You can learn to write: how an online course helps

Mo Harber-Lamond
10 January 2017

Can you teach writing? Or is literary greatness conferred on selected geniuses by the muses? Karen Horne argues that if you train hard, you become a better writer, and she chose to build her writing muscles with the Faber Academy Getting Started Beginners’ Fiction online course.

  • Turn your stories into ideas
  • Work in small groups
  • Take your writing to the next level
Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

‘I’ve got a great idea for a novel!’

How many times have you thought that, or heard it from a friend? And how many times have those ideas made it to the merest outline of a novel, story or screenplay?

The muses do not suddenly descend, you don’t find yourself just sitting down and scrawling out a work of literary greatness, and the magic pixies don’t get to work overnight and do it for you either.

There can be all sorts of reasons for this. Work, family, friends and social life can all take priority over finding the time to write. Fear of failure can also trip us up: that particular little beastie blocks the path to many achievements.

But for me, the biggest reason is that great myth of creative genius: the crazy idea that successful writers are born with an innate talent, a gift that allows them to sit down and pen masterpieces off the tops of their heads (1). I imagine these prodigies, with no formal training, churning out whole chapters during their lunch breaks, or late at night, while holding down full time jobs in unrelated fields such as telemarketing or nursing.

You’d think I’d have applied that logic to all artists, such as the musician who seemingly springs from nowhere. As if, only yesterday, they were a waitress and today they’re a star with a number one pop song playing on the radio every five seconds. But I know better than that. You have to learn to sing, and play your instrument, learn your scales, get used to performing in front of other people, learn to fail and suffer rejection along the way. Lady Gaga may seem like an overnight sensation because I’d never heard of her before she exploded into pop culture, but she’d been on the music scene for years. Years, I tell you.

Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you the tools with which to say it.

Dwight Swain

I admire the virtuosic dancers who fly and roll across the stage, doing all sorts of beautiful and difficult things with their bodies and making it look easy and natural. But not for one single second do I think that they woke up yesterday morning, having never danced before, and walked on stage tonight to perform. I know that it helps to have been born with certain natural gifts – a rhythmicality (2), a sense of form and so on — and for many people no amount of training will turn them into stars. But even with talent, it takes years of training to learn the craft, to train the mind and body, to grow the right muscles.

It’s no secret that you don’t just grow a fit body rippling with muscles without going to the gym, any more than you can perform neurosurgery without years of medical school. And I realised that if I’m going to be a proper writer, I need to train too; to learn about the craft and develop my writing muscles.

The Faber Academy online classroom is my writing gym. They’ve got experienced trainers showing me around the bench press (heavier than you’d think) and new ways to use the uneven parallel bars (I keep falling off). It’s hard slog, and I look forward to it every day, feeling the muscles stretching and strengthening, working new ones I didn’t know I had.

It’s gradually becoming a habit. I’ve had to rearrange my daily schedule and I’m still working out when’s the best time of the day to train. Sometimes work, family, friends and social life do have to take precedence, but I try to write every day, even when I have nothing to say. It’s like doing musical scales, or rounds of pliés at the bar — keeping fit and toned.

Getting Started: Beginners' Fiction

Begins: 23 September 2019