Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Should I take a writing class

Billy Benson, at age 9 in 1952, gets in trouble  and finds himself "banished" to his grandfather's farm for the summer. Billy is captivated by the stories told him by his grandfather, especially those of his great-grandfather's service in the Civil War.
Question from the e-mail:  My book was turned down by your book committee. They pointed out some errors and suggested that I take a writing class. Frankly, I'm not sure about that. I've been out of school a long time and don't know how I'd fit in with the other students.

Answer: Well there are classes, and classes. The trick is to find one that will best suit your needs.

Some are held in  university settings, others are available through your local adult education programs at Community Colleges, libraries, or through your County Arts Council. Many of those outreach classes are filled with working adults, not full-time students. There are a number of correspondence courses as well and if you are self-motivated you can certainly gain a lot from them.

At the least, any class will give assignments or will ask, "What did you write this week? So you will be more productive.

I do understand your reluctance. Taking my own first class was traumatic. I'm a late bloomer. Didn't go to college until I was 35. When I walked in, I was the only one in the room over 30, the only one without jeans and sandals, the only one wearing polyester.

The attitude of the other students approximated a shark attack. The instructor's attitude was that if you wanted to write, you had to be able to "take it." The whole class was a trial by fire and if you stayed in it, "You might have the makings of a writer."

I fought back as best I could with remarks like, "Well, why didn't you like it? What was wrong with it? It's not enough to say, 'It sucks!' You have to tell me how to fix it. And they all offered different ways, so I did learn a lot.

By the end of the term, I had gained their respect and had two of the pieces I wrote for the class scheduled for publication, though I never made the school's literary magazine. Publication, it seems, wasn't the aim of the class. Perfecting the process was the aim. Again, I was a fish out of water.

I wrote for other people to read. Publishing was certainly MY aim, the reason I took the class was to learn to write well enough to submit my work for publication. And it worked for me. I published two short pieces after that class and a novella I wrote for it was returned 67 times by various publishers, but later won a major state writing competition.

That experience stayed with me and when I became a writing teacher, I made it a point never to let students in my classes behave rudely to one another. "It sucks" conveys exactly the same information as, "It still needs work." There's no real reason to be rude about it.

Whether you are a face-to-face student in a classroom or work singly with an instructor through a correspondence school, people who take classes always learn something.


  1. I joined an evening adult writing class once. I stayed through one semester and the only thing I learned was that out of the twenty-some students, I was the only one who had actually done any writing. The others only wanted to talk about it. I decided to tough it out on my own.

  2. Well, at the very least, the person teaching it should have had some experience. Still, I once paid an obscene amount of money to attend a workshop given by Jean Auel.

    She said, "I can't teach you how to write. When you have written 500,000 words, you will know how. Then she spent the rest of the time showing us how to knap flint. Made a perfect folsom point right there.