I’ve been quiet the last day or two as I put the final touches to the last assessment for my OU Creative Writing course. ‘Connected,’ my final piece of short fiction for the course, is very nearly in its final shape. I am about to abandon it and print the three copies I need to send off. Being this close to completing the course, has put me in a reflective mood, got me to thinking about what I have learnt since starting the course. 

So, in true blog tradition, here’s the top five list of things I have learnt:

1. A greater appreciation of the short story.

Before taking this course I had written a handful of short stories, choosing instead to concentrate on the seemingly more prestigious task of novel writing. Since getting stuck into reading more Carver, Chekhov and Joyce, along with more contemporary short fiction authors like Ali Smith, Michel Faber, and Wells Tower, I have seen the light. I am looking forward to getting my assessment dispatched as I have three more ideas for short stories currently battling it out to be the first to escape the spiral bound confines of my notebook. I have fallen in love with the short form and, as I said in a previous post, I’m not the only one.

2. The importance of patience when redrafting.

Time was I would rush through redrafting, jumping straight in as soon as the first draft was complete. Not so now. During this course I have been advised a number of times to let things ‘cool off’ before returning to the coalface. Having followed that advice and reaped the rewards that seeing a piece with fresh eyes can bring, I heartily recommend shelving completed first drafts for a while. Allow the piece to be new to you again.

3. Less is definitely more.

‘Show don’t tell’ is the writers mantra. Looking back at my early drafts from this time last year, it seems that I still hadn’t quite grasped this. The fact that my most recent final drafts are a good 20-40% shorter than their respective first drafts tells me that my adherence to ‘show don’t tell’ is improving. I hope that my ruthless amputating of text means that my ability to avoid over-writing is also improving.

4. The importance of the notebook.

Got loads of these little fellas on the go now. A small one for in the pocket of my jeans. His bigger brother for in my man-bag (every homedad needs at least one man-bag, if only for spare nappies and wipes). Two index notebooks for securing research and notes on larger projects. I think I might be in the first throes of a notebook fetish with my wife as my enabler. She often comes home with a nice notebook for me that she found cheap somewhere – the last one she found on sale at our local garden centre! She is also responsible for my return to writing with a fountain pen, both my favourite pens having been gifts from her when I started the course. Is there a helpline for stationary addiction?

5. Sharing work with other writers helps make better writers out of everyone.

The single best feature of the course has been the sharing of work with others on the course forums. Living outside the UK makes finding a local writing group difficult for me. In this, as in so many things, the internet has been my friend. I have loved reading the work of other developing writers and learnt a great deal from the writing they have shared on the forum as well as their criticism of my work. I am going to miss this aspect of the course most during the summer months.

Reading the above probably goes some way to explain why I have already signed up for the Advanced course, starting September ’09. Think I’ll spend the summer working on those ideas clamouring for attention in my notebook.

But first, I better get that last assignment in the post.