Recently I posted on Facebook from a site called ‘Jane Austen is Totally My Religion’; I had a couple of comments from friends, one was just one word: ‘Why?’ and the other one was two words, ‘Oh Sarah.’ I responded with just one word: ‘Genius’. I have decided to respond more fully here.
I would like to suggest that the Jane Austen in my mind is the one from the original sketch by her sister, Cassandra, whereas the Jane Austen that they are referring to is the prettified, romanticised, fictional, Victorian version. The pretty and vacuous portrait above right bears as much likeness to the original on the left as the view of her as a gentle spinner of romantic tales that make lovely costume dramas bears to the poison dipped pen wielding genius that she clearly was.
Jane Austen was brilliant; laugh out loud funny; a proto feminist; an acute and acerbic social observer and above all a genius whose work continues to resonate through the centuries since her death. If you love her because you enjoy a good old-fashioned romantic costume drama then all well and good. If, like me, you love her because she had so much that was radical and pertinent to say about the position of women in her society then brilliant. But if you have either read one or two of her novels once, long ago and you’ve missed the point, or, even worse, you haven’t read her at all, please don’t comment. Stick with what you know and leave Jane Austen to those who get her.
For more information, please see Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. You could also read what other authors say about her: from Sir Walter Scott to W H Auden; from Robert Louis Stevenson to J K Rowling. Enjoy!
As I progress on my journey to becoming a (published?) writer, I feel that there are a lot of short cuts that I would like to have taken. When I say short cuts, what I really mean is reaching certain points of realisation much quicker than I have. I can’t help wondering whether being told about these things earlier – for example in a “Learning How to be a Writer” guide – would have been preferable to having to come to them by myself over the course of a long process.
So for anyone who is also moving through the maze of developing as a writer I have listed below some of the really important points in my journey that it has taken me a long time to reach:
- Subscribe to a good writing magazine AND read it. I subscribed to Writing Magazine around 18 months ago having bought a copy in my local WH Smith. I loved it and found it really useful but I didn’t read it regularly. Issues would be posted through my letter box every month; I would remove the plastic wrapping and that would be that. I kept the copies and over the past couple of months I have finally started to read them. Why didn’t I do this earlier? Not only do they feature short story competitions and details of publications who are accepting submissions but they also run a “How I got Published” spot featuring a different author every month. This has proved one of the most useful parts of the magazine for me because a large percentage of the writers featured state that they completed an MA in Creative Writing and as often as not their first published novel was the result.
- This leads me neatly to my second point – Enrol on an MA in Creative Writing. It is expensive, but for anyone who is really serious about becoming published, I think that it will be an very worthwhile investment. You can now get a student loan for an MA so what are you waiting for? For those who don’t want to commit to the time and expense of an MA there are plenty of other good writing courses out there. This is where the excellent Writing Magazine comes in useful again. Also see No. 5 below.
- Find a good MA in Creative Writing: so you’ve made the decision to enrol; you’ve looked into the funding; now you just have to find the right course for you. At first I thought it would just be a matter of finding an distance learning MA as I work full time. It is not quite that simple however. There are quite a number of universities that offer distance learning. I am in the midst of researching them now. My criteria is the tutors – they have to be published writers; the success stories of former students – I want to proof that it works; finally the fees. One of my favourites so far is very expensive. I need to weigh up the cost with the benefits. It’s no good going for a cheap course that isn’t effective.
- Finding the time to write: this is really the holy grail for any aspiring writer with various distractions such as a job; a social life; family life and so on. I have tried various writing routines and really the best one is just to do something every day. What and how much depends on the time you’ve got. Some days, like today, I will spend nearly all day writing; it is a bank holiday and my husband is away so it’s perfect. Other days, generally work days, I might only be able to spend 30 minutes; on days like that I generally work on re-writes as I find that easier to dip into. As I mentioned in my previous blog I am on my 3rd draft of a romantic novel and I find that is the perfect occupation for limited time. This is important because I feel that I am moving forward albeit slowly. It’s better to write something than nothing. On the days when I really don’t have time to write, I read – it’s as important.
- Developing as a Writer: this links to number 4 really – along with finding the time to write, you also need to find what genre suits you. If you already know that, then great. But if, like me, you’re not really sure of much beyond whether you want to write fiction or non-fiction then this is an important one. I mentioned in a previous blog that I started a writing course 14 years ago. That really does give a clear picture of how long I’ve been playing around with becoming a writer. Of course it goes back much further than 14 years but that’s just the way it is. The writing course is the Writers’ Bureau distance learning course and it is really useful for a number of reasons. The main one for me at the moment is the first few assignments are articles and they are perfect for short bursts of writing. I can draft a short 1000 word article in around an hour or so and that is great for those days when I don’t have more than that to spare.
That’s it for now: Read, Write and Research – The three R’s.
Being a writer is like being a non-smoker: Some people never smoke – they are determined from the beginning not to smoke – these are the people who write from the off.
Others come to it eventually in the same way they will give up smoking – meaning to for years and then, finally, they do it.
Then there are those who never do; they think about it; talk about it but never actually do it.