Writing is a skill like any other: to be skilled in crafting words, you need practice, rather than talent. Most people don't realise this. Take artists - they draw or paint all the time. It's a passion. They think about things in terms of what it offers them artistically. They see something on the street, in the countryside and it inspires them. They copy other painters' strokes or use of light. It's something they dedicate time to. 

Most people fail because they don't set aside time to practise it. They expect to be able to write well and shape their words without even having practised it. Compare this to running. If we can walk, we can run. But we're not all able to do a sprint or a marathon. If we want to do a marathon, we practise for one. We prepare. We get all the right equipment. We eat properly. We train. We find mentors and coaches. We analyse. And then, for 26 miles, we run. Even sprinters do this. 10 seconds running will be preceded by hours and hours of training, analysis, coaching and preparation. It's that practice that makes Average Joe into Usain Bolt. 

My top ten tips for becoming a better creative writer are:

  1. Read. Read widely and broadly and experience a range of good writing. 
  2. Gather and catalogue stimuli. Take photos, collect drawings, listen to people's stories and make notes afterwards. Keep a journal and add to it. 
  3. Set aside time for inspiration. Actively seek out cultural experiences and rich environments and be mindful of what you see or hear or experience. Take it in and digest it. 
  4. Find a mentor. Even if it's just someone whose work you admire. Learn about them and how they write. Analyse how they write and explore what you like about their writing. 
  5. Talk to others. A writer rarely works in isolation. Seek out others who give you alternative views. It's easy to look for people whose ideas corroborate your own: they flatter and reinforce. Seek out your critics too. Take on board what they have to say. Giant peaks rarely exist in isolation. Everest is surrounded by other high peaks. It is on their backs that it stands. 
  6. Make writing a habit. 10 minutes a day is fine to start. Write freely and allow yourself time to develop a natural style. 
  7. Learn about writing. Learn the mechanics, the building blocks. Remember texts are like matter - they are composed of tiny elements that create a whole. Punctuation, word choice, sentence construction and paragraphs are just as important as the brush-strokes on a canvas, as molecules in metals. They make the whole what it is. 
  8. Be reflective. Make notes about your writing. Comment on your own writing. Think about your writing. Deconstruct your writing. 
  9. Make a change. Do something differently. It's easy to fall into patterns. Some artists favour clay or glass. Choosing a different medium for expression can alter and expand your viewpoint.
  10. Publish. Share. Writing's purpose is communication. It can be self-expression. It can be instructional but it is designed to be read. Practise getting your work read. 
Fables, parables and allegories all form part of the same team: stories that use symbols to give a moral or didactic message. 

The most famous fables are Aesop's Fables. The morals and symbols from these have passed into common parlance in everyday English. Being a dog in a manger is a favourite of mine: a person who cannot benefit from something themselves, but will not allow others to benefit from it either. The fable tells of a dog who lies in a cows' manger for a nap. The cows come to eat the hay, but cannot because the dog is in the way. The cows low and the dog cannot sleep. He will not move to let them eat, but he cannot sleep himself. It's a metaphor for a stubborn person who is unwilling to do things differently, even if the things he does currently are not getting him anywhere. 

Chances are you know about the hare and the tortoise, and the idea that slow and steady wins the day. You'll also know what 'sour grapes' are, for a person who is resentful. The Boy who cried Wolf is also a fable, as is the tale of the North Wind and the Sun who compete to get a man to take his coat off. 

Parables are slightly different. Parables often have a religious rather than a general message. Fables come from the word for 'story', the word that gives us 'fabulous' (made up!) and a confabulator (someone who lies) Parables more often than not include people, rather than symbols. So the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are both well-known parables. 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights are also fables, illuminating some moral message. 

An allegory has a wider symbolic meaning, and the moral message might not be as obvious. An allegory can take a situation or event and parallel it with symbols. For instance,  George Orwell's tale 'Animal Farm' is an allegory of Communism - its rise and fall. The pigs represent the leaders of Russia, Boxer represents the hard-working proletariat. The Farmer represents the Russian monarchy. 

My Top Ten Fables, Allegories and Parables:
  • Aesop's Fables  
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • The Prodigal Son
  • 1001 nights - the Arabian Nights
  • The Little Prince - Antoine de St Exupéry 
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The impact of symbolic tales on modern language and literature is huge. Understanding the canon of figurative literature is key to understanding many cultural and historical images in modern fiction. They are very useful starting points for short stories in which a writer can consider a moral. They are also useful in how the plot and characters serve only as a way of sharing a key mora
Today, you're learning about why planning is so important, and how to organise your ideas better

By the end of the session, you'll understand:
  • why planning is so important
  • how mind-mapping can help you revise

Mind mapping is a great tool to help you revise. It's kind of like what we call a thought shower or a spider diagram but organised. And it's the organisation that makes the difference. Most people don't organise their spider diagrams, so they're just like big, crazy, disorganised lists in a completely random order. 

When we organise ideas, we make links in our brain. A link is like a little footpath from one bit of information to another. The more we use it, the more defined it becomes. Our brain has billions of neurons which create synaptic links - the scientific name for these footpaths from one bit of information to another.
When we get a new bit of information, we store it away. When we need to access it, the better the connection, the bigger the footpath, the easier it is to access. The more we tread that pathway, and the more ways we access the information, the easier it is to recall. Mind-mapping helps that. Mind-mapping is great for planning essays, organising your revision and studying for exams. Paper mind-mapping is fine. It helps you bring everything together. It's good for visual learners and proper mind-mapping helps you organise the chaos. You can colour-code things, you can organise your information. Use flipchart paper and you can get a whole topic on there in one go. Online mind-mapping takes it up a notch. You can:

  • link up with your friends and mind-map together
  • link to files, video, sound, pictures
  • add images
  • see your mind-map grow
  • annotate it
  • add notes
  • build on it
  • access it anywhere if you have a computer or smartphone and a connection
This means you don't have to store it in your head and you can look at it again to refresh your memory - kind of like a priority pass to get past a traffic jam. Instead of sitting waiting for your brain to process everything you want from it and find everything and open up every single synaptic footpath to every single bit of information, a mind-map waves an Access All Areas pass and brings them all up simultaneously. Cool!
Mind42 is great, free software to do this. It allows you to collaborate - so your friends, teachers, students or colleagues can add to it. You can use it on a whiteboard or an ipad as it works with most things. It's also got some great functionality so you can add notes and diagrams and images. Best of all, it's free and it's available on whatever computer you're using when you log on!
The thing it's best at is gathering facts and information. So if you have to revise a knowledge-based subject, it's great for adding lots of information. Here's a simple one I started to help revise An Inspector Calls  for an exam. You can colour-code it. You can publish it. You can distribute it. What more do you want?
Good for:
  • Individual revision of factual subjects
  • Group work over lots of computers
  • Quick recall
  • Making links
  • Improving your revision
Today you are learning about presentation and thinking about the devices or techniques we can use to enhance the effect of our writing. 

By the end of the session, you should be able to 
  1. comment in writing on the range of different ways that writers use presentation in different texts
  2. explain in writing how the presentation features create specific effects
  3. analyse in writing how meaning is given through presentation

Presentation is everything. If you don't get the reader's eye, you have failed. In this presentation-first world, catching the eye and keeping the reader hooked are the two things your presentation should do. 

But... you can use presentation in a much more subtle way. If you're really clever, you can find much more gentle ways of getting your ideas across. 

Writing never happens in isolation. It's important to check out what happens in the real world. What's more important is to think about what is important for you. 
  • What's the purpose of your writing?
  • Who are you writing for? 
It's also important to think about the presentation of your work. Gone are the days when people will read things that are too small, without pictures, unhelpfully presented or confusing. 

Make a list like this one of the aspects of presentation you can see in the type of text you want to present. Then put them into rank order. Which are the most important? Re-arrange your list so that the most important features are at the top. Cut and paste the list as you go. 

Then think about why they are used. Each of these aspects (on a website anyway!) is expensive to produce and is a long way from very early websites. Websites used to be about content. Now they are about how they are presented. 

Do a google search for your name or a hobby that you're interested in. Look at the first 10 results returned. Which is the best site? Why? What is it about the presentation that works best? What doesn't work? 

Now you have identified all the conventions of the presentation. The conventions are just the regular things you'd expect to see. Like the conventions of a fairy story are 'Once Upon a Time', talking animals or wicked witches, young children in danger and wicked stepmothers, everything has a convention - a tradition - things you expect to see. These things make it what it is. 

Once you have determined what is there, you need to think about why it is there - what does it do? Why do we have headlines, why do we have subheadings? What do the pictures do? Add this to your spreadsheet. 

To move on you'll be thinking about:
  1. comparing and contrasting the effects achieved by different writers in different texts
  2. evaluating how effective the presentation is
  3. commenting on how the presentation links to the main ideas or purpose of the text