Wednesday, April 20, 2016

John's Thoughts from the Oxford Creative Writing Masterclass

Greetings all, John J. Horn here.

I had the privilege to participate in a creative writing class held in and near Oxford, England, earlier this month. Author Douglas Bond led the class of eight writers, which included fellow Word-Painters C.R. Hedgcock and William Moore.

We had an amazing time visiting historically significant locations, enjoying the beautiful English countryside, and delving deep into the art and craft of writing. Here are three of the key lessons I took from the class.

1. Don't Copy Your Favorite Authors

Most writers have books and authors that have influenced them and fed their passion to tell stories and share information. Literature classes exist to dissect books and help us learn how their authors constructed them. Amidst all that study and enjoyment it's easy to knowingly or unknowingly copy the authors' style in our own writing.

I've had to work through this in my own books. I read a Dickens book while writing part of The Boy Colonel, and during the editing process I had to de-Dickens my book (which mostly meant toning down long descriptive sentences with bleak imagery).

We can learn an immense amount from other authors and we absolutely should, but we shouldn't copy their style, especially if they wrote during a different era when readers had different tolerance levels and expectations.

2. Be Part of A Writing Community

The best part of the Oxford class for me was meeting and fellowshipping with other writers. It's so much fun to meet other people on the same literary journey and discuss shared challenges, ideas, and joys.

When you're part of a writing community, whether that means meeting people face-to-face or interacting online, you can learn from others, encourage them, and be held accountable in your own writing.

The writing life can be lonely. It probably doesn't help that many of us are introverts. Having community relieves that loneliness and makes us better writers.

3. Use All Five Senses

We talked extensively about using all five senses in writing. Books skew heavily towards the visual sense, with action and setting described using words that show what it looks like.

The other four senses tend to get less page time. (Technically there are more than five senses, but who wants to be technical?)

Describe what your characters smell, hear, taste, and feel, to drag your readers deeper into your world and create a more emotionally compelling experience.

You can see some pictures from the tour at Douglas Bond's blog.

John J. Horn is a Christian author from Texas. Purchase his Men of Grit series from Amazon here and sign up for his newsletter at


  1. Wow! Thank you for sharing this! I have been experiencing the benefits of community and the depth the five senses can bring to a story. And I can totally relate to point one where you said you had to "de-Dickens" your book. I've read so widely that I've found myself using 1800s words in a contemporary fiction children's book. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing! It sounds like you had an incredible time. Your points were great---I had to laugh when you talked about Dickens. I've had similar experiences.
    The article about the other senses was really interesting, btw. :)


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