Thursday, 16 April 2015

From reading to writing: building on the Six Book Challenge

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A few months ago, as part of the celebrations around World Book Day, we encouraged people to take part in the Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge to help boost their confidence and promote a great way to start reading and talking about books with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

This week, Cambridge (where NEC is based) plays host to the Cambridge Literary Festival’s Spring event, which is being attended by published authors as well as aspiring writers and enthusiastic readers. The event is a highlight of the local calendar and takes place in the inspiring setting of the city’s historic centre.

Against this backdrop, we thought it would be an ideal time to encourage anyone who took up the challenge to read more books in February to reflect on what they’ve learned by picking up a pen (or keyboard) and doing a bit of writing of their own. Writing brings many benefits – as well as helping you build on your confidence and written communication skills, a creative outlet can also be a way to unwind, relieve stress, and provide a shared interest that brings people together.

When many people think of creative writing they think of novels, but that’s not all there is to writing. In fact, it can include everything from putting together a factual article for a news journal to drafting the script for a science fiction film.

If you’re just getting started in writing, and you find the thought of completing an article or book daunting, remember you can always start off small and build up over time. You don’t have to dive into something big straight away. Writing shorter pieces can also be a way of honing your writing skills, as you try to tell the same story but using less words. NEC Tutor Ann, who tutors for our Creative Writing course, describes an example:

‘I have written poetry since I was at school but have recently become interested in writing ‘flash fiction.’ There isn’t really a precise definition of flash fiction but it can be thought of as a very short story. Publishers and competitions looking for flash fiction may set a maximum word count of 100, 250 or 500 words. I love the process of honing the piece so that I am achieving the word count whilst still telling the story that I wish to tell. Flash fiction is ideal if you don’t have much time available for writing, but is no less skilful than writing a longer piece.’

Ann continues, ‘Developing that discipline has led me to think more deeply about what I read. An example is ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel. I love the fact that whilst it explores a dystopian world following a devastating outbreak of plague, it has virtually no gory medical details. I think it’s a great example of using carefully chosen words to convey an image. I hope that with lots of practice I could choose my words so well.’

Creative Writing is one of three NEC courses focussing on writing. As well as introducing you to the process of creating fictional stories, it also covers other styles of writing such as plays, letters, poetry and reviews, and is ideal If you want to learn more about the different types of written communication and storytelling. We also have a course focussed on Writing Short Stories – great if you are just getting started and want to hone your skills – and another course on Writing for a Living, for anyone who wants to make the leap from writing as a hobby to becoming a professional writer.

We asked our staff members what they would like to write or what book they would like to create if given the opportunity, and they came up with plenty of ideas. Below is a selection of their responses. Perhaps they will help to inspire you too. Let us know what your ideas are by tweeting us at @NEC_home_study or posting to our Facebook page!

“I’d like to write a story about people living in rural communities – their lives, their relationships, their friendships and so on. I’ve heard someone once say that a good place to start is to write about what you know, and I grew up in that kind of environment.”
— Sue

“Being passionate about education, I’d like to write a book about the history of UK education policy showing the different trends and changes over the years.”
— Carly

“The next great feminist young adult novel!”
— Gemma

“The complete history of Arsenal Football Club, including the kinds of interesting facts that nobody knows yet.”
— James

“A dessert-based travel book. Two of my favourite things put together!”
— Rosanna

“‘Learning Spanish with Paddington Bear in Darkest Peru,’ an educational adventure.”
— Stephanie

“A local history book about Cambridge.”
— Maria

“I would write about all the different ways education can change people’s lives.”
— Ros

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