Three important things you won’t learn on a creative writing course.

A creative writing course can set you up with all manner of useful things to help you make a start on your writing career. You could be a copywriter, a lecturer, or carry on your studies and apply your writing ability in medicine or law. In your spare time you could, like me, decide to try writing your first novel. (Beats the crap on TV, anyway.)

But there are a few things you won’t learn in a seminar setting. There are things your teacher, lecturer or group leader won’t bring up during the class unless you ask them directly (at least in my experience, anyway). The strange thing is, these were things I learned on my course. But it took hindsight and a couple of years’ experience to realise I’d learned them. So what are these hidden truths?

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Not if you want to make any money from your writing. If you sit around waiting for inspiration to strike, you’re just not trying hard enough. Your mind won’t help you out if you give it all the time and space it needs to chance upon a stroke of genius. Picture your mind as a dog, your canine companion. You can either train it to get to work and sniff out the next great idea; or you can let it laze around, run you in circles, wander where it likes, and occasionally bite you on the ass. With a trained mind, there is no writer’s block.

This is the only time in your life when you’ll be surrounded by so many people who love words as much as you do. Make the most of it. The world of work may give you a colleague or two who shares your passion for language. But for every one of these people you’ll meet fifty or a hundred others who see your carefully crafted articles as just more filler in a sea of fluff. It’s nothing personal; they’re just completely indifferent. No one will know how good a writer you are until you bring in concrete results; be it your own students’ grades, or an increase in sales thanks to the web articles you produce. In the world of work, the quality of your writing is judged by your employer’s return on investment for hiring you.

Procrastination is the greatest evil you’ll face. Getting work done for your boss is easy. Getting work done for your client is easy. Why? Because you’re afraid for your livelihood if you don’t come up with the goods. It only gets hard when you’ve only got yourself to answer to. There are many, many writers who are loathe to admit that they fall prey to procrastination. If you put work off, you worry that you’re not really a writer at all. Just someone pretending at being a writer. But lots of people procrastinate. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s the choice between doing something quite challenging and not doing anything at all. But there’s no pride in doing nothing at all, and there’s no success to strive for either.

I’m a great procrastinator when I want to be. A master procraster. But overcoming the urge to just not write after getting in from work is actually really simple. All you need to do is beat yourself up about being lazy, and to beat yourself up really, really hard. Feel every ounce of guilt and sloth it’s possible for you to feel. Feel every bit like the great pretender at writing that you fear you are. (We’ve all been there.) Torture yourself over it. And suddenly, you’ll get to work. All it takes is to write or type one word, and the rest come tumbling out after it onto the page. Procrastination may be a fearful and darkly beast, but it’s nothing compared to the spectre of guilt and self-loathing. So pour all those fears into that ideas engine in your head, and use it. And one day, we’ll write ourselves up to the top of the pile (or die trying).

So, what about yous guys? What have you found out as a writer that you didn’t know when you started out? Where are the pitfalls, and what are the fixes? Please leave your replies in the comments and let me and others know how to hone our writing!

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