July 2015.

I have completed my Masters portfolio and submitted it, my new baby is due in less than a month and I am busy with a thousand other things…so what do I do – I apply for a very prestigious, intensive and selective writing course…obviously. The CBC Online Writing for Children course.

Like many writers, I was crippled with self-doubt and uncertainty about the quality of my writing. I’d managed to do well in my Masters (but there’s always that nagging doubt that when you’re paying for something like that, that they will just let you in anyway to get your money…) but I hadn’t got very far with submissions and queries with anything I’d written until then. I fully expected, with the number of people probably applying for the course, that I’d get a polite rejection (my only experience of the industry until that date).

But around this time, things began to change. First, I applied last minute for the course and I received an email a week later, saying they loved my opening 3,000 words and would be delighted to offer me a place on the course. I was thrilled. Then, I got long listed for a couple of novel awards, finishing runner-up in one of them. This was a timely boost with the course beginning in September.screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-13-51-53

So when the course finally began, I felt less like a fraud and more like I deserved and merited a place. Of course, the self-doubt always creeps in from time to time, but every writer feels this at some time or another…

So the course began – initially there was a bit of navigation of the Edmodo software to be dealt with and meeting 14 new writers, your tutor and Rufus from CBC was all very overwhelming for me at first. Some of the people got stuck straight in, posting and commenting lots, others, like me, stood back a little. I guess that’s human nature and precisely what would happen even if the course was in person and not online.

Once we got going, the course structure was simple: every week 3 of us would sub 3,000 words, to be critiqued by the other 14 writers and Catherine, and we would also get writing notes, a video and an exercise from our tutor (you also got two lengthy Skype tutorials with Catherine on a one-to-one basis which I really valued) – so plenty to keep us busy. And it was very busy. The 10 weeks or so flew past in a blur and by the time the end of the course arrived, we had formed a tight-knit group, a Facebook group set up for post-course and all of us ready to submit our opening to the CB agents to have a look over. This didn’t count as a formal submission, so those who were worried about being finished needed not.screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-13-52-32

Throughout, the feedback received from my peers was invaluable – imagine having 15 sets of notes for 6k of your novel and an additional 6k of feedback from your 1-2-1 tutorials – and I felt my novel really developed and took shape during this period. My confidence grew, as did my writing network. I had a new-born baby to deal with, two academic textbooks to finish, and a busy full-time job as a teacher, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed despite the workload of the course. Every submission was enjoyable to read, and I learned loads from feeding back on others’ work. Especially as I really had to be critical (the standard was very high, so you had to really look deeply at the writing to give points for development) and while time-consuming, the experience developed my own editorial skills and ability to reflect on my writing in a more objective, critical way.

So what came of the course for me? Well, the novel I worked on got a lot of agent attention afterwards, however nobody was wanting another Dystopian novel at that time, and I had to move on. But with the notes, videos, experience and skills I developed while doing the course, Catherine’s knowledge and advice and the best critique group imaginable (we’ve set up our own blog about the writer’s journey), I’ve continued to write and have now finished another novel, about to be sent out to the world…

And if you don’t believe me about the merits of the course, here’s what the others had to say –

  • ‘Confidence in my writing, a slightly thicker skin, improved critiquing skills and a new bunch of supportive, creative – and importantly for the purposes of writer sanity – very funny Scribbler buddies.’
  • ‘Our tutor, Catherine Johnson, was brilliant and I met some of the most generous and talented writing friends I could imagine…’
  • ‘Thanks to Catherine’s amazing advice and the support and expertise of my writer colleagues on the course I managed to land an agent two months after finishing!’
  • ‘For ten years I walked this road alone, now I am surrounded by good company. And the journey is so much better with friends.’
  • ‘The course really helped to catapult me forwards in my writing journey. In no small way thanks to Catherine & my fellow writers. Their critique & support was/is phenomenal.’
  • ‘Understanding the external versus internal was a critical turning point in my writing career – I have the course to thank for that.’
  • ‘Facing some painful facts about my novel, has lead me to a whole new and vastly improved place. Thank-you Catherine Johnson and the brilliant CBC group I had the good grace to be landed with.’
  • ‘The course allowed me to see my work through the eyes of others, which was invaluable. I now try to look at each scene through fresh eyes.’