Friday, July 25, 2008

Wanna Write? Take a class.

I just have to rave for a second about the online writing class I just finished taking. It was a class specifically for YA writers offered by MediaBistro and taught by the fabulous Kristen Kemp.

Over 12 weeks I completely revised my outline, finished my 200 page first draft, and came away with a strong idea of what I should do in a rewrite. Keep in mind that I had about 200 pages of rough scenes written and a first version of an outline going in, so I started ahead of some of the other writers who came in with just an idea. (In other words, I kind of cheated.)

The key to the success of the class for me came from my own self-motivation, the wonderful instructor, and the feeling of camradarie and support from my fellow students. To be honest, I knew most of the info offered in the handouts because I tend to buy too many books on writing that are full of this kind of advice. However, for newbies, the handouts and suggestions for reading will be very important.

However, what I did NOT know was what worked and did not work in my own writing. Kristen encouraged us to submit as many pages as we could each week and gave amazing, insightful, respectful notes that made a huge difference. In particular she suggested I start my story later on and to start with an action scene. My protagonist is sort of an action heroine, so it made sense. But I resisted this at first because I was stuck with a vision of how I thought the book should start. I rewrote my first chapter twice before taking her advice and hitting the jackpot. Well, I least I think I did. We'll see. Beyond that, Kristen had great notes throughout, reading dozens of pages from me and other students every week. She understood my characters sometimes more than I did and pushed me to stay true to them. I now have a total girl crush on her.

Part of the class involves you reading other students work and giving them your thoughts. This made for a buttload of work because everyone was so motivated and turned out huge chunks of prose. I was reading hundreds of pages of their writing every week. But I think you can learn a lot from reading other's writing - both what works and what does not. And the other students were diong just as much as I, and many of their comments were terrifically helpful.

Getting notes from 10 - 12 people every week can be a bit overwhelming, though. And not every note is going to resonate with you. You can't please everyone! This can be a problem if you're a real people pleaser or if you get easily discouraged. In a good way, the class can toughen you, both in getting constructive criticism and in recognizing criticism that isn't helpful. Take what works for you. Think about the rest, give it a good hard think and examine your own motives, then move on if you're sure it doesn't work for you.

Don't take it personally! This is the hardest thing of all when you're in the midst of a first draft. The writing feels like your baby. But it isn't. It isn't you. It's words on paper, which almost always can be made better. Listen, nod, throw out what doesn't work, and move on.

So if you're stuck or, like me, you thrive on structure and work well to deadlines, think about a class.


Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Would you email me information about online writing classes you've taken? or check out the blog of my friend Tammy at
and offer her a little feedback on online writing classes? She's looking for something. Maybe you can help her.

Nina Berry said...

I'll check out Tammy's blog, for sure, Joyce. How do I get your email? I'll see if I can find it on one of your blogs... Thanks!