Welcome to the Starting to Write Course. Thank you for at least taking a look at it.
The aim of this Course is to get you writing and reading with energy, to help you avoid some painful mistakes, and to show you how you can rapidly improve your short stories.
I always tell my students two things:
There are no short cuts.
There is no wasted effort.
So, let’s begin.
What do you need to start writing?
Well, you’re looking at these words on some kind of phone or computer – and you could use that. But for lots of reasons, I believe it’s better to write with pen or pencil on A4/US Letter paper. At least for nothing drafts.
I’m calling them ‘nothing drafts’ rather than ‘first drafts’ because they’re not even as finished as first drafts. They are just something you write, when you begin a story, and they are meant to be a mess. You really must not worry about
crossings out, second thoughts and what you might be in danger of thinking of as ‘mistakes’.
There are no mistakes. There’s just getting stuff down on paper.
Everything you may write in your nothing draft is for you. You’re the only one who ever has to read it or understand it. As long as you can read back the words you’ve written, everything’s fine.
If you don’t have a pad of A4, you can use any spare piece of paper – the back of bank statements or bills you no longer need. I used to write on the reverse of teaching materials from the English Language School where I worked.
I’m not great at writing in neat horizontal lines, so if I’m writing on blank paper I use one of these things –
It goes behind the page and, when I stick to writing between the lines, makes the finished effect a little less wild.
The first advice I’m going to give you is this: Double-space your writing.
Right from the beginning, only write on every other line.
Well, doing this gives you more room to put in changes and new sentences than if you write on every single line. It also gives you a feeling of making faster progress. This is a page from one of my stories –
It’s on grid paper, because I like working on that.
I hope you can see where I’ve written new sentences in between the first lot of sentences. They appear in the double-space gap, because that’s what the gap is for. The page is welcoming to additions, changes. It doesn’t make you feel bad for making changes. You’ll probably need to make lots of changes. Not always, but most of the time.
Next Lesson, you’ll start on a story.
For now, I’d like you to do a couple of writing exercises.
Invent a pseudonym.
On your first blank page, write down the name of a writer (not a real writer who actually exists) – write down the name of an invented writer who you can write as.
For example, I once wrote something under the name ‘Alex Warden’. That was my pseudonym.
Don’t worry if you don’t like the first name you come up with. Come up with a few, then choose the one that you like.
Take as long as you need.
Before the next Lesson, I’d like you to read and re-read the story below. It probably wasn’t written by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, but is often spoken of as if it was. (Details here.)
Warning: It is very sad.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
That’s a short story. A famous short story.
Before next Friday, think about these questions:
Why is it a short story?
What does a story need?
What can’t a story do without?
Write down four things a story needs.