Back to Creative Writing School (by Bridget Whelan)

I hadn’t heard of Bridget Whelan; indeed, I’ve entirely forgotten where I first saw her book on creating writing recommended. Most likely it was another writing book, or perhaps a blog on the topic. I know it wasn’t simply a random choice for my kindle since her book is one of the three or four (out of over two hundred) ebooks that I actually paid for, back in 2014.

I dipped into ‘Back to Creative Writing School’ a few times but it took me nearly three years to determine to read it straight through. I wish I’d done so sooner. What an excellent guide it is: it’s friendly, and full of excellent advice.

The book is laid out as if it really were a creative writing school, with three ‘terms’, although I went through it in just a month. The suggestions in the first term start fairly with fairly straightforward tasks: writing short pieces based on particular names, or ways of looking at things; generating names or titles; writing alternatives to cliches and well-worn metaphors. I did do one or two of these exercises, and adapted a couple of them for my local writing group, but for the most part just read, noting some of the suggestions, and may well go back to them in future.

As the book progresses, the exercises become more complicated and thought-provoking. I’ve read many writing books, so inevitably there was much in this book that was familiar to me; but that didn’t matter, because the bulk of each section was the author’s ideas and suggestions. She gives advice for creating realistic characters, for getting stuck into simple poetic writing even for the most reluctant, for using alliteration and other literary devices.

The Term Two assignments are more specific, and I found some of them a bit bizarre; by this stage I had stopped doing any of the exercises, although I will take some of the ideas and suggestions into my writing in future. Topics covered include humour, dialogue, different kinds of poetry, suspense, and even synaesthesia in writing.

I didn’t even notice when Term Two turned into Term Three, but in looking back I can see that the final chapters are the most complex, for more advanced writers than the earlier ones. Similar topics are covered; I skimmed lightly over the horror one, but read the rest in full.

This would probably be an ideal book for a small writing group to work through together, if they want targetted and progressive exercises, and share the results. Doing this on my own I could have made the effort to do most of the assignments, but without any feedback I didn’t have much motivation. However for someone wanting to get to grips with the basics of writing, I would recommend spending perhaps a week or longer on each chapter. According to the front cover, there are thirty in all, so they could be done roughly in academic terms with breaks in between each one.

Even though I didn’t take full advantage of this, it’s a book I will certainly dip into again, and which I would recommend highly to anyone wanting some help with getting start in writing, or inspiration for making their writing better.

(Note that the UK Amazon link above is to the paperback version of this book)

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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