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  • Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by LPDK at 09:42 on 04 July 2007
    Hi everyone,

    I'm new here and looking for some direction in my writing. Someone I know recommended the 'Starting to Write' course offered by the Open College of the Arts in the UK. There don't seem to be any reviews for it online, but I wonder if anyone here has had experience with it (good or bad)? It's over 500 so a little feedback before forking out would be great.

    Looking forward to hearing your remarks.


  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Lammi at 10:28 on 04 July 2007
    I haven't done a course with them, but I had a tutor from the OCA oversee my first novel (she came as a condition of an Arts Council grant I was awarded). She was a published, award-winning novelist and really knew her onions. I didn't always agree with what she said, but her comments made me think about the novel in a different way, and working through her points was like working with an editor. So v useful for me.

    I know that's not really answering your question directly, but I thought it was kind of relevant.


    Oh, and welcome, Laura!
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Terry Edge at 10:57 on 04 July 2007
    Hi Laura,

    I was a tutor with the OCA. Because this forum is open to the public, I've sent you a private WWmail . I think you'd be much better off doing something along the lines Lammi describes.


    [Edited by Anna Reynolds at 15:15:00 on 10 July 2007
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 11:28 on 10 July 2007
    Terry has already let me know his thoughts on the OCA, but I'd like to suggest that is just a POV.

    I have done an OCA course and I thought it was very good, and I know others who have benefited similarly. I did the second-level course, Storylines, but know two people who have done the Starting to Write, and know many people slightly who have mentioned the OCA favourably.

    I also did an OCA/Arvon collaborative course at the Arvon centre at Lumb Bank.

    Both the correspondence OCA course and the residential (they run them occasionally only) was hugely useful for me. The OCA seems to care about their students and I believe are a non-profit-making organisation.

    I think it's an excellent way to start learning or continue your learning, since you get individual feedback from a tutor over about a year on 6 or 7 (can't remember) assignments. The price is reasonable IMO if you compare with other options, and you don't need to travel. To a large extent you can set the timescale, within reason, so it can fit around your normal life.

    They provide a course handbook which is well written and guides you through the key aspects of what you need to learn. Then you write assignments which draw on the course materials and what you've learned.

    I cannot recommend them more highly, and suggest you give it a try.

    I also recommend Arvon residential courses - there's a thread about them in the Technique conf.

    Deb<BR><BR><B><Added><BR><BR>Terry, you suggest something along the lines Lammi mentioned, but what she mentioned was not available to all. She was purely commenting on the quality of an OCA tutor she met in another context.

    [Edited by Anna Reynolds at 15:15:00 on 10 July 2007
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Terry Edge at 16:32 on 10 July 2007

    What I meant - and apologies if I mis-interpreted Lammi - was that, in my view, it's better to spend the quite considerable sums charged for an OCA or Arvon Course on working one-to-one with a freelance editor on a specific project like a novel. With most courses, and manuscript agencies, around two thirds of what you pay goes on their overheads; and with residential courses, obviously you are also paying for accommodation. There's nothing wrong with doing residential courses - they can be great fun - but most writers will benefit more by working with someone who is concentrating closely on their developing work. Yes, you do get one-to-ones on courses but input is obviously limited.

    I'm talking here both as a writer and a tutor. As a writer, I've worked closely with publisher's editors on my own work, and paid for freelance editors and a writing coach to work with me too, and find the thoroughness of that situation very beneficial.

    I guess it's horses for courses (pardon the pun). Arvon, Ty Newydd and OCA all charge around 500 for a course. A good freelance editor/coach - like me! (references available from WW authors and other clients) - can write a report on your novel for as little as 200 (depending on size and input required) along with, in my case at least, phone calls before and after. Which leaves you 300 to spend, if you wish, on further detailed and specific editing on your book or to save for next time, if you're going to re-write the whole thing as a result of the report.



    Another huge advantage of working with a freelance editor is flexibility. A good freelance will help you define what it is you want from your writing - not as straightforward a notion as it might seem - then adapt their input towards that aim.
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Lammi at 18:17 on 10 July 2007
    I should, perhaps, clarify what happened to me. I got an Arts Council grant to pay for childcare, but I had to have a tutor oversee my work so I didn't squander the cash on other things, ahem. Debac's right, it wasn't a usual situation and my contact with the OCA tutor wasn't the same as doing a course with the college. I've no experience of that. All I was saying was that the tutor I worked with was good, and a published author herself.
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 09:33 on 11 July 2007
    Thanks for clarifying your own situation, Lammi. I'm pretty certain all OCA tutors are published.

    The thing is, Terry, most people don't know how to find such a person who would be willing to work with them in that way. Apart from you advertising in this thread, of course...

    I am currently being mentored through the Lit Consultancy. It isn't cheap, and I entirely take your point that they take their cut. However, anyone involved in business who provides a service has to take a cut or they could not exist - an estate agent, a retailer, a recruitment agent. They put goods and buyer together, and by doing so provide a service because otherwise it would be harder for the two to come together, and they expend resources doing so and thus need a cut.

    When I was considering embarking on the mentoring I did have wild ideas about emailing Andrew Miller, whose writing I love, and asking if he would mentor me. However, the reason I didn't was because I dislike haranguing successful people, who often get sick of being asked to do things for people, paid or unpaid. I also thought he might be too busy. I also thought that, if we embarked on such an arrangement, there would be no guidelines or structure and that it could go horribly wrong. But mostly I thought he wouldn't want to.

    I didn't even consider asking Helen Dunmore, whose writing I think is wonderful, because she is so well-known and I assumed would be far too busy, though I would have loved to!

    So most of us mere mortals use an agency of one sort or other to find a course or a tutor or a mentor, because other options seem difficult or impossible to arrange. At least you then know that the person you're matched with is looking for such work.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Antarctic at 10:34 on 11 July 2007
    I've just popped in to mention that I was fortunate enough to be selected for a mentorship place through an East Midlands arts organisation and working one to one was tremendously helpful.
    I was also selected for a place on an Arvon Advanced Ficton week and while mixing with other writers was great, the actual input for my novel was minimal and absolutely no comparison with the mentorship programme which was outstanding.
    I hope your Lit Consultancy mentorship is as useful Debac; I'm sure it will be
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 11:17 on 11 July 2007
    Thanks Antarctic - YHM. I think an OCA course is similar to being mentored in that it is a one-to-one relationship with a tutor.

    I agree that Arvon courses are less good for learning actual craft (you'll probably learn some) but fantastic for starting to think like a writer.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Lammi at 11:22 on 11 July 2007
    I think what residential courses do is give you a boost, a sort of writer's jet-pack. So for those of us who largely prefer to write alone, that's a good solution.
  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 12:03 on 11 July 2007
    Agree completely Lammi - you put it better, because I made it sound as if they were just for people starting to write, which isn't the case and I didn't mean. Whatever stage you're at they give you a boost.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Terry Edge at 18:12 on 11 July 2007

    A couple of minor points on the OCA: when I was with them, tutors had to be published authors or have some kind of industry record, and be refereed. However, I'm not so sure that's still the case, mainly because they lost a lot of tutors recently and may have changed their recruitment requirements. Also, I wouldn't say an OCA course is the same as being mentored. The writer works through set pieces that the tutor then writes a report on. But mentoring - and, as I said before, I don't really think that's a word which should be as easily used as it is by some writing institutions - is much more of a two-way relationship, through which the mentor and the mentee both develop.

    I completely take your point that it's hard to find someone who is right for you. Mind you, it's a shame that you didn't try the writers you mention. I honestly don't think such an approach would be haranguing them - not if it's made in all seriousness and especially with an offer to pay for their services. The vast majority of writers have to supplement their incomes by teaching, working with manuscript agencies, etc, and I'm sure quite a few would excited by the idea of working with someone who's actually chosen them for the task. Of course, you'd be taking a bit of a risk in that it doesn't necessarily follow that a good writer will be a good mentor/coach/editor. Still, 'If you don't ask, you don't get.'

    I also take your point that agencies, etc, have to take a cut. But what I was trying to say is simply that if you find the right freelance, more of your fee will be translated into the direct work they do with you. Good luck with the mentoring; I'd be really interested to hear how it goes.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 14:00 on 12 July 2007
    Terry, thanks for your interesting msg.

    I'm not so sure that's still the case, mainly because they lost a lot of tutors recently and may have changed their recruitment requirements

    You may be right, but perhaps it's unfair to speculate on that since we don't know? Any of us could ring them up and find out straightaway - just ask.

    I wouldn't say an OCA course is the same as being mentored. The writer works through set pieces that the tutor then writes a report on

    In the Starting to Write course that's true, yes. I did the second-level Storylines course and from what I remember I just wrote a short story for every assignment, and there was no more of a brief than that. So in that way it was quite similar to mentoring. At the Advanced level the student sets their own agenda even more, don't they?

    But perhaps my understanding of mentoring is incorrect. In fact, I'm just about to send off my second batch of writing to my mentor and am not quite sure what I should be asking for from her. Could you give me a potted description of how you expect a menteeship to work - what the mentee should expect from the mentor, what the mentor would usually comment on, how the relationship works etc? It would really help me right now and I'd be grateful.

    Interesting that you think I should have had the guts to approach Andrew Miller or Helen Dunmore. Perhaps I should have tried. If I had read your encouragement before I decided not to then I perhaps would have bitten the bullet... Maybe one day.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by Terry Edge at 16:53 on 12 July 2007

    I'll say a few general things here about how I think about mentoring, but please drop me a private line if you'd like to go into more detail.

    So, what follows is, I stress, my view of mentoring. Others will have different opinions. However, I'll explain why I believe the use of the word does bring different expectancies into the writer's mind, whether conscious or not.

    For me, a mentor is someone who is doing exactly what you want to do, but just further up the line. They will help you with the technical side of things, for sure, but their main input will probably be in the psychological aspects - helping you first to see how these can block your progress, then steering you towards overcoming them. Which is why mentoring is a two-way contract. And the terms of the contract have to be clear and specific. Once the process begins, the effect works both ways: the mentor learns from the experience, too - by crystallising his experiences into better teaching models, for one.

    To take a slightly different angle, if you're a business coach you might be working one-to-one with, say, under-performing managers. It's your job to find out why they're not performing as well as they can and then help them fix that. Almost always, the problem will be with their mind-set, or emotions, or family life, rather than the way they do their job. Which means you as a coach need to be trained to deal with people in those areas. One of the ways you'll train is by finding a mentor. This will be another business coach who's further on in the field than you. Some of this mentoring work will involve you facing your own psychological barriers, so in turn you can recognise them in the people you're coaching.

    So, if you're a writer seeking help, there's quite a bit of difference between a coach or a mentor providing it. If it's a coach, they can help you with specific issues, especially technical matters, but if it's a mentor, then there will almost certainly be personal development involved. A coach should, of course, have his own mentor, although I suspect this is actually rare in the writing world.

    I think I've mentioned before that an agency I worked for once introduced a mentoring scheme, but of all the editors they chose to work in it, only I survived. Probably, that's because I happened to have had many years experience as a trainer and coach, involving quite a bit of personal development work. So, at the outset, I knew the scheme would only work if that element was recognised and agreed to between the mentor and the mentee. The other editors came unstuck, I think, because their writers expected that element to be involved, if only unconsciously, and lost focus when they discovered it wasn't.

    I'm aware all this may sound a little heavy. It isn't really. It's just a case of being clear at the outset what you want from your coach or mentor, then agreeing terms with him or her accordingly. In my experience, unlike in business, the writing world has not sorted out these fine but important distinctions. Most of the people who teach or tutor in one form or another are skilled at the technical side of things - although through haphazard and unregulated means - but have no training in how to coach or mentor.

    You ask what a mentee should expect from a mentor. Well, I'd say that's a two-way question. One of the first things a good mentor will do is arrange a session with the mentee in which it can be initially established what it is the mentee wants from the relationship. Obviously, this will change or refine as the mentee progresses, and a good mentor will help him or her to shape their wants in such a way they can aim to achieve them.

    The boundaries of the relationship should be absolutely clear to both sides. This doesn't mean it's a cold and unfriendly one, but that each side is very conscious of where the professional/personal line is located. If your coach or mentor is not suggesting these kinds of working practices, I'd suggest you should ask for clarity anyway, about what you each will expect from each other. Even if you both agree your relationship will be based purely on technical matters, it's important you know that. In my view, it's unethical to raise personal issues with a client without prior agreement to do so, even if you strongly suspect those issues are at the heart of the problem.

    I'm going to stop here, and apologise for so briefly covering what is a huge and fascinating subject.

  • Re: Opinions on Open College of the Arts?
    by debac at 10:13 on 13 July 2007
    Terry - thanks for that. YHM.

  • This 18 message thread spans 2 pages: 1  2  > >