Originally Published January 2014; revised November 2019.
Last night was quite gratified to be included at a reading series here in Toronto. After the reading, there was an open Q&A, and some private discussion. Something that came up - more than once - was is if I, as a published author, thought that taking a writing course was a good idea.
How's that for a can of worms? The thing is, there's no wrong or right way to answer this question. I, personally, don't know the asker's skill level, nor read their work, nor do I know what they've already taken or not.
There's simply no blanket answer for a question like "Should I Take A Writing Course?"
Well, did I take a writing course? I did take some. I took a short story writing, and a playwriting course while in school. My undergrad major was Dramatic Literature, so there was a lot of script writing and analyzing in those classes. I also did a self-directed screenwriting course, and had a TA oversee the creation of a play from concept, to public workshop reading, to performance. (Which, incidentally, happened the day of the Eastern Seaboard blackout.)
On top of all that, I was writing scads of fanfic, and engaging in the online community. It was like a full apprenticeship there, and I to learned more about storytelling, editing, beta reading, plot arcs, the feedback process, and characterization than I think I ever would have in a classroom. I also worked with a writer's group when I lived in Japan, and I try to be engaged with NaNoWriMo when I can.
So in a way, I did take writing classes, lots of them.
So what are some Pros of taking writing courses?
· Skills and Drills: Each week your teacher/seminar leader/ will probably ask you to read and write something. Just like drilling and learning new skills in a sport, doing so in writing will teach you how you prefer to engage in the physical and creative act of writing. You will learn what kind of spaces you prefer to write in, what kind of time frame you need to carve out, how quickly you can produce something if you hate the story and if you love it, how you need to approach edits for yourself, and of course, you'll be practicing your punctuation and grammar skills with each piece.
· Practice: They say that you have to write 10 000 crappy words before you can write any good ones. It may not be an exact science, but I firmly believe that the more you produce, the more you understand how you, personally, prefer to tell stories, and that makes each subsequent work easier to create, to bring into reality.
· Networking: Creative Lit teachers are usually agents, writers, or publishers. It can't hurt to know them, learn about their worlds, and get their advice or mentorship. And your classmates might one day be the very people who help guide your career.
· Learn from others: Every person reads stories and tells stories differently. It's amazing what you can find in a tale, or produce in your own when you really engage with people of differing genders, sexualities, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and hobbies than you. And if they recommend a book or author, it could possibly lead you down the trail to a wonderful world of books you might have otherwise ignored or never even known about.
· Learn new skills: In working with your classmates, you might learn something you never knew before: a different storytelling technique, a structural idea, a different way to build characters or plot. And of course, if it's a course for beginners, you ought to also be learning the foundations of punctuation, grammar, and manuscript formatting.
YOU ARE READING
Words for WritersNon-Fiction
J.M. Frey's decade-long advice column is now on Wattpad. Have a question about the craft or business of writing? Find your answers - and ask your questions - here. J.M. Frey is an author, screenwriter, and professional smartypants. Her novels have w...