the blank page, my creativity and my persistence to get published. It finally paid off as I got pieces published online, in magazines and eventually of course, the novels.

I also took some writing courses with people who were experts in their own particular fields. Like Marcia Yudkin who ran a Break into Magazines Course. Marcia is published in The New York Times and Cosmo. I also took an online course with Leigh Michaels, a Mills and Boon author, at what was then called 'The Barnes and Noble University'. The course was excellent, I learned so much and it didn't cost me a penny.

But what if I had taken that OU course before getting published? Then I think I would have set myself limits and doubted my skill as a writer. I truly believe it might have put me off. Don't get me wrong, of course I have learned things from the course. There's always something new to learn as a writer.

I met one of the contributors to the course book at a writing workshop some years ago. He was getting paid handsomely for supposedly teaching us about 'Internet Publishing'. The man didn't have a clue. He thought everyone who was published online got paid-per-click. He looked astonished when I told him I received a monthly cheque for my writing column. He gave a lot of misinformation to people during the workshop that I had to correct him on.

After saying all of this, I will carry on with my OU course. I want to achieve the Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing. I want to take the advanced course because it includes scriptwriting. I doubt very much if that module will be taught by a scriptwriter though. Maybe I need to write that script for Doctors before I move on to the advanced course, so I don't place any limitations on myself by being told I need 80% or above in my assignments to achieve publishing success.

Maybe I want to carry on to prove I have the ability to be an academic, but at least I realise when it comes to writing, I learned more from the 'School of Life' than a university.


Teresa Ashby said...

Great post! I absolutely agree with you.
If only the School of Life gave out degrees!

Lynette said...

Thanks, Teresa. Yes, if only...perhaps then we'd be top of the class!

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