Magdalena McGuire, a 2021 Faber Writing Scholarship winner, reflects

One of our 2021 scholarship recipients for Writing a Novel in Melbourne reflects on her year studying with Sophie Cunningham and Emily Bitto.

The Faber Writing a Novel course has been one of the highlights of my writing life so far. As well as giving me the structure and impetus I needed to get my novel on track, it’s been a lifeline in these turbulent times. Our weekly classes provided me with much-needed focus, laughter and escapism. I always emerged from the classes invigorated and determined to keep writing. I’m going to miss these weekly check-ins!

Our teachers, Sophie Cunningham and Emily Bitto, fostered an incredibly supportive atmosphere in the course. They were open and generous, offering us frank insights into the writing life and the publishing world. More than anything, it’s these personal insights that have stayed with me. Nowhere else have I been able to access such an honest account of what it means to be a writer today.

It was heartening to learn that even professional writers experience self-doubt, and in the spirit of this, our class came up with a motto: ‘moderate disgust’. The reality is, we decided, that most people hate the first drafts of their novel. Our thinking goes that if you read the first draft of your manuscript and manage to feel simply a moderate sense of disgust, then you’re doing well! Discarding the idea of perfection has been immensely freeing for me. I’ve learned that it’s better to have a bad first draft then no draft at all. After all, a first draft can be edited and improved. All writing is hard work and takes time – even for people who’ve published novels before. There are no shortcuts.

Another great thing about the course was that it struck a balance between the inward-facing components of writing (such as craft) and the outward-facing components (such as finding an agent). In addition to our regular classes, we had opportunities for one-on-one mentoring with our teachers. In my mentoring session, Sophie steered me away from some of the more clichéd character arcs I was considering. She prodded me to think deeper about my characters, and to open myself up to vulnerability. This propelled me to be braver in my writing and helped me go deeper into my story. I’m immensely grateful for this guidance.

Before I did this course, I was craving a writing community. Now I’ve been lucky enough to find one. As well as being brilliant writers, the other students in the course were funny, wonderful people. The course has finished, but we will continue to support each other with our writing. For me, this is one of the legacies of the course: the friends I’ve made. I hope we continue to have many conversations about writing and life.

Applications for the 2022 Faber Writing Scholarships close at midnight on Friday 29 October.

Full details here.