Friday, 4 September 2015

Where is the professional development for mid career writers? - Alice Jolly

In most careers there is something called 'professional development.' This is the training offered to people who are who are already qualified and doing the job but who, nevertheless, need to refresh their skills, develop, focus on doing their existing job rather better. But if you are a published writer then what opportunities are there for professional development?

The training opportunities for aspiring writers are, of course, many and various. I look back with a certain nostalgia to the time when I could take advantage of those opportunities. Courses through The Open College Of The Arts and The Arvon Foundation were cosy and comforting (photo below - actually me teaching at Arvon but the warm atmosphere is there). I made friends. We were all in the same situation - learning, hoping to get our work published, supporting each other as we developed.


But now that I'm a published writer - what is there? Well, nothing much, as far as I know. Currently, this is a problem for me as I'm starting to work on a new play. I have had my plays professional produced but I know that I'm not good enough to get to the next level. I need to learn more, to write better.

So what I do? I have seriously thought about doing a Masters' Degree but I'm forty nine years old and I already teach on a good creative writing Masters' Degree. I know from my own teaching experience that having people who are over qualified on a course is awkward for everyone.

I feel myself to be in a No Man's Land. Too well qualified for most courses - but not good enough to move forward with some aspects of my work. Do other writers feel like this? And what is the solution? I feel that what I need is help from other people who are also in this No Man's Land. But how would that be organised?

And would other writers want to help? Perhaps on a reciprocal basis? Maybe - but maybe not. The truth is that once you've moved beyond 'aspiring writer' then you are in a competitive world. Cosiness and comfort can be found - one Authors Electric friend has been tireless in offering both.

But sometimes writers can be wary of offering 'the competition' too much help. And I can't blame them for that. People do have to look after their own careers.

Do other writers understand what I am saying? Is there a solution? What do you think?

Here are links to reviews of Dead Babies And Seaside Towns:








12 comments:

JO said...

I agree completely - I can't find anything that is the equivalent to the professional development I did when I was in paid work. There are some very expensive options (an MA, a mentor) but nothing like the day conferences that I used to go to, pick up ideas from, and generally restore my faith in what I was doing through contact with colleagues away from the office.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

There use to be mentorships and I think there still are to some extent, at least in Scotland. I'm not sure what the position is in England. I have a friend who is an experienced journalist, who is being mentored for her first novel up here. Theatres and other professional theatre groups still occasionally offer to workshop plays, which is how I really learned to write for theatre. Years ago, I visited a 'dramaturg' at the Traverse with an early draft of a script. She gave me a lot of invaluable advice from the simple to the complicated. All of it was useful. I had written masses of radio drama but moving on to theatre was difficult. This was followed by a two day workshop with professional actors. Again, invaluable. Actors are generous and some of their ideas went into the finished play which went on to have a full scale professional production. I also received a few useful mentoring sessions on writing for film, some years ago. But I agree with you, Alice, I think these opportunities are definitely diminishing. And it's sad. I suspect the funding is no longer there, I think there are rather too many expensive Masters courses which - frankly - the experienced writer doesn't need and I think the funding bodies have become much too 'corporate' in their outlook.

Alice said...

Even thought I teach on a Masters' and do genuinely think it is a good course, I agree with Catherine that, once you are beyond a certain stage, that's not what you need. Also all Masters' Degree (I think?) involve writing a long critical essay. That's the problem with the involvement of universities. They make writing plays and other creative writing into academic subjects - which they aren't.

Alice said...

Have just noticed that the links at the bottom didn't come up on this. Every month I battle with this. I copy the links in and sometimes they seem to come up and sometimes they don't. They were there in the draft ..... Can anyone help? Can I add them now? Doesn't matter if I can't.

Susan Price said...

The Scattered Authors Society is for published authors of children's books. It organises a 2 day conference in Spring - a 4 day conference/retreat/shindig in July - and a 2 day retreat in November. At each of these members will give workshops on subjects they're knowledgeable about to other members. I don't know if this counts as 'professional development' - never having had anything like a career or a proper job, I wouldn't know - but they are great occasions for picking up new ideas, feeling recharged.

I've often thought the Electrics should do something similar.

Susan Price said...

The Scattered Authors Society is for published authors of children's books. It organises a 2 day conference in Spring - a 4 day conference/retreat/shindig in July - and a 2 day retreat in November. At each of these members will give workshops on subjects they're knowledgeable about to other members. I don't know if this counts as 'professional development' - never having had anything like a career or a proper job, I wouldn't know - but they are great occasions for picking up new ideas, feeling recharged.

I've often thought the Electrics should do something similar.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

The Society of Authors offers various useful events - but they do tend to be in London. One reason why the new Society of Authors in Scotland committee (of which our own Chris Longmuir is a member) is hoping to encourage more regional get togethers - but these tend to be more social than anything else. The SoAiS organised a conference on publishing some years ago - it was excellent, and useful, but it was a lot of work for a whole team of organisers - and it was funded. Alice is right - there are some excellent Masters courses, but they do tend to be focused on relative beginners or on 'examining your practice' in an academic way and while it may be useful for some people - I know a number of people who have done PhDs and found the process helpful - it still doesn't address those of us who may want to experiment with certain forms, and could use the odd Masterclass. I remember when one of our local writers' groups invited a seasoned TV screenwriter (and a very good speaker) to talk to the group. Afterwards, one of the members remarked that he had learned more in that talk and the Q & A session afterwards, than he had from a whole year of reading books, workshops etc. I thought so too. But such expertise can be hard to find, let alone tap into!

Lydia Bennet said...

maybe an Arvon course somewhere, they are quite dear but fun and you make friends as well, they might have a playwrights' course. or an outreach run by a university or theatre in your area.

Nick Green said...

I've always liked Samuel Beckett's advice on development. 'Try. Fail. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

Dennis Hamley said...

Yes, Sue, the SAS gatherings at Charney and the Ramada that I've been to have been wonderful. I've always learnt a lot. As far as academic courses are concerned, I very much enjoyed teaching on the Oxford diploma and think I did some good. At any rate, I still work with ex-students. I'm in two minds about their academic element. Reading English all those years ago makes me hanker slightly after the academic and I think it's important to put our craft into a critical and historical context. But I do agree that while courses like Arvon are ideal in their unique combination of informality and creative discipline, they are relatively few and becoming prohibitively expensive. There is a bit of self-help starting up. Writers in Oxford, for example, is just waking up to the fact that it's not just a social club but a brilliant resource in itself which can do something of what's required from its own resources, especially with some outstanding writers in other genres wanting to share their expertise and learn new ones And courses in the novel, offered in Oxford by WiO members Sara Banerji and Lorna Ferguson, in her Fictionfire day courses, have a loyal following. Cherry Mosteshar's 2012 group, which meets monthly in Blackwell's or the Friends' Meeting House, which I sometimes work on, has been hugely influential with both new and experienced writers. So there is hope, with the proviso of the old saying, 'if you want anything done, do it yourself.' Sue, your idea about AE providing opportunities is great. We're far-flung. But regional occasions?

Kathleen Jones said...

Master classes are the answer - advanced workshops for practitioners. There are quite a lot of these in poetry - you have to submit work and be selected in advance to make sure the standard is high enough, and you work with top writers in the field. I don't know whether there are any in drama. Is there a special 'society' for playwrights, Alice? If not, maybe something needs to be set up. I'm sure you're not the only dramatist who would like to have the opportunity for career development.

Ann Evans said...

Two of the societies I belong to are the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Society of Women Writers & Journalists. The RNA has a Fri-Sun conference every year packed full of talks and workshops which are generally very beneficial to all - whether you're very experienced or not. And the SWWJ run a variety of workshops and talks, again which are really useful.The nice thing is, that you're mingling with writers who are probably at a similar stage in their career to yourself, so great for exchanging thoughts and experiences with.