Thursday 20 July 2023: A bit about me + Course analysis

Image by Engin Akyurt from PixabaC

If I’ve been a bit distant this week, it’s because I’ve been taking part in a study along online workshop. I watched the last few videos this morning and received the last of the feedback on my assignments.

A few people have asked about the workshop, but before I get onto that, I want to give a bit of info on me, and why I even wanted to take part in the workshop in the first place.

Pull up a chair, it’s gonna be a long one.

About me

I started writing in 1985. I wanted to write short stories for magazines, which I did. And I even sold a few. Right from the off, which was great and hugely motivating.

Then a magazine I’d sent a few unsuccessful stories to actually took me on as a regular feature writer. When I had a few features with them under my belt, they started to buy my short stories. And then their sister title also started to commission me for articles.

A friend at a writers’ group I belonged to was a creative writing instructor, and she was retiring to the country. When the Adult Education department she worked for (in Solihull) asked if she could recommend a replacement, for some reason she recommended me. I hadn’t done any teaching at all, but she recommended me, and I went to work as a supply teacher teaching adults how to write.

Before long, another AE department contacted me and asked if I’d like to teach creative writing for them too. This one was with Birmingham City Council and there were lots and lots of smaller, more local departments who also had creative writing classes. They also ran IT classes they wanted me to run. Soon I was pretty much working full time hours as a supply teacher as well as writing features and short stories for magazines.

I had a day job in those days too.

At about the same time, I started a new writers’ group in Birmingham with two friends and we were able to secure National Lottery funding for a series of workshops throughout the summer. I managed those. I had five workshops all together:

  • writing poetry (when I met the wonderful Alison Chisholm and her husband)
  • writing articles (when I met the wonderful Gillian Thornton)
  • writing plays (when I met the wonderful Simon Brett)
  • writing short stories (when I met the wonderful Shirley Worrall, later Shirley Wells)
  • writing novels (where a wonderful friend of mine from a Solihull writers’ group agreed to lead it, as she wrote as Alison York for Mills & Boon at the time)

I learnt a lot on each of these workshops, and I even wrote a poem or two, something I rarely do.

Shirley became a good friend who I met up with once a month for many years. Simon was so good, so funny, so entertaining we kept on asking him to come back. And Alison and I became colleagues after Gillian suggested I take over her Market Index column at Writers’ News, which I did for about ten years.

As a result of me writing Market Index for Writers’ News, Writers’ News asked if I’d like to teach some of their distance learning classes. And over the next ten or fifteen years, I taught three of those.

Also as a result of writing Market Index, one of the editors I interviewed asked me to work for him on a bird magazine. Then he took me with him to a football (soccer) magazine. And then he took me with him to a publisher of licensed activity annuals.

During this time, I trained and qualified as a broadcast journalist with BBC local radio, Radio WM. I worked briefly as a reporter for a local newspaper and then a community newspaper, and I crossed to the other side of the editing desk to become a (deputy) sub-editor, an editor, and an editor-in-chief on several magazines. I had several columns in several magazines, I was a regular features writer for several more, and I was still selling short stories.

While I was doing all of the teaching, Birmingham City Council sent me on a year-long teacher-training course. At the end of it I got my C&G in teaching. If I’d stayed around, they would have put me through my advanced teaching too. But I moved from the midlands to Yorkshire, and gave up the face to face teaching.

Oh yes, and I became a freelance activist for the NUJ, serving on two of their industrial councils (Freelance Industrial Council and Equality Council) and attending two of their annual delegates’ meeting, one of which I even spoke at. 😱 I was able to continue being an activist after I moved to Yorkshire. I’m surprised that some are still surprised by just how militant I can be.

So I think I’ve had a full and varied career over the years, culminating in ghostwriting twelve Regency romance novels over a period of about two years, and indie-publishing 54 of my own books, of varying lengths, over a twelve-month period. One a week. (I made it 54 so the graphic looked nicer when they were all done. Mild OCD.) (Find them here.)

Over all of this time, over ALL of it, apart from  a couple of weeks work experience when I was on my course, I haven’t written a single thing for nothing. And even then it was for work experience that contributed to my qualification. I’ve not written a single thing for free. I’ve always been paid, in some shape or form, including copies of books. And I never, ever wrote an article unless I’d already sold it. Please, unless it’s something close to your heart, don’t write for free.

The first and only writing course I ever completed was something called Successful Writers. The publisher of this went on to create Writers’ News, now incorporated into Writing Magazine after it was sold to Warners Group Publications.

You might wonder why, then, am I so keen to learn more.

Well, it’s simple.

  1. Things change
  2. You can always learn something new
  3. Writing can become stale

I love to read writers’ guides and how-to-write books. I love listening to successful writers speak. I’m really interested in how other writers spend their days. And I love to attend courses and workshops on how to write or how to write better.

So, that’s enough about me. For now. If you want to know more, ask.

The course

I’ve been following Dean Wesley Smith for a number of years. I read one of his writing books (Writing into the Dark, I think), found his blog, which at the time was something about writing in public, read a few more of his books (The Magic Bakery being the one that inspired my one-year publishing marathon), kept an eye on a few of his Kickstarters, and I eventually backed a Kickstarter that included some pop-up writing classes as stretch rewards.

Incidentally, the latest Kickstarter is here. Have a look. The magazine he edits, Pulphouse Fiction Magazine, never, ever opens for submissions. Usually. However… not only is it going monthly from October, they’re also opening submissions to writers who back the Kickstarter from the third stretch reward for three specific month-long windows. And he pays market rates.

So, anyway, I watched quite a few of these pop-up workshops, and I started to learn a lot. I even had a go at a couple of the assignments, but I didn’t send them off because I wasn’t sure he’d really want to see them.

Eventually, in May of this year, I decided to sign up for a half-price lifetime subscription to the study along classes he and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch run. Indeed, I’d read a few of Rusch’s stories and I think she’s a great storyteller. One of the best. If you can, try and read some of her stories. You can see more about what happened next, and why, in yesterday’s blog post.

I missed the last one they ran in May, but I had time to join the one coming up in July. Rusch would be leading the face to face workshop, Smith would be leading the study along workshop.

But it was a fantasy thriller writing workshop.

  1. I don’t write thrillers
  2. I don’t write fantasy

However, I wanted to take part in one of their courses, and I don’t mind learning something new. Besides, how hard could it be?

😄 😁 😆 😅 😂 🤣

Oh, how we larfed!

Boy, was it Hard, with a capital H.

Reading list About a month before the course was due to start, we were given a reading list. Five books, one of which I already had but they were giving to us anyway: An anthology of short stories, two novellas, and two novels. Not one was in my comfort zone. Not one was what I’d usually read (apart from the anthology of short stories I already had). And one was a horror story. Not my favourite genre. (It gives me nightmares.)

Assignment 1 First of all, we had about two weeks to write a short story. We were given the setting, the theme, the wordcount (3,000 – 7,000 words), and the deadline (midnight on Sunday just gone).

I found this one quite easy. Or so I thought. My story came to 4,650 words and I met the deadline. But Dean hated it. Or he didn’t get beyond the second paragraph. My pacing was waaaaaaaaaay too slow for a thriller. He didn’t even get as far as the fantasy aspect.


Assignment 2 After a day or so of lectures, including catching up on six weeks worth of lectures from another bonus course he gave us, we were given just over a day to turn in our second assignment. We were given the setting, the wordcount (3,000 – 5,000 words), and the deadline (Tuesday night at midnight).

I found this one really, really hard, especially after sitting in front of hours and hours of lectures. I did think, though, that I’d learnt a lot by watching those videos. I limped over the finishing line very, very late, with just under 3,300 words. He liked this one a lot more than the first one. He liked the pacing and he liked the fun aspect. It just needed more depth.

Assignment 3 After watching all of those videos and sitting up late to finish the second assignment, I was really, really tired. But for this assignment we were given an advance world-building exercise and then asked to write a 3,000- to 8,000-word fantasy thriller. We had just under a day to turn this one in. The deadline was midnight Wednesday.

I had a lot of fun with my world-building exercise, but when I came to apply the storyline, I started to struggle. Not for content, but for the length it was going to run out at. I thought I could probably turn in another 3,000- to 5,000-word assignment, but this story was going to take probably all of the 8,000 words. That’s how much story I had.

And reader, I failed. I got to just under the 2,000-word mark and realised there was no way I was going to finish 8,000 words before the deadline. So I fired off an apologising email. (Only one email that covered three things, as he already probably had enough to read without me adding loads of replies to his replies.)

I will finish this story, and it will go off to market before I publish it myself. I just wasn’t able to write a first draft in time to submit it for the assignment.

The course I found the course to be really useful, and even if it was harder than I thought it would be, I still feel as though I learnt a lot. Especially with the bonus six-week course thrown in. My assignments definitely got better the more I learnt.

Rusch takes the in person class and Smith uses her notes to present to camera, in small, bite-sized videos, about half a day after the in person course has happened. Those in class get more work to do and they get more content, but we got slightly longer to hand in our assignments.

Assumption Dean made an assumption that our stories got better because we were given less time to worry about them. He’s a great advocate of writing by the seat of his pants (though I don’t think he’s fond of that expression) and writing it once, rather than going back to it and polishing it to death.

However, I think my stories got better because I’d learnt how to do it a bit more in between assignments. I certainly tried to apply what I’d learnt to my last two assignments and what I didn’t know when I wrote the first assignment.

I already know I can write fast when necessary, and without polishing. I did it for two years. I know I can write about 2,000 words an hour when I know what I’m writing. Longhand takes a bit longer, but typing is about 2,000 words an hour. But when I don’t know what I’m writing, when I have to invent it as I go along, it takes a bit longer. And it goes down to about 500 words an hour whether I’m writing or typing it.

Value for money? I used to think that the courses were quite expensive, and that’s why I took advantage of Kickstarter rewards and half-price sales (and they do have sales every so often, they had lots during the pandemic and lockdown years as their bit to help other writers).

However, there’s another website that offers lots and lots of videos, workshops and seminars that costs $15 a month, and I’ve decided to cancel my subscription to that one and save up for my next course with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. In the meantime, I’m going to start catching up on all the courses I already have access to.

These people actually read your assignments, they respond to them, they give feedback on them. And they welcome questions by email too. The $15 a month website owner doesn’t do any of that. Dean and Kris are also editors who are actively accepting submissions to their various anthologies and magazines. And, of course, they are both very, very experienced writers, licensed writers, and ghostwriters.

So yes, I do think that the courses they offer are value for money. But I’d suggest starting with the entry level lectures before diving into one of their more intensive workshops. I just wish the entry level lectures were easier to spot and that it was easier to see which ones they recommend before you take one of the advanced level courses.

Peruse their courses All of the courses, workshops, lectures, whatever, can be found at Teachable under the WMG Publishing name. Before jumping in, though, read their blogs, learn about their work ethics, and read their books. Dean’s blog is here. Kristine’s blog is here.

Note: I’m not affiliated to either their products or their Kickstarters. But I do respect them both as writers as well as their work ethics and work beliefs.

Sign up for my newsletter
If you would like to receive my newsletter, please follow this link or use the form below to sign up and receive your first free short story.

Join my Substack
If you would like to join my Substack newsletter and receive writing tips and articles straight to your inbox, please follow this link or use the form below.

And don’t forget, you can unsubscribe at any time.

4 thoughts on “Thursday 20 July 2023: A bit about me + Course analysis

  1. Hi Diane,
    Wow! What a journey! Well done on all you did manage to achieve!
    I found Dean through your blog and have enjoyed following his blog (and Kris’) ever since. I backed the science fiction kickstarter as it appealed more. I haven’t had notification of the kickstarter workshops yet.
    The Pulphouse one does look amazing. And I can agree that they are both very readable writers. I had a selection of Diving Universe novels for my kickstarter and thoroughly enjoyed them.

    1. Thank you! It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, which I’m actually very pleased about. Imagine if I’d spent the money and then came away feeling a bit blah?

      I’ve just had the pop-up workshops come through for the Make 100 Fantasy Stories Collide Kickstarter, and before that a load of Pulphouse Subscription Drive (last year) pop-up workshops came through. You’ll probably know that Dean had an eye injury that set him back a few months. He seems to be catching up on everything now. I don’t know when the SF one finished as I didn’t back that one. I currently have three pages of courses from him on Teachable, so I think I skipped that one. He usually announces on his blog when he’s sent them all out and to contact him if they haven’t arrived yet.

      I’m really glad you find them as readable and useful as I do.

  2. Isn’t it amazing to look back and see how one thing led to another? And the whole getting paid thing is important too, especially in this atmosphere where people keep demanding free labor (both physical and emotional).

    The course sounds interesting, even while challenging!

Comments are closed.