27 September 2016

Starting to Write Your Novel online course: a student’s experience

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by Chandra G From Our Students, Guest Blog, Opinion, Our Courses

Chandra G (above) was a student on our very first Starting to Write Your Novel online course last year – and was one of the students selected at the end for a free tutorial with one of the Curtis Brown and C+W literary-agent team. Here, in a piece taken from the Medium writing community blog, he talks about his experience of the first of our £200 creative writing courses for all-comers.

So you want to write a novel. Where do you start? Not all of us have the time and resources to take an MFA in Creative Writing.

In May this year, I took the plunge and enrolled in an online novel writing course from Curtis Brown Creative. It’s a six-week course, and it was the first time they offered it to the public. No application or submission of work is needed to enrol in the course. You can just pay the fee online and reserve your spot.

I was nervous when I enrolled on this course. The idea of sharing my writing with strangers and instructors sounded horrible. The fee was around USD280 (£200), so money wasn’t a big concern.

This is a beginner level course, though many of the peers in my group were experienced writers. And some of them either already had self-published books or had completed novels in hand. But I would say the course is best suited for beginners trying to start writing their first novel.

This online course contains six modules, and each module takes one week to complete. Though you can follow the course at your own pace, no module starts before its assigned starting date in that week. I think this made us stay more focused to complete the tasks instead of jumping between them randomly. But once a module is available, it continues to remain so.

The focus of the course is to get you started writing the novel and finish the first 3,000 words of it. For beginners, it’s also a good place to get an answer to that eternal question: Can I write? Though I realised it’s a question that probably haunts writers for eternity.

Each of the six modules focuses on one of the fundamental aspects of writing good fiction:

Week 1: Introduction and Reading as a Writer
Week 2: Inspiration and Ideas
Week 3: Plotting, Planning and Story
Week 4: Voice, Narration and Point of View
Week 5: Questions of Character
Week 6: Writing Your Opening

Each module will open up on the pre-assigned date. Teaching material contains a mixture of videos and written instructions on that week’s topic. There are also additional resources provided for each week with tips, recommended reading, task notes, etc, from author and literary agent Anna Davis (our instructor).

Then there are a couple of writing assignments for that week. You can post your writing for these tasks in the online forums. Peers from your course group can read each others’ work and share comments/feedback. The peer feedback in our group was invaluable. Our group size was around 30. You have the freedom not to share your writing in the forums if you aren’t comfortable doing that.

At the end of each week, the instructor for the course will read the assignments submitted in the forum and select one of them as the winning entry for that week. And also, each week, the Curtis Brown Creative team sends out a surprise book to the winner.

But the most important part here is the peer feedback you receive for each of these tasks. My peer group had so many amazing writers from different countries. (Most of us are still interacting in a Google group after the course completion.) You will learn not only by receiving feedback on your work but also by reading others’ work and giving them feedback as well. Don’t expect any individual critique from the instructors; if that’s what you want, this isn’t the right course for you.

In the last module, you are encouraged to submit a one-page synopsis and first 3,000 words of your novel. You can read others’ submissions as well and share your feedback. This turns out to be invaluable as we receive feedback from many people on our work-in-progress. In this week, the Curtis Brown Creative team will also choose one submission as the winning entry and offer that writer a 30-minute individual tutorial from one of the literary agents from Curtis Brown over Skype/phone.

This last module/week is the trickiest and the most demanding of all. You have at least three tasks to submit: one for the regular assignment for that week, then a one-page synopsis of your novel, and then the first 3,000 words of your novel. I strongly recommend you start to think about the synopsis and first 3,000 words from the beginning of the course and probably write bits and pieces of it unless you have already written this down before the course. In that case, you can rewrite based on what you will learn in the course.

A bit more about the content itself: you would find most of the ideas taught in the course are readily available in a lot of writing books. But I liked the structure of the course and how it progressed with assignments each week. Don’t expect, though, to learn the secret magic that helps you start writing your novel right after you finish this course.

There is definitely solid content complemented by writing assignments. But I wouldn’t recommend this course solely based on the merit of the content itself, if it was not for their online forums and structured learning.

Personally, now I see this course more of a turning point for me. I always daydreamed for the past seven or eight years about a novel idea I had in my head. And I was a total beginner when I enrolled in the course. So I was nervous to begin with, but I came out more confident after I completed the course.

Now the best part for me was that my submission for the first 3,000 words was chosen as the winning entry in the last module. So I was offered an individual tutorial by the Curtis Brown Creative team. I was more than shocked when I saw my name in the announcement as the quality of submissions was of an exceptionally high standard. As part of this free tutorial, I had a chance to talk to one of their amazing literary agents for almost 40 minutes. So you can imagine I couldn’t be happier to have enrolled in this course. Overall, it’s a fantastic course for beginners and also for some intermediate writers trying to validate their ideas with a larger peer group without putting a huge dent in the wallet.

For an in-depth course as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission) with a great tutor and participation from our literary agents, apply for:

Six-Month Novel-Writing Course in London with Christopher Wakling (deadline for applications is Wed 17 January).

Six-Month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell (deadline for applications is Wed 24 January).

For a dedicated online course for those writing for young adults or children as part of a group of 15 (in which students are selected on the basis of their submission), with a top children’s author, apply for: 

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction with Catherine Johnson (deadline for applications is Sun 28 Jan).

We are offering three low-cost ‘foundation’ courses, featuring tuition from CBC director Anna Davis:

Starting to Write Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 15 January).

Write to the End of Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 22 January).

Edit & Pitch Your Novel (deadline for enrolment is midnight on Mon 29 January).

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Our Courses

Lisa O'Donnell, Author and CBC Tutor

Six-month Online Novel-Writing Course with Lisa O’Donnell

18 Feb – 22 Jul
Laura Barnett

Six-month London Course With Laura Barnett

18 Feb – 11 Jul
Catherine Johnson

Writing YA and Children’s Fiction With Catherine Johnson

01 Apr – 01 Jul

Starting to Write Your Novel

16 Jan – 27 Feb