5 Things I learned from my Penguin Random House course

I guess I’m back! It was never my intention to be away at all, but it became quickly clear to me when I started my Constructing a Novel course in April that with working full-time I would struggle to meet the deadlines for my assignments and keep up the blog, so the blog took a back seat.

But I’m pleased and proud to say I have now completed the course. 15 weeks goes by so quickly! It was hard work but it was worth every late night, every time I fell asleep at my laptop and every lunch break I spent writing or reading. This has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced, but I endured and have learned so many things. Here’s just 5 of them:

It’s ok not to know everything!
When my identity is tied so heavily to being a writer, it’s difficult when you realise there are some basic things you don’t know. My tutor had to send me an article on writing dialogue, why adverbs are bad and even recommended a book on punctuation. This hit me quite hard, but that was the whole idea of the course, right? It’s ok to not know everything, in fact learning new things is exciting, should be embraced and learning more has helped me to improve my writing.

Creative doubt will rear its ugly head, accept it.
I had some serious moments of doubt throughout the course. I became so self-conscious of all the tiny things (watch your adverbs, filter your words etc.) while writing that the enjoyment ended up being less. It felt more like a chore, or writing an essay. As I have done so many times before, I thought about giving up. I’d be less stressed, more sure of myself, or would I? The sooner you recognise these moments and feelings for what they are, they become easier to handle. It’s ok to have doubts, the idea is to know your self-worth and soldier on. The road is long and as my very wise friend once said, it’s not over yet.

Handle constructive criticism with as much grace as possible.
It’s important to remember that when your work is being critiqued, your tutor or whoever is just trying to help you reach your full potential. It’s disheartening when it looks like your whole document consists of tracked changes and trust me I know that awful sinking feeling, especially when you were feeling good about what you’d written. It’s ok to feel low about it but it’s important to be humble and bounce back and take all the advice you can get.

Enjoy the fear.
A colleague of mine said to this me the other day and I think it applies here. I find I ask myself constantly, will I ever make a career out of this? Am I any good at this or am I wasting my time? The fear of never making it or not meeting my own expectations is horrible. But I will never know if I just give up or stand still. To move forward I must embrace the fear and go on despite it.

Be thankful for those who offer their help.
My nearest and dearest friends, colleagues, family members and my husband were all so helpful and supportive during the course, I am completely indebted to them. They celebrated with me in my high moments and consoled me in the low ones. My husband made me dinners, looked after our puppy and brought me hot chocolates while I was desperately trying to meet deadlines. My tutor was also patient and kind and encouraged me even when I felt like I was banging my head against a wall. I think it’s important to not only accept help when it’s offered, but ask for it if you need it. I couldn’t have completed this course without learning this and asking for help to achieve my goal.

So what’s next? What am I going to do with my new skills? Step one, self-publish Latest Mistake. Step two, finish the first draft of Wendy’s House. Keeping it simple and to the point. Watch this space. In the meantime, you can expect much more frequent blog posts, so make sure to check in with me, or follow me on Twitter!

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