Are you seeking to improve your writing skills or become a published author? I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Gerard Beirne about his creative writing workshops. In May Gerard will host two creative writing courses, one for students preparing for the Leaving Certificate examination and another aimed at writers seeking to develop their craft and learn more about what it takes to get their work published.
One of your courses is directed toward students in the Leaving Certificate cycle, can you provide some background information on the course and some of your aims?
“I was teaching out in Canada for eighteen years and when I was in Canada I was catching a lot of high school students coming in and there were compulsory writing classes for them. Which isn’t the thing here in Ireland. The courses were there for the simple reason that their writing standards weren’t suitable for college level, independent learners, and I think that’s just where I was coming from. When I came back to Ireland.I thought, you know, teachers at secondary level are just so overworked teaching content that they don’t really have the time to develop writing skills. I feel that people going through the Leaving Cert know more than they’re able to communicate across because their written communication is not as effective, so it’s not just about English.”
“People think it’s about English, but it’s about any course where you’ve got to give a written answer and so that’s where I was coming from. It was just about, how you write well organised, focused, well supported and concise written answers to your questions. It does, also, look specifically at English papers one and two as well. I think people lack confidence in their writing ability and actually they’re way better than they realise they are, because they’ve been writing since they were four years of age or whatever. It’s not like they’re taking up some new skills, so I think people somehow get discouraged through the system and believe they’re bad writers, but, actually, they’re really, really good. Part of what I’m trying to do in it too is just develop people’s confidence and take skill sets they already have and just work with them to improve them.”
For those who are more set on developing their creative writing, how is your other course directed toward them?
“Typically I run straight-up creative writing courses, six week courses of just a mix of creative writing for beginners, emerging writers. I also run another type of course, I started a few years ago, that’s been quite successful for me called, Read and Write. What that was doing was taking the contemporary Irish short story or maybe another time to contemporary American short story and half the class was dissecting stories for their techniques and the second half the class was trying out the techniques in our own writing.”
“So they’re predominantly the kind of creative writing approaches I had, but every so often I run a how to get published course. It looks at how to present your take and whether you’re ready for it. It asks what level are you? We’ve got to be really honest with ourselves on that. It focuses on the nuts and bolts? So I think the last one I ran was about two years ago, so it’s not something I’m running on a continual basis.”
“I just felt it was time to offer it again. So, really, it is asking people, if you’re thinking about publishing, whether you’re sending out your first poem or your first story, or whether it’s a collection, “am I ready for that stage?” Because you don’t want to blow it. You don’t want to send out something too soon, It looks at how you actually go about doing that. It comes out of my own experience. I’ve often sent things out too early. I wasn’t necessarily sending out the best cover letters or doing myself justice and I think it’s just to remind writers that if you’re serious about this, there’s a business end to it. A very professional business end to it, as well as the creative side of it. That’s really where it begins. It’s a three hour workshop. We just go through and we look at individual pieces for those who are looking at individual poems or stories, and we move into the fuller collections or manuscripts. I also discuss self-publishing. In my day, self-published work was frowned upon, but for certain projects and certain things people are working on it really is a viable option nowadays. So, it covers aspects of writing a cover letter, writing a pitch to an agent, pulling together some biographical material and presenting yourself in the best possible way, and figuring out approaches for doing that. So it’s a practical nuts and bolts kind of workshop.”
If you put yourself back into the position you were in when you were first thinking about sending something out, a piece or a manuscript, what is the one bit of advice that you’d have liked to have received then?
“To slow down. To take my time on it. To rewrite more. I say that now coming from all angles. I’m an editor for the Fiddlehead literary magazine Canada. I’m a lecturer. I’m a mentor. I’m a writer. If I pull all of that together, my answer is, as a younger writer, to re-write more. If you think what you’ve got is already really good, imagine what it’s going to be like if you can make it even better. At that stage, I think the second piece of advice would be, to do your preparation. If you’re looking at magazines, get to know them. Get to know what they’re publishing. If you have a style of poem and it’s just not right for the poetry magazine you’re sending to, you’re doing yourself no favours, and you can feel disheartened if it doesn’t get accepted. They’re the two things that I would say.”
For further information or to register for the courses please follow the links below: