A Tale of Two Creative Writing Students

When you give creative writing classes, you develop a real bond with your students. The process of writing means you automatically go beyond the surface layer that people present to the world, and you have the privilege of glimpsing what lies underneath. Then when the class is over, these people disappear from your life, and it’s a wrench. Apart from missing them personally, I often find myself wondering how their stories ended, in life and in books.

Though I’m not known for my discretion, I try not to talk about the individual students who come to my workshops. What happens in class is often too precious to broadcast. But last week, I heard the stories of two students, so I’ve decided to make an exception and share those stories.

Publishing Success

Every so often, a student will come into your class who has an extra bit of spark, a quirky way of looking at the world which they’re able to put into words. Joannie Browne was such a student. Her writing was incredibly droll. When I asked the class to deliberately write a piece that they thought was crap, she satirised the idea wonderfully and had us all in stitches.

Now Joanie has channelled that humour into poetry and contacted me to tell me she has published a book of humorous verse called Views to Amuse. It’s a self-published book, published by a printer that specialises in self-published authors, and it’s available in bookshops in Cashel and Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. It’s a handsome little production and she is quite rightly delighted with her success.

 

views-to-amuse
Joanie Browne’s creative writing success.

Discovering Creativity

The second story is more bittersweet. I was contacted by the husband of a woman I had taught. I remembered her as a person whose formal exterior hid a wicked sense of humour and a penchant for dark, gothic writing. She hadn’t written in decades when she came to my class, but the text from her husband told me she had written 10 short stories since then. He also told me the reason why I was hearing from him instead of her was because she had died. While I was saddened, I was comforted by the thought that she had reconnected with her creativity, and I hope her husband is too.

Have you ever heard from a former workshop student? Or have you as a student ever contacted your tutor when you’ve had a publishing triumph or tribulation? We do appreciate hearing from you!

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How to Write a Pitch

As a person offering professional writing and book-related services, I recognise the need to market myself. The thought makes me a little squeamish, but I know the work isn’t going to come and find me. You can tiptoe into self-promotion by going to networking events and setting up social media profiles. These are all important for building relationships. But I’ve realised over the years that direct pitching, done in a strategic way, is the most effective way of getting the work.

question-marks
Dreaming up a perfect pitch

Come January, I will be drawing up my next round of email pitches. I aim to send out pitches each week to organisations who I think might be interested in my work. Usually, the pitches are for workshops, but they can sometimes relate to my content writing or editing services. My background in journalism is helpful in this, as I can draw on my experience of pitching to editors. It also helps me get to the point, so people aren’t reading for too long. My pitches take a certain form, and my focus is always on how I can give the organisation what it needs.

Start With a Gentle Nudge: I try not to go in all guns blazing. Instead, I introduce myself, so the person will see that there’s a context to my pitch. I then outline what it is I’m pitching to them. If they’re interested, they’ll read on. If they’re not, I won’t have taken up any more of their time than necessary.

The Meaty Middle: This is where I flesh out my pitch. I explain what form the workshop will take and why it fits with the organisation’s target audience and its overall goals. If it’s a writing festival and the programme is lacking a writing workshop for more advanced writers, my workshop would fill a hole. I also make it clear what outcome people can expect from a workshop, what skills they will learn and whether the workshop will lead to a complete piece of work.

Tie It Up At the End: End on a sweet note by thanking the person for their time. Tell them you’re looking forward to hearing from them soon. This will encourage them to contact you. And speaking of contact, make sure your contact details are prominent. Even if they’re in your email signature, write them again. People are busy, so you can never give them your contact details too many times.

Putting thought into writing your pitch does at least give you a chance of it being acknowledged. What do you do to get your pitches over the line?

The Challenges of Editing Poetry

Proofreading poetry is a delicate business. As there are fewer words in a poem, the slightest change you make will have a much stronger effect. Whether you choose to put in a comma leave it out will determine the shape of a verse, or even the whole poem. I’ve been asked by a local poet to wield my editing scalpel. I’m flattered that this person has trusted me with her poems, which she’s hoping to put into a collection. She asked me to do a light proofread and suggest an order for the poems.

editing-scalpel
The delicate task of editing poetry.

 

Read Like a Reader: When I’m first editing a job, I let the words wash over me, the way you normally do when you’re reading a book. This helps me to connect with the material and to figure out what story the person is trying to tell. In this case, as they were poems, I read them aloud to get into the rhythm of them. Reading aloud also helps you spot patterns of errors the person makes.

Ordering the Poems: It’s extraordinary how themes naturally emerge in people’s writing, without any forethought on their part. There are issues or themes people will naturally gravitate towards, and that was the case with this collection. Four or five themes came to the fore, and fortunately, the numbers of poems which fall under each theme is relatively equal, which will add body to the collection.

Proofreading: There’s always more to proofreading than you originally think. Often the problem isn’t with spelling and grammar, but with structure. In this case, I discovered bigger problem with the rhythm of the poems, and I flagged those up using Track Marks, the computer equivalent of the red pen. Also, when you make one change, you have to make changes for all instances where the error needs to be corrected. This manuscript soon becomes festooned with red marks.

Second Proofread: When I’ve finished track marking, I will create a new document and accept all the track marks. This incorporates all the changes I made and will give the poet a clean copy to work with. I’ll then clear up any remaining errors before handing it back to her.

Giving Feedback: Proofreaders largely concentrate on spelling and grammar, but I’m going to add a feedback document, pointing to poems that need work and suggesting ways of correcting issues related to the rhythm of the poems. The poet can then implement the suggestions herself if she wishes.

Have you ever edited poetry? If so, how do you approach it? If you’re a poet, what would you look for in an editor?