As I stood with my fellow course-mates on the Curtis Brown Creative (CBC) 3-month London course, I had never experienced such an intense feeling of impostor syndrome. They looked like ‘proper’ authors and I wondered whether I had been ushered into the wrong waiting area. The feeling did not dissipate during the round of introductions as each person outlined their Work In Progress (WIP). So many great stories and so much talent.
That first evening passed in a blur and only after I had spent the following day worrying about whether I fitted in did I realise we were all in the same boat. We may have come from diverse backgrounds with varying degrees of writing experience and success as well as differing paths to CBC but one thread bound us together. The work we submitted had been deemed of sufficient quality and future potential for CBC to work with us.
And that is the key. We are not being preached to, directed, ordered or taught by rote. We are being guided and nurtured. We each have our work critiqued by fellow course-mates in class. Learning to be constructively critical of others’ work is an essential part of being self-critical during the editing process. Our tutor digs deeper in one-to-one sessions and an agent even further in longer personal tutorials. Agents, publishers, editors and authors spend up to two hours at a time being quizzed by us, telling their stories, revealing their industry secrets and relationships, debunking myths, making the path to publication less daunting.
That’s not to say becoming and remaining a published author will be any easier. Attending literary festivals illustrates the constant challenge it is. Although writing is a craft with skills to be learnt, fiction is a creative endeavour and its consumption is so subjective that I find it mind-blowing that one author can connect to enough readers to make a novel successful. There are days when I don’t want to pick up a book I have paid for and invested time in, even one that I have been reading and enjoying. That makes it all the more incredible that the right tale written in the right way ever passes in front of the right agent. When one who is looking for that type of story is having a good day, is feeling receptive, has had a good night’s sleep, isn’t nursing a cold or hangover, hasn’t argued with their partner/child/etc and has a few precious moments to spare, magic can happen.
In addition to course content and tutors, course-mates have a major influence on the learning experience. Previous CBC groups have bonded so well that they have remained friends and supporters, forming virtual writing groups. I am gratified and relieved that this happened to my group within the first few weeks, culminating in the pre-Christmas workshop where food, drink and knowledge was taken in equal measure and Secret Santa gave literary gifts.
But publication is the ultimate goal and this excellent course is teaching us to prepare ourselves and our WIPs to make the maximum impact when all the literary stars align.