We’re thrilled to be launching another year of our Ultimate Novel Writing Course. It’s the most practical, hands-on course we offer, helping you go from first draft to full publishable manuscript with expert tuition and ongoing support. We chatted to Sharon Dunne, a student on the 2020-2021 course, about how the UNWC has impacted her writing journey.
JW: Hi Sharon! What stage were you at with your writing before the UNWC?
SD: I had very little experience before the course. I’d always loved writing but it just wasn’t feasible as something to do as a career, at least not in my circle. I started writing properly about a year beforehand and, after eleven or twelve months, I realised that I needed help. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I was just going with it – but if I wanted to make it a serious career, I really needed some help.
JW: What was your favourite part of the course?
SD: It’s hard to choose! Meeting my group was absolutely amazing because they were such great support. You end up building a friendship – a supportive circle where you can help each other when someone is struggling. That was one of my favourite things. I think the weekly exercises, the feedback, and the tutoring have been excellent as well. I had started with a book, but I ended up deleting a whole 96,000 words and starting again. I’d thought I needed a little bit of help, but I realised quite quickly that it just wasn’t good enough.
The first tutor feedback I had was from Wes (Brown, UNWC tutor) and it was really good. He gave feedback in such a supportive way that it encouraged me to start again. Now I’ve just finished my manuscript. It’s just been sent off to Lindsey (Alexander, UNWC tutor) and it’s so much better. I basically learned from the ground up and I worked really hard at it – the whole experience was great.
JW: Amazing! Do you think starting from scratch on your MS was made a little easier because of that support?
SD: Yes, definitely! I had started writing without knowing I needed the basics, but once I’d started learning them I realised that [my original manuscript] wasn’t good enough and there was no point in trying to make a load of changes. In the end I just wanted to start again. Actually, I think I was more excited than anything. Whatever chapter I was writing, I would use that for whatever was the focus of the course each week – so I was kind of tweaking as I went, as well. The weekly tasks were really good because I performed them on my work-in-progress as I wrote.
I had started with a book, but I ended up deleting a whole 96,000 words and starting again…
JW: It sounds like that corresponded really well then! Which aspect of the course did you find the most challenging?
SD: I have four small children and I work, so I suppose for me the most challenging thing really was just finding the time. But I was, and still am, very creative and I was learning very fast throughout the course. It was during that time I realised I just loved it – I really loved it. So I made sure I made the time, whether it was 9pm at night or getting up at 6am and doing a couple of hours in the morning. That was probably the most challenging aspect, but it was good to fully commit.
JW: How have you found fitting the course round your schedule?
SD: The course is great; it’s so flexible, especially for someone like me whose time is very limited. The amount of time and effort you give it is up to you and I think the more you put in, the more you’re going to get out of it. So I just decided that I was going to do the task every week no matter what, whether that was late night or early morning. I think that helped with building relationships with everyone in my group, as well. We also set up some monthly zoom calls where we could talk things through and see if anyone needed any help.
JW: It must be lovely to have that nice, supportive environment, because sometimes writing can be quite isolating. How would you rate your confidence with writing after the UNWC?
SD: I’m way more confident now! I believe that it’s possible now, and I’ve just committed to keep going.
JW: That’s brilliant! Do you feel that you have something close to being ready to submit?
SD: I’ve just submitted my work-in-progress to Lindsey (Alexander, UNWC tutor). I’m waiting for the response and then I’ll have feedback to do the next draft. I have a few drafts done – the second draft is the one that’s just gone over for critique. I would hope that I could then do another draft with Lindsey’s feedback – she’s been great as well – and hopefully then be ready to submit. Actually, last year I booked the Jericho Writers Self-Edit Your Novel Course for this September, so I’ll do that with my new draft, and I’m hoping that after that I’ll be ready to submit.
I’m way more confident now! I believe that it’s possible now, and I’ve just committed to keep going.
JW: Amazing – I look forward to hearing about how you find the Self-Edit course as well. Lots of people have said great things about Debi [Alper] and Emma [Darwin].
SD: Yes I’ve definitely enjoyed them in webinars! I’ve also found the webinars really good – on the Jericho Website I found the ‘How to Write’ video course that Harry did, and I found that super-useful. I watched the whole thing when I first started writing.
JW: To what extent do you feel being an UNWC student has helped you find new opportunities?
SD: I think I’ve been opened up to an awful lot of opportunities because now I understand so much more about the fundamentals of writing. I have a lot more knowledge of how agents and publishers work, the different ways to get published, how difficult it is to get published and the standard your work needs to be at before you submit. Also, the importance of having a supportive team – I got to know all the other writers, knew where I could go for help, the different types of assessments and reviews you could get on your manuscript, and the whole writing world in general. I suppose that was especially good for me because I was very new to it – before I started this course, I didn’t know any other people who wrote in their spare time.
JW: I’m so glad you had that for support; having like-minded people around you is so important to keep going. In what ways do you think taking a writing course is helpful (compared to learning independently)?
SD: I think mainly it helps because of all the support. I know some people don’t like critique, but I loved it because it told me where I was going wrong. It made me want to change it – otherwise I would have never known! Obviously so much was wrong – nearly everything was wrong – and it was all revealed in the critique so maybe even from the first week it set me on the right track. Lindsey talked me through and I realised, okay, this is just not good enough. I know if I’d kept writing independently, I wouldn’t have improved. Some people perhaps are born being able to write well, but I needed to learn.
JW: You definitely do need that constructive criticism sometimes, especially in the early stages. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SD: Generally, the tutors were all fantastic, and the group as well. I’ve found that the whole thing has been a really enjoyable experience and it’s taught me so much.
Sharon Dunne is an Irish mother of four young boys. She is a primary school teacher (who previously worked in advertising) and lives in the sunny South East, although she often questions the ‘sunny’ part!
Sharon is writing a novel called Phoenix Park, which follows the lives of three Irish women, two of whom are running for President. The third is a relentless reporter with the Viral Touch, who’s covering the election. One of them is hiding a secret and when it’s uncovered, the trajectory of all three women’s lives are changed forever
The Ultimate Novel Writing Course is now open for applications for the October ’22 – September ’23 course.
With online tutorials and mentoring sessions led by leading authors in their fields alongside in-person events, editorial assessments, literary agent inductions, and more – no other course offers this level of support as you work towards publication.
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