It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the conclusion of the Curtis Brown Creative Six-Month Creative-Writing Course. The weekly sessions (every Tuesday punctuated by the occasional Wednesday) have become a central part of my life over the last six months. I’m already anticipating a keen sense of loss once it’s all over.
My 14 fellow students (including Colette Browne, who wrote on a similar subject earlier this week) have been so generous with their time both within the sessions and – more acutely – with their evenings and weekends to provide such detailed feedback on the extracts we have all submitted. Do the maths: 14 other students; three 3,000-word extracts each; that equates to 126,000 words critically evaluated. But for me this has been one of the most gratifying and supportive aspects of the course.
As writers I suppose we all seek validation for our writing. However, more important are the constructive criticisms, no matter how hard it may be to hear them at the time. Personally I felt a little bruised immediately after my end-of-course tutorial with CBC director Anna Davis, but once I’d had a chance to reflect on what she’d said and to process her criticism, I realised that in most cases she’d been spot-on. I will be forever indebted. Out with the red pen then!
The peer-to-peer feedback sessions (along with those harsh-but-fair tutorials from Anna and our tutor Louise Wener) have helped to shape my novel Ilona. I feel that it’s now a radically different and greatly improved novel from the one I first submitted when I applied for a place on the course. The process has helped me to slowly change it into the novel I originally aspired to write, rather than what I had written. It’s an important distinction.
I have been rewriting Ilona throughout the last six months, a process which is still ongoing. My issue now is trying to determine just how much further work is needed at this stage. If I’m honest with myself, my aims at the outset of the course were to improve the book; to make it the best novel I could possibly write, alongside the longer term aim of securing literary representation. I feel certain that most of my fellow students had similar aims.
My short-term aim is now to complete the current rewrite, incorporating much of what I regarded as valid criticism and largely ignoring the comments I felt were made without any innate understanding of what I was seeking to achieve.
That can still seem like a Sisyphean task (analogies of rolling boulders uphill can step forward) but it’s one I’m embracing. Just once in a while I’ll write something that has me punching the air both metaphorically and literally, and just in that brief moment I feel it’s all been worthwhile. It turns out that that the act of writing can sometimes be the best part of the whole process. Who would have known?
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