reviews | video games

REVIEW : Sometimes Always Monsters

August 5, 2014

I have to admit, when I picked up a copy of the indie game Always Sometimes Monsters in my latest Steam shopping spree, I wasn’t expecting much. For 6.99, I was expecting a short, fun, indie game to waste a few hours of my day playing. From the title and a quick skim through a few of the trailers, I was expecting a Scott Pilgrim-esque philosophic rant about how life is terrible.

What I wasn’t expecting was for  Always Sometimes Monsters to be one of the best games I’ve played all year.

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books | reviews

The Books I’d Love to Read Again (For the First Time!)

April 17, 2014

This tweet got me thinking. There are loads of books out there I’d love to re-read, but how many would I want to read without knowing anything about them… again?

Well, I thought of a few, and here they are!

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theatre | writing | writing tips

Playwriting 101 : Thinking about Character

April 15, 2014

Last time, we looked at the bare bones of writing a play – now, we’ll go into a little more depth. This is what I learned about creating and developing character from the Engine Room program at The Garage, Norwich.

Your characters are the backbone of your entire story – without them, the events of your plot have nothing to act upon. Your characters will inform the entire shape of your play (or story, or novel, or whatever). Their personalities will determine what happens, and more importantly, why it happens.

01 : Creating Characters

The first step towards creating a character is deciding what they’re like. Fairly straightforward, right? Just a basic idea of their personality and role in the plot is enough to start off with. When I was coming up with ideas for the protagonist of my play, I had a particular character in mind. I was thinking of a guy in his late teens, who’d just dropped out of uni and had no ideas about what to do with his life. This character eventually became Freddie, who’d just failed his A-Levels and had become stuck in a dead end job that he didn’t enjoy.
Well, that was enough to start out with. But it wasn’t enough to write a whole play about. At this point, Freddie was looking kind of two-dimensional. He needed a little bit of depth to his character, so that I had something to build upon.
There’s plenty of exercises out there that will help you bulk up a character. To start with, try a character questionnaire, like this one. The idea with these is to pretend that you’re interviewing your character, and answer the questions accordingly. Note that this one has a question to do with quirks and habits that your character has – this is especially useful for scriptwriters. A character with a quirk is a character that’s instantly recognised by the actor and their audience. Don’t forget that even something seemingly superficial, like a stutter or a tendency to interrupt other people, says a lot about a character’s personality. For example, I have a grouchy old man character. Before he even says a full sentence, I have him ‘tch’-ing and shaking his head at Freddie. This is his quirk, and it tells the audience immediately that he is grouchy, and that he disapproves of Freddie’s actions. It draws them in – why does this old man have a grudge? What will he do next?
If you have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and you have a good idea of the way your character talks and acts, you can ask your helper to interview you as though you were your character. This is a great way to discover early on if something’s gone a bit weird in character development. Through this method, I discovered that the Freddie in my head was a bit of a weird caricature of every rubbish teenager I’d seen on TV. That had to change. The more questions I was asked as Freddie, the more his character began to round out and become sympathetic, instead of weird and annoying. One rule for this method : there can’t be any ‘I don’t know’-ing or ‘that’s a secret’-ing. Act as though your character has taken a truth serum and has to answer everything honestly. If you can’t think of how they’d answer a particular question, think harder. If you really don’t think your character would want to answer a question, think about why. Freddie, for example, wouldn’t want to answer the question ‘What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?’ Why? Because he’s the kind of person who projects a false sense of confidence – he just couldn’t deal with telling a total stranger his deepest darkest most embarrassing moment. Later, I managed to work this into the play. Remember that this isn’t a test of how well you already know your character – it’s an exercise to help you get to know them better. It really does help!

02 :  Showing Character with the Billion W’s

By now you should know who your character is. Great! Now comes the hard part – introducing them to your audience.

I’m going to go ahead and repeat a piece of advice you’ve probably head a gazillion times already : ‘Show, don’t tell.’ This is the nugget of wisdom on which all modern writing (and modern writing courses) is based, and it’s even more important in scriptwriting, because more often than not you will actually have to show things. 

In a novel, you can (probably) get away with writing : ‘John looked down at the shoe in his hand. It evoked the day, many years ago, when he first saw it on the shelf at Clarks. The leather shone seductively in the late afternoon light, and from that moment forth, John knew that that shoe was made for him.

Here’s what that horrific piece of purple prose looks like in a script :

John looks at the shoe.
Not exactly Shakespeare, is it? If that’s all they’re given, your audience is never going to work out that John’s shoe obsession is just one way in which he expresses his desire to return to a simpler time, before the collapse of his ten-year marriage to the woman he loves.
Those homewreckers!
The audience also probably won’t appreciate a five minute monologue on the exact role the shoe plays in John’s shattered and lonely existence. Like I said, it’s not exactly Shakespeare. Theatre has moved on from the days when an actor would walk onstage, deliver an expository speech (or inspired monologue, your choice) and exit to give the actual plot some room.
So how about this? Let’s pretend for a moment that these characters are real people with real problems, motivations, and footwear addictions. At any given moment, your characters should be asking these questions :
Who Am I? : You’ve answered this already – it’s the aspect of their personality that’s coming forth in this scene.
Where Am I? : Does the setting affect how the character is behaving? Why is that?
What Time Is It? : Is it first thing in the morning, or the middle of the night? Are they a morning person or dog tired?
That’s all background stuff. It might affect the way our characters behave, but there’s nothing they can do about it. For now, let’s imagine that our character is Annie, who is about to confront her roommate Bob about stealing her socks. It’s the middle of the day and Annie’s just run into him in the hallway, in front of the guy she likes. (I have footwear on the brain today, sorry not sorry.) Now Annie is asking :
What do I want?
 
That’s the big question every writer, actor, and director should be asking of their characters. As we’ve already established, we can’t just have Annie walk up to Bob and hiss : ‘I am angry! I think you have stolen my socks! I want to make you feel bad! But I’m keeping this quiet because I don’t want the guy I like to think I’m a paranoid sock obsessive!’ That would look pretty bad on stage. As writers, our job is to have Annie say all that stuff, but in a way that doesn’t make her look like a robot missing her subtlety drive. Let’s ask some more questions.
Why Do I Want It? 
 
That’s a big one. Why does Annie want her socks back so badly? I’ve decided that it’s because the apartment is cold – she bought particularly woolly socks because her persnickety personality gave her the foresight to prepare for the winter, and she’s annoyed that Bob didn’t bother to think ahead too. This gives her some more motivation : not only does she want her socks back, she wants Bob to feel guilty about taking them.
What Am I Going to Do to Get It?
 
There’s three aspects to this one. What is your character going to do :
Physically? : Do they punch a wall? Go sit in the corner and brood? Start to cry?
Verbally? : Do they start yelling, or talk very quietly? Do they start to stutter or develop some other quirk?
Psychologically? : This is really, really important. A character might be looking at the ground and mumbling when on the inside, they’re screaming with rage. So how do we show that? Well, the subconscious has a way of showing its nasty wrinkled behind even when we’re trying to keep it hidden away (with fancy frilly conscious mannerisms or something. I’m not sure where I was going with that analogy).
For example, Annie might act totally cool about Bob stealing her socks in front of her crush, but later on, she’s planning to make him pay. She might say something like ‘We’ll discuss this later.’ Or maybe she’ll let Bob pass with a friendly wave and then catch him by the arm and whisper ‘Don’t think I’m going to let this drop.’ In this way, Annie achieves what she wants to do verbally (by telling Bob he’s in trouble), physically (by appearing as casual as possible) and psychologically (by successfully navigating the situation without making things awkward).

03 : KEEPING CHARACTER CONSISTENT

Keeping your character consistent is one of the most important parts of writing – it’s also one of the hardest. It’s no good planning out exactly what your character is going to act like if they then start acting differently as soon as the plot requires it.
-cough- Moffat... -cough-
I’m just going to leave this here.
In any given scene, you should be asking the questions we talked about above, and then answering them the same way your character would. Let’s look at Annie and Bob again. Say, for example, that Bob was an irrationally angry person. When I asked Annie about her aims in the scene, I forgot to ask Bob. While Annie is trying to make Bob feel guilty about stealing her socks while avoiding an awkward situation in front of her crush, Bob is doing the exact opposite. He’s trying to get away with Grand Theft Footwear, and because he’s a colossal jerk, he’s going to go ahead and make Annie look bad in front of her crush, too.
Inconsistency would be if I, as the writer, decided to change Bob’s character so that Annie gets to do what she wants. If I decided to let Bob suddenly see the error of his ways and be consumed with guilt, he’d be behaving in an inconsistent manner. If I let him yell: ‘Jeez Annie, stop being so anal-retentive and accusing me of stealing your stupid socks!’ he’d be a little more in line.
This also provides a bit of tension. After all, if Bob does nothing and Annie just continues with her day, then where’s the drama in this scene? Nobody wants to watch a bunch of characters getting everything they want, any time they want it. That’s bad writing.

Next time, I’ll be thinking about the most important part of any script – the scenes.

I hope this was helpful to you all – as always, feel free to leave comments and tips of your own!



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theatre | writing | writing tips

Playwriting 101 : Getting Started

November 21, 2013

This time last year, I was invited to take part in a 12 month scriptwriting course at The Garage, Norwich. “Don’t worry,” they assured me, “You don’t have to be a scriptwriter already, we’re just looking for people who want to have a go.”

I didn’t need any more encouragement. This time last year, I was terrified of my writing. I’d never read any of it aloud – I’d barely even shown any to my tutors. Kind of a bad start when you’ve just dropped 9K on a Creative Writing degree. But one thing I’ve learned this year is that writing is a lot easier than I ever thought it would be. Last month, I finished my first play. It was dead on 100 pages long, which translates to about an hour and a half of runtime. And it was okay. Not great, but not too bad, for a first try.
It turns out all I really needed was some advice on how to get started. In scriptwriting, there are some particular issues : how to format the script, how to write good dialogue, and how to write not only for the audience, but for the actors – and the director, and maybe the producer too. It’s a daunting task, and that’s why I’ve noted down some of the things I learned while I was writing. Hopefully someone out there will find it as useful as I did.

o1 : Getting an Idea

According to V for Vendetta and the edgy half of the internet, “ideas are bulletproof”. Maybe that’s what makes them so hard to hunt down.
The best ideas come from real life. You’ve heard it before : ‘Write what you know.’ I like to carry a little notebook around with me where I can note down any ideas I have during the day. They can come from anywhere : overheard conversations on the bus, things you see on the internet, talks with friends.
When I don’t have my notebook on me, which is a lot of the time because I’m amazingly absent minded, I use the notes function on my phone.
You might find that you’re just coming up with lines of words that don’t seem to go anywhere. That’s okay – note those down too. They might not fit with anything you’re writing right now, but you never know when you’ll be able to work those disembodied lines into something really neat!
You can also try actively looking for ideas : my favourite place to do this is, believe it or not, Wikipedia. Ever started out looking up breeds of cats only to end up reading about social issues amongst the inuits? You’ve been Wikipedia’d. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself absorbing all kinds of information – and the more information you have to hand, the more likely it is that you’ll find an idea. You can try this on other sites, too. Try Tumblr for gathering knowledge on points of view different to your own, and Flickr if you’re more of a visual writer. You never know what you’ll find lurking in the depths of the internet.

o2 : Formatting your Script

Script formatting was probably the biggest reason I never tried writing for the stage before. It just seemed so complicated. Let’s face it, it’s hard to concentrate on your literary genius when your technological ignorance is preventing you from getting the line indents right.
That’s why software like Celtx exists. It’s a completely free program that automatically formats your script for Stage, Radio, and Screen. If you’re not writing for any of those, it has an online library of templates that might be more to your liking. They even have one for the BBC standard script format. They’re not even paying me to write this, and I’m still plugging them as my favourite writing tool.
Celtx also has an online workspace called Celtx Edge, where you can access any scripts linked to your account from anywhere with internet access. There’s a 15-day trial, or you can get it for £9.99 a month. As a dirt-poor student, I haven’t shelled out for it yet, but it looks pretty good if you’re collaborating with someone.
You can find some resources on using Celtx here : 1 , 2
And if, on the off chance you’re browsing this on your washing machine or just don’t like downloading things some random blogger told you were good, remember that Kate Tempest’s hit new play, ‘Wasted’ was written entirely in good old Microsoft Word.
Just keep in mind that there’s a right way to write for everyone : there are lots of tools to help you with the standard format, but when it comes to writing for the stage, a lot of people aren’t really picky about how the script is packaged. What they really care about is your writing, not how well it’s presented.

o3 : Actually Writing

Some writers can pull ideas out of nowhere, and go on to write amazing things. Most people have a bit more trouble than that – it’s not that our ideas aren’t good, it’s that they don’t translate to the page in quite the way we were expecting.
Doesn’t matter. Keep writing it anyway. The worst that could happen is that you don’t like it – it’s not like you have to show your finished manuscript to the writing police or something. The fact of the matter is, you can only improve a skill – any skill – by practising. You’d expect to have to practise riding a bike, or juggling, right? Writing is like that. The more you try, the better you get. As in anything, failure only teaches us how to improve.
Skydiving is the exception. 

And in case you need that extra push out of the plane, try signing up to NaNoWriMo – this year gave budding writers the option to choose ‘Script’ as their genre and set their own target. The only catch is, you have to finish it in a month. Maybe you’re reading this way after November has passed. That’s okay! There’s nothing to stop you saying : ‘I’m going to write a script, and I’m going to finish it in X amount of months’. I finished mine in 6 – next time, I’m going to try and write even faster.

You can even try looking around and see if there are any scriptwriting workshops in your area – if you write already, there’s plenty of theatres looking for new voices. If you don’t write already, there’s plenty of theatres, writing groups, and tutors willing to help you start.
Or, if you want, you can go off on your own. The nice thing about writing is that you can go about it any way you like. Feel free to comment, and share your own tips!

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video games

Gameplay Vs. Storyline : Choose Your Own Awesome

October 16, 2013

Last month I scribbled down a few thoughts I had about Gone Home and other storyline based games. They were not good thoughts. But it got me thinking, are there any games out there that successfully manage to balance gameplay and storyline? I mean, I enjoy visual novels and FPS’s as much as the next guy, but they’re hardly what I’d call a happy medium. One is milk, the other is cream. Where’s the half-and-half?

Then I remembered a game that came out about this time last year that completely flipped all my preconceived ideas about what a video game should be – I’m talking about Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, the game based on the hit comic (and yeah, okay, the TV show) of the same name. It blew my mind. 
I’m going to go ahead and admit that I’d never played a point-and-click adventure outside of newgrounds – in my defense, I wasn’t even born when they were in their heyday. I never lived through the golden age of adventure games, and the most interactive software I used as a kid was the thing that made the microwave beep. 
10/10, GOTY – IGN, (1996)

So yeah, The Walking Dead blew my mind like a shotgun shell to a zombie’s face. I’m serious. Everything about it was just so good. The storyline kept me (and my boyfriend) on tenterhooks the entire time we were playing. Every time the internet cut out (frequently) we’d leap up and run for the router like a tank was after us. Sorry, crossing my zombie game wires there. Anyway. Tenterhooks. What else?

Oh yeah, the gameplay. Now, I don’t know if this is true for everybody, but when I hear the words ‘zombie game’ I assume we’re talking about a straightforward shoot-em-up or a survival horror. I was not expecting a point-and-click adventure game – in fact, when I first heard the premise of The Walking Dead, I found myself wondering how that kind of thing could possibly work. But it does. It works so well. And more importantly, it’s continued to work. 
Take Telltale Games’ latest venture, A Wolf Among Us. Again, it’s based on a comic book, so the story is paramount. But does this make it a boring hour’s worth of barely interactive TV-watching? No! Just like last year’s LA Noire wasn’t a 10-hour long movie. Heck, there’s been a lot of The Last of Us hate being bandied around lately, but even that had some element of gameplay. Gameplay is what separates the ‘interactive short story’ from the ‘video game’, just like a good storyline is what separates a generic FPS from Bioshock. 
Uh… the other Bioshock.

Secondly, gameplay doesn’t have to mean shooting up the set, or scrolling through page upon page of character stats. It can be as simple as having the player solve a puzzle, or make a decision. Y’know, meaningful decisions. Not just choosing one of two ways to wind up at the same ending… Mass Effect. I’m talking about decisions that actually impact game play, and change it irrevocably. The kind of thing that makes you wish you had a save state to frantically reset to. Telltale Games does this brilliantly – my boyfriend and I found ourselves cowering slightly whenever the game told us ‘They will remember that.’

He’s like an elephant. If elephants were assholes. 

And when the gameplay affects not only the game, but the story itself, we’re in a whole different ballpark. We’re in the goddamn Yankee Stadium (my sources assure me that it is pretty good). Interactivity makes a player feel involved, sure, but making meaningful choices makes the player feel responsible. When I found Clem in that treehouse? I felt genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. When Doug got eaten by zombies I felt like it was my fault. I wasn’t sorry, but on some level I felt like I had actively caused things to happen. Who cares if 75% of people made the exact same choice? The point is, they had a choice to make. That’s the happy medium, and that’s why I’ll keep playing these games for as long as devs keep making them.

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video games | writing

Gameplay Vs. Storyline : A Short Story in 3D

August 27, 2013

As you may or not know, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time playing video games, and a lot of the time, I’m drawn to the kind of games that offer an interesting story, as well as the ability to shoot things into tiny giblets. After all, there is no other medium so capable of putting its audience right into the heart of the story – we see what our character sees, we do what our characters do. Video games, for the most part, eliminate the omniscient narrator, because the player decides how the story is told. We love, we hate, we feel as the character feels, and we do all of this ourselves.

But recently there’s been a rise in the number of games which choose to really think about the capabilities of the medium. In the past year we’ve seen games like Dear Esther and Gone Home – both big titles that chose to really focus on their storylines – receive high scores from all the major game review sites. But a common complaint from gamers is that what these games gained from their intense storylines, they lost in terms of, well… actual gameplay.

I’m going to focus on Gone Home, simply because it’s the most recent of these titles to sweep through the charts. Gone Home is a game about a college student who returns home after traveling Europe to find that her entire family is missing, with no explanation. Genre-savvy gamers, I’m sure, were already getting serious ‘NOPE’ vibes from the premise, and if they were anything like me, were looking forward to a few solid hours of hiding in closets and desperately trying to turn all the lights on. What I’m getting at is that Gone Home, on the surface, looks exactly like a horror game. Without spoiling anything, this is very nicely played with in terms of the storyline – we’re told that the house in question is known locally as ‘the psycho house’ and a major plot point is that the characters try to summon the ghost of the titular psycho. But my issue, and the issue for several other gamers, is that all this setup – the ouija board in the hidden cupboard, the spooky basement, the mysteriously inaccessible attic – leads to nothing.

Which is barely even an issue with the storyline, but a major one in terms of gameplay. After all, even when horror games have no combat at all (Shattered Memories, Amnesia), they are infamous for their puzzles. Even a quick google will have Gone Home pegged as ‘a first person puzzle game’ – even though the in-game ‘puzzles’ amount to nothing but reading notes and plugging in numbers into various locks. The kind of ‘puzzles’ you’d see in, say, a well-made (and free) flash game.

To be fair to the developers, the game’s steam page states categorically that there is ‘No combat [and] No puzzles’. Well, alright. That’s pretty original. And it does allow gamers to ‘play at their own pace’, and ‘explore’. I spent a good couple of hours exploring the house and unraveling the story, which is, by the way, very uplifting and fairly well-written. But the whole experience left me sat staring at the credits and wondering ‘So, which part of this was… the game?’

Gone Home plays more like a visual novel than anything else. And that’s being generous – even those have some substance to them, some level of difficulty that keeps the gamer playing. Gone Home can be completed in under two minutes, without any real effort at all. The proof is right here :

‘At the player’s own pace’ clearly means ’30 seconds flat’.

This isn’t ‘allowing the player to explore’. This isn’t ‘a nonviolent and puzzle-free experience’. It’s lazy development. If the devs really wanted to let the player explore and enjoy the game, then why not include a failsafe to let them wander the mansion without accidentally stumbling across the end of the game? Given the game’s undying love for combination locks, wouldn’t one of those have been more appropriate than a hidden door that can be clicked on and opened accidentally? 

The New York Times called Gone Home ‘The greatest video game love story ever told.’ They are wrong. Gone Home is not a video game, it’s a short story in 3D.  And I guess that would be fine, but I, and hundreds of other gamers, are paying £14.99 to be told a story – which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. In comparison, Dear Esther, a Half-Life mod built on the same ‘storytelling > gameplay’ premise, costs £6.99. A book, another storytelling experience which eschews gameplay, costs on average about £8.00, and is DRM-free.

And okay, Gone Home has a very compelling and interesting story – but then again, people have said the same thing about Twilight.

£3.85 with free delivery.

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The Really Good Stuff I’m Reading Right Now : Wizard Detectives Edition

August 7, 2013

I read a LOT of books. It would basically be my job, if my job wasn’t writing them myself. So, I figured I’d do a little feature every week or so where I show off the best of the books I’m reading right now. This week features…

(drumroll please)

Ben Aaronovitch : The Peter Grant Mysteries 



I’m lying a little bit when I say I’m reading these right now. I actually read Rivers of London, the first in the series, in March last year. An amazing friend of mine told me it was the best book she’d ever read, which seemed as good a recommendation as any – and she was right, too. I read the whole book overnight – which made the scary parts (of which there are many) even better, and the funny parts (of which there are even more) even funnier. Delicious. I lapped it up, and I distinctly remember reaching the final page at about 6AM, as the sun was creeping in through my windows like an unusually cheerful vampire on the prowl, and thinking ‘Wait, is that all?’


I’m going to go ahead and warn you, potential readers, that these books are literally unputdownable. That’s a lie. You can put them down if you really have to (Like, if your house is on fire or something) but you really, really won’t want to. Rivers of London had me hooked from the first page, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the other two books in the series, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground, were equally brilliant.

These aren’t the kind of whodunnits you’d take Miss Marple to. They’re gritty, horribly realistic, and full to the brim with mild – to – moderate peril. There’s also wizards, if you object to that kind of thing. Yep. I said wizards.

Kawaii wizards! 

Rivers of London introduces us to DC Peter Grant, a regular run of the mill bobby on a routine murder investigation, who’s only witness happens to be a ghost. This, surprisingly enough, catches the attention of the top-secret paranormal wing of the London Met, which leads to DC Grant becoming the only apprentice wizard in London, and throws him feet-first into London’s seedy magical underworld as he grapples with every supernatural creature under the eerie full moon, from ghosts to (minor) goddesses, all while trying to get to the bottom of an ancient mystery that nearly gets him killed. More than once. Everyone with me so far? Good. It gets better.

Book Two, Moon Over Soho, introduces us to The Little Crocodiles, a group of black – uh ‘Ethically Challenged’ – magicians, educated at Oxford and now the puppeteers behind London’s criminal underworld. But that’s the least of DC Grant’s troubles – someone’s killing jazz musicians by feeding on their life-force, and if the perp isn’t apprehended asap, DC Grant’s Dad could be the next victim. A slightly disappointing sequel hook and an ominous lack of resolution mark this one out as a definite ‘second book in the trilogy’, but it’s still just as gripping and tense as the first. Aaronovitch keeps the tension up all the way to the end, and beyond – I don’t even remember the gap between putting Moon Over Soho down and picking Whispers Underground – I was that excited to keep reading. Seriously, I moved house and barely even noticed because I was still completely absorbed in these books. They’re so good.

And if, like me, you’ve been eagerly awaiting the next in the series, you’ll be happy to know that as of the 25th of July 2013, Broken Homes is available in hardcover in U.K bookshops. It looks like this :

Now go buy it! 


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writing | writing tips

Why you should take a Creative Writing course.

July 30, 2013

From an actual Creative Writing student! 

In my first year of university, I’ve met an awful lot of fellow writers. Some of them are already professionals (most of whom are very intimidating, but also very lovely!) but a great deal of them have been what I like to call ‘sort-of’ writers. Those writers who’ve spent their whole lives, or a great portion of them, writing. Be it fanfiction, blogging, or just the odd poem scribbled down in their journal, they write. Some of them write when they’re angry, or sad. Some of them write with their friends. Some of them write all the time and do absolutely nothing else. But when you ask them: ‘Are you a writer?’ they’ll all answer the same.

‘Sort of’.

One thing all these sort-of writers have in common is that they want to write. They want to be writers. But a lot of them won’t. A lot of them will pursue ‘sensible’ career options, and just keep writing as a hobby. That’s fine. But what about those of us who really do want to write for a living, who can’t see themselves doing anything else?
Well, then it’s time to take a Creative Writing course. 

I came to this conclusion in about January last year. I’d wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, and for as long as I can remember, people had been telling me that I should go write for a living, that I’d be good at it, that I’d be the next bestselling author, that I could write the next [insert whichever series was popular at the time]. It was all very flattering.
Except that one.
But that’s a stupid idea, right? Surely, I thought, to be a real writer you have to ditch the thought of university completely, go travel the world, and spend the next thirty years churning out cover letter after cover letter before finally being discovered in the slush pile of a down-on-their-luck agent looking for the next Harry Potter. I also had some ideas about dying alone and disease-ridden in a garret in Paris, but I wouldn’t recommend that, either.
Instead, an amazing English teacher pointed out to me that I could spare myself years of heartache by just taking a creative writing course at university and seeing where that got me. After all, if I succeeded, I could very well go on to write professionally, and if I failed, then I had the added bonus of never having to pay back my student loan. It’s a win-win situation. And that’s the first reason you should take a creative writing course. 
The second reason is that you’ll get to meet other writers. This is less soul-destroying than you’d think. On my first day at UEA, for example, I posted a quick ‘Hello, does anyone else happen to be doing Creative Writing and do you think we could be friends?’ on our collective facebook wall, and the next thing I knew my new kitchen was flooded with about 20 fantastic fellow writers, all of whom were just as nervous and reluctant to talk about themselves as I was. It was an eye opener. I’d been expecting a group of hipsters to turn up wielding their Booker Prize-winning novels in one hand, and their star-studded Twitter page in the other. 
Seems about right.
Instead, I got two dozen perfectly normal ‘sort of’ writers who were just like me. And just like me, they’d been wondering if their choice of course was really, well, valid. See, they’d all been taught the same thing I had : that writing is a talent, not a skill. That it’s innate, not learned. As far as I can tell, that idea is wrong. 
Of course some people are going to spend more time writing than others. Those people will, most likely, be better at writing than others. But that time spent writing, and doing writing-related-things, is what differentiates between someone who wants to be a writer, and someone who just writes. We writers don’t have chromosomes shaped like semi-colons, in the same way lawyers don’t have lines of legislation for D.N.A. Writers like writing. And that, in itself, creates talent. 
My point is, a lot of people told me that I couldn’t be taught to write. That I was wasting 9k on something I already knew how to do. I thought that wasn’t true at all. After all, I knew my writing could be better. And if you’ve ever felt that feeling when you look at something you’ve written and know it could be improved, but not how, then yes, a creative writing course is for you.
A creative writing course won’t just teach you how to write – in fact, we do very little of that – it will teach you how to read. How to assert yourself as a writer. How to talk to other writers, and read other writers’ work, without worrying that you’re not good enough to write. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that writers – even my favourite writers – aren’t superhuman literature machines. They’re just average people… who write. I wouldn’t have learned that by sitting at home reading their novels religiously, praying to whichever god hands out copious amounts of talent that one day I could be that good – it was sitting at university, reading their novels religiously, and then meeting them in person only to find that actually, they’re pretty nice and normal and not godlike at all, that taught me that. 
So that’s the number one reason for taking a creative writing course – because it will teach you things about writing, and the business of being a writer, that you might never have learned otherwise.

A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘I have one poem published and I still have both my ears, so I’m already doing better than Van Gogh.’ 
A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘I would’ve poisoned Socrates too, he sounds like a jerk!’ 
A creative writing course will teach you to say things like; ‘Yes, I do Creative Writing. I’m studying it at university.’
And most importantly of all, a creative writing course will teach you to stop saying things like ‘I’m a writer… sort of.’ 
But seriously, look at this face and tell me you don’t want to punch it.

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