Hanif Kureishi may say that creative writers' courses are a 'waste of time', but Kureishi himself teaches creative writing at Kingston University, so perhaps we should take that with a pinch of salt… Here, we sift the huge number of courses, workshops and resources for budding novelists – and pick out some opportunities to get away from it all at a writers' retreat..
1. Writer's and Artist's Yearbook
Contains up to date information on who to pitch to at which agents or publishers, with an associated website with tons of information too. Features inside advice for writers and artists, with expert articles, inspirational author interviews, competitions, a lively online community and editorial services for every stage of the writing journey. Particularly useful for would-be novelists is a step-by-step process of helping you find the right editor, whether it's a deep structural edit you're looking for, a line edit or only proofreading.
2. Writers Online
Available in most good newsagents or by subscription, the monthly magazine is packed with advice, details of competitions, interviews with successful writers, tips on how to make money out of your writing. Subscribing (£45 a year) also gives you access to the website – for up-to-the-minute news on competitions and tutorials, masterclasses, tips on submitting to publishers and a wealth of other advice.
3. Writer's Room
The BBC has a wealth of resources and information for budding writers. Start by perusing Writer's Room, an online resource for writing drama and comedy for television, radio and film. Writers Room is pretty much an open door at the BBC for anyone in the UK who new to writing who has (they think) great ideas for screen and radio.
The website is particularly good for the budding writer of dramas, whether for TV, radio or the stage. Videos with detailed information, tips on where and how to begin, how to develop ideas, pitfalls to avoid, who to pitch to (and when), interviews with writers, links to other resources and details of writing competitions. There's even a downloadable script library so you can see what kinds of drama are accepted by the BBC.
4. Book Trust
Booktrust, the largest reading charity in the UK, offers a range of practical tips and inspirational advice from well-known authors. The site has a database of writing competitions and tips from publishers plus an online writer in residence. (Teachers and parents will also find practical resources to help them run projects to get children in primary and secondary schools excited about writing.) Whether you're a complete novice or a published author, there should be something here to help you make the most of your writing, including tips on writing poetry and short stories, tips about creating characters, getting motivated and getting published.
5. National Academy of Writing
The National Academy of Writing was set up as a non-profit organisation in 2000 to offer writers practical training of the type available to actors at RADA and musicians at the Royal College of Music. Specialised training, provided by working practitioners, is the accepted start for actors, musicians and visual artists, and the organisation believes writers benefit from a similar approach. 'Writers need to learn their skills and perfect their craft to convert promise into achievement,' says acclaimed novelist Jim Crace of the organisation's approach. NAW courses, mostly but not all based in London, combine seminars on technique and workshops with 'public edits' visits and talks from professionals, and regular, scheduled feedback.
6. National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo – say it out loud) is a fun, if rather 'seat-of-the-pants' approach to creative writing. On 1 November each year, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel to be finished by 11:59 PM on 30 November.
NaNoWriMo provides support, encouragement and advice for people taking part, so if you fancy a challenge, register. The website will help you plan your novel; join a local group of writers and attend writing events; receive online encouragement from staff and published authors; access a worldwide community of writers in online forums. Since 2006 more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published, including Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, Hugh Howey's Wool, and Jason Hough's The Darwin Elevator.
7. The Write Life
Plenty of blogs and publications focus on one particular aspect of the writer's journey – freelancing, trying to get published, or marketing work – but The Write Life is a one-stop shop, covering everything from fiction to productivity to promotion.
8. The Writers Bureau
The Writers Bureau is part of a group of home-study/distance learning colleges formed to provide a practical resource to help people through their writing apprenticeship - regardless of age or educational background. Since inception in 1989 the course range has been expanded, with a number of specialist writing as well as creative writing courses, including 'writing for children'.
Sometimes you just have to get away from it all to write...
Arvon is a long-established organisation which runs an annual programme of residential creative writing courses and retreats for schools, groups and individuals. The five-day courses, tutored by leading authors, are held at three beautiful rural writers' houses and include a mix of workshops and individual tutorials, with time and space to write, free from the distractions of everyday life. The courses cover a wide range of genres, including fiction, poetry, screenwriting and playwriting. Grants are available to help with course fees.
10. Write It Down!
Get away from it all with a Write it Down break. These holidays in a variety of European locations (France, mainland Spain, Mallorca) bring people who yearn to write together to celebrate the power of pen on paper, escape from the chaos of the digital world and find peace to look inside themselves and gain strength from shared experiences and memories. Longtime journalist Elaine Kingett leads intimate, supportive group sessions which encourage people, irrespective of their writing experience or academic skills, to write for the scientifically acknowledged therapeutic benefits; to leave a sociological record of their lives for future generations and to re-discover their creativity and unique writing voice.
11. Writers' Holiday
Writers Holiday was set up in 1986 and is run by writers, for writers, offering week-long residential writers' conferences with different courses and lectures taking place during the week as well as numerous after-tea seminars, talks, discussion groups and workshops on a wide variety of topics and genres.
12. Urban Writers' Retreat
Some aspiring writers just want a space to write, rather than workshops, seminars and tutorials. Urban Writers' Retreat offers retreats in a country house in the wilds of Devon to write in peace and quiet in the company of fellow writers. If time and finances are scarce, one-day London retreats in groups of 10-20 are also available.