Self-Publishing Update – Writing Course Sydney

It’s only recently I’ve started putting “writer” under the profession question on travel cards. It’s a better term to use than web developer because i involves less writing – who wants to waste more effort than required on the useless paperwork of travel. (Note however it’s a very BAD term to use if you happen to be travelling to repressive countries like China or Myanmar – then the old fall-back of teacher should cover it in a nice generic way.)

I have a dark secret. I want to write a vampire-ridden, erotic trilogy.

Nah – not really, I wouldn’t mind the cash but I don’t do creative, I was the leader of a small group of girls who in the last year of school appealed to our Principal (an ex-English teacher), to remove the school ruling that we all had to do English Lit in 7th form. We won and I haven’t graced the door of an English class since.

But I do want to venture into an odd cross-over between fiction and non-fiction, called travel memoir. However there was a problem.

The Trouble With Travel Writing

As I’ve read my fellow self-published authors in the genre, I came to a rather non-PC conclusion.

Most of their  books suck.

I struggled or failed to finish many of them. I don’t mean they have the odd typo or what-not, frankly I skim read far too fast to notice 99% of the time. Nope I mean their stories were, not to be subtle about it, boring. Dull. Failed-to-finish-the-book tedious.

 However I just couldn’t work out why.

I hadn’t noticed the same problem with self-published non-fiction, generally. Usually  if there was a  problem,  it was over-promising on the title and under-delivered on the content. (Hint: don’t use terms like “complete” and “comprehensive” in the title when Amazon says your eBook is 48 pages long).

So then I started reading “real” books, traditionally published books. Specifically I read travel memoir because that’s what I’m interested in. I started at the top of the best-sellers list: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Couldn’t finish it, it was beyond awful, nothing to do with travel, all to do with her own inability to function as a woman without a man in tow. Made me despair for what womens’ lib has achieved.

Then I re-read the rather excellent Down Under (Sun Burnt Country in the US) by Bill Bryson. Funny, clever, entertaining – and I finished the book still not knowing or caring about the author’s sex life, whether he had a family or anything more personal than his age (middle-ish) , shape (roundish) and fitness levels (hmm not so good).

Hmmm so even some of the popular trad-published stuff sucked, IMHO anyway. So how to write a travel memoir which I would actually like to read, seemed to be the issue. I’ve tried writing my memoir before, every time I tried it descended into a blow-by-blow, re-written version of my journal. That was a problem, because basically it was boring even for me. Finding similar books self-published didn’t inspire confidence. So I did something a bit radical to me – I spent some money and enrolled in:

Sydney Writing Course

Sydney Harbour Bridge from the north side

Sydney Writers Centre: Travel Memoir Course

I know it sounds odd to those of you who live in bigger countries – but really there aren’t that many options in New Zealand – and this was just a quick trip to Sydney and two nights accommodation for a weekend intensive course. 

And I came away having learnt some cool things: 

  • I don’t completely suck at writing;
  • I now know what my memoir lacked – a plot;
  • You  can  make stuff up and leave stuff up (duh!);
  • Writing plots hasn’t changed since Homer and it’s not that hard;
  • it was cool to meet Tracey Edwards in real life
  • My new writing tool – the iPad mini is pretty cool for taking notes on. 

I’ve been nervous of doing a course. As I’m an entirely self-taught writer, I had developed what I like to think of on a good day as a”unique voice”, (on bad days I am just rude, crude and in desperate need of an editor).  As I wasn’t quite sure how this strange voice thing had happened (if like me you have no idea what an authorial voice might be – read this ).  So I worried about jinxing it. 

But this course was about the nuts and bolts of what makes a good story, and why, nothing at all about split-infinitives and the other stuff I vaguely remember from English. 

Highly recommended – the course is from Sydney Writers’ Centre – now the Australian Writers’ Centre and the presenter Claire Scobie did a really good job making sure that 12 very disparate women all got something out of the course. 

I came away with my head buzzing with good ideas. 

Later this week – well it’s half-way through the week already but I do want to write about how I used my new toy – the iPad mini on this trip – and whether it’s good enough to replace a notebook for a traveller. 

Have you ever done a writing course? Was it useful? I’m also considering  doing an on-line humour (sorry humor) writing course at Gotham Writers

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6 Responses to “Self-Publishing Update – Writing Course Sydney”

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  1. I LOVE the written word. I thought I would love high-school English, but I found that those classes did little more than assign names to all the different “parts”. They taught nothing about how to actually write half-decent sales copy, articles, or books. I swear they structure the whole English curriculum around one’s ability to write a boring-ass thesis about English.

    So in short, grats on going to an ACTUAL writing course! But honestly, I don’t think you need any help writing an awesome memoir. You have the skills there, you just gotta trust yourself to be able to apply them.

    I look forward to seeing the end result!

    Regarding doing writing courses, there’s a lot of good ones out there, but I still stick by what Stephen King says (even though I don’t like his writing): in order to become a good writer, you have to read a lot and write a lot. And not necessarily in your genre.

    Let us know how things go with any other courses you take up!

    • Lis Sowerbutts says:

      I agree about King – I don’t like his novels but his book on writing is a must-read. And yeah I am upping my reading levels to find what I really like in memoir – not sure if anyone else will like it – but I hope so – I mean what’s not to like: so much confict to resolve woman v. truckie, man v. truckie, Kiwis v. Aussies – it’s got it all!

      I will NEVER forgive high school English forcing me to read Pride and Predujice which I HATED at the time (loved it 10 years later and read all of Austin) – because at the time I was heavily into SF. SF wasn’t even considered “proper literature” at that stage (I hope that’s changed).

      I do rather think that the degree level creative writing courses only qualify you to teach the same, not to write anything, gasp, commercial.

      Call me shallow, but I’m doing this to sell copies – not just for the money, but also so some buyers may actually read my words , otherwise, what’s the point?

  2. Hi Lis,
    I took a course myself a few years ago. It was just a hobby-type course in a local college, but it was great to meet other writers and get some feedback on my work. It helps to boost your self-confidence. Mine covered all types of genres briefly which offered the chance to try lots of different types of writing. I did like English Lit as a subject at schooll, but it wasn’t necessary to enjoy this course. Our teacher was a poet based at one of the local universities, so her perspective was very different to your average English teacher.
    I would always recommend that people look for a course when starting to write – preferably an experience similar to yours as it is always great to be able to chat through ideas and learn with a group.
    Enjoying your journey x

    • Lis Sowerbutts says:

      Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for the comment! Yes the novelty of talking to people in person about writing was one of the reasons I went – I had misgivings, not least about my ability to stay awake the first afternoon after an very early start, and a 2hour time difference, but the course engaged me enough to stop the yawning.

      I’ve never done timed writing exercises before – and they were very helpful.

  3. Tracey says:

    It was fun to meet finally!

    I’m planning on doing some online writing courses this year, not sure I’m ready to be in a room with other writers – too intimidating (although really I should jump out of my comfort zone and do it anyway).

    Enrolled in an editing one that starts next week, and I plan on another course later in the year – probably more to do with creative writing.

    And I buy a million books to try and learn techniques as well.

    So glad your course rocked!

    • Lis Sowerbutts says:

      You – intimidated – you’re a real trad published author! You’d be the star of the class! Yeah I really should do the editing one – but I wouldn’t like this blog to become an oasis of grammatically-correct prose – how boring would that be?

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