Jo Wills completed the Writing Articles for Websites and Blogs Course, as well as the Basics of Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing Courses at NZ Writers College. While she has been published several times online, she recently had a print piece published in AA Directions.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What made you sign up for a writing course?
Kia ora! I’m Jo Wills, from Aotearoa New Zealand.
I’ve loved writing stories and reading since I was young. I went to university and took one writing paper; however, I soon decided tertiary education wasn’t for me, so I dropped out but finished the paper. Soon after, I forgot about writing, went travelling and then applied for jobs. It wasn’t until my early forties that I rediscovered what writing meant to me and found the courage (and vulnerability) to enrol in my first writing course.
I read fantasy and WW2 historical novels, as well as a lot of science-based books about climate change, sustainability, trees and social injustice. My mind is crowded with issues I need to talk about as well as parallel universes just waiting to spring to life. Books can be life changing; even one article can prompt someone to think differently about a topic or themselves.
Were you juggling full-time work with the course?
My day job working in a social business is quite intense. I dedicate time outside of working hours to writing. Every time I do this, I escape into another world; it’s so addictive. I intend, when the time is right, to take a sabbatical to focus on writing; my thoughts are never too far from this.
My first course was Writing for Websites and Blogs. I did it to help me better communicate important job-related issues, which I believed needed more profile. I wrote for a website that was aligned to those issues; it turned out this was a good way to find my voice.
My second course was The Basics of Creative Writing. This was a veritable leap of faith: the idea that I could develop one of my ideas and actually write a book. I learned so much, and as soon as I completed it, I enrolled in the Advanced Creative Writing Course. I am now finishing my last module.
What did you find the hardest part of the writing course?
One thing I found challenging about the creative writing courses was trusting myself to let go and explore what I could do. This opened me up to ‘failure’, which really just meant developing my skills. I also had to remind myself it was okay to ask for help from the tutor. In my first course, I had questions but didn’t ask, and yet my tutor would have been happy to help me.
The courses helped me discover a lot about the craft I didn’t know, and this has improved my writing considerably. I’ve enjoyed building characters and creating structure. I keep reminding myself to keep the story moving. It’s also been a wonderful experience to let my imagination run wild and get feedback from my tutor that she enjoys my ideas. I feel like I have recaptured some of what makes me who I am through writing.
What have you gained by doing the writing course?
A friend of mine had an experience that touched my heart: he hit a cyclist. He agreed to let me interview him and write about it, and I can say his perspective was singular. It changed the way he thought about driving and the responsibility that came with it. I submitted the article to the AA Directions Magazine (hardcopy), and they published it in their spring 2021 edition.
This was a massive validation of my ability to convey an important message, with the potential to help others view cyclists and road safety through a different lens.
How are you using what you learnt in the course?
My recently published article in Directions has given me confidence that there is a market for the provocative topics I want to write about. I would rather write five pieces per year with a clear purpose and intention, than 50 articles just for the sake of writing. This is obviously career limiting, but for me, writing is a combination of passion and purpose, and this suits me while I have a full-time job that I also love.
I’m actively trying to find a few publications where I can realise my ambitions by submitting pieces. My mind is brimming with issues related to the state of the world: I need to try to make sense of it all through writing, which is a cathartic process.
Where writing will take me in the future isn’t certain, but I now know I have a craft which is both a creative outlet and an income opportunity, and this is truly exciting.
What advice do you have for anyone considering doing a Writers College course?
My advice to anyone thinking about a Writers College course is to go for it. It’s a very supportive environment with regular opportunities to connect with the tutors and other students. The courses will unlock so much you didn’t even know existed, and if you love writing, you’ll discover a lot of joy from the learning process.