Monday, June 10, 2013

On The Writing Road: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Writing Classes




            All writing classes are not created equal and I’ve been through them all.  When you’re a beginning writer, as I was some (cough) years ago, it can really be confusing.  Here’s what I went through and why I like to help new authors.  We have to start with the ugly. 

THE UGLY
I took a community education class taught by a professor from the University of Utah.  We’ll call him Professor Oddball or O for short.  He showed up for class late, sat on the desk and swung his leg over the edge. In his late twenties, curly brown hair, tweed jacket, cowboy boots, jeans with manufactured holes, and manicured hands, he was quite the walking contradiction.  But despite that, I was giddy about this class and expected to learn a great deal about the process of writing.  My word!  He was a professor from the U. My pencil was sharp and ready to go.

We started with the usual introductions, introducing ourselves and sharing what genre we wrote.  His smirk told me he was not impressed with romance authors, but I didn’t let it curb my enthusiasm.  Professor O finally regaled us with his introduction which took the rest of the class.  Oh well, maybe next week.

But the instructions on how to plot a book, develop characters, etc. never came.  He wanted us to experience different types of writing.  We wrote poetry, haikus, short stories, etc. without any instruction, and he edited them diligently with his red pen he used so well as his way of teaching.  Any form of lessons was given through humorous stories of past students and their blunders or unusual stories they wrote.  Everyone listened intently and laughed when appropriate.

I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever learn anything to help get my book published, and then it happened.  Professor O asked to review my first chapter.  I left it proudly on his desk and anxiously awaited next week’s class.

I still remember that day.  Professor O handed me my first chapter back highly decorated in red pen.  No sentence had been left untouched.  I’m sure he must have used up a whole package of red pens in order to write that excessively.  He must have spent the whole week marking my first chapter. I’d be surprised if he’d had time to teach his other classes.  He even wrote on the back.  I wasn’t quite sure whether to be honored by the attention or insulted that there didn’t seem to be one word he hadn’t crossed out.  I stared at my hard work with disbelief.  Hadn’t I even gotten my name correct?

I took a deep breath and realized I might not be cut out to be a writer.  Professor O dedicated the entire class to my writing, a humiliating and humbling experience.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I need to toughen up, but you haven’t heard what harangue he went off on.

There’s need for a little explanation.  My first book was Hazardous Hideaway.  A woman is on the run from her abusive husband and hits a deer in the middle of highway with her truck and horse trailer.  She runs a man in his truck off the road when it happens, and he ends up taking her and her horse to the dairy he manages.  Her horse stirs up memories and conflict of a past death in the town.  The horse is very important to the heroine because it is the last tie to her father who recently died.

Professor O, in front of everyone, stated and debated that I had an atypical sexual relationship between the heroine and her horse and that the heroine is compulsively fixated and fanatically infatuated with her male horse.  The rest of the time was spent on this subject and that there was a book market or niche, if you will, for human/animal sexual intimacy.  I could have died.

Need I continue that this class left me more confused than ever about my abilities as a writer.  I decided another class was in order.

THE BAD

The next class I signed up for was instructed by a local female author.  She wrote crime stories with romantic elements.  Our first assignment was to buy her book and read it.  I rushed to the bookstore, purchased the book and began learning by reading from a published author.  The first sentence contained the F-bomb as well as the second, the third, the fourth...  I tried to get through it.  I told myself it was just for dramatic affect to start the book.  The profanity and the moral of the protagonist never got better.

We met the next week and the class started with the discussion of profanity in writing.  The author stood her ground that it wasn’t her using that language, it was her character. I walked out of the class.  I couldn’t read this author’s book, and I wasn’t looking for class on morals of a writer’s characters.

THE GOOD
So I shied away from writing classes and joined a writer’s support group.  I got to know the authors and found a published romance author who taught classes in her home.  After a time, I finally got brave enough to take her class.  It was exactly what I had been looking for:  classes on conflict, goals, plotting, characterization, emotion, dialogue, narration, point of view, scenes and sequels.  I absorbed it all.  The author/teacher told me I had a natural talent and just needed to learn the skills to put it all together.  It was the foundation I needed to become a published author.


So there you have my first writing class experiences.  Many more were to follow but these started me on my path.  I can’t say they were a mistake.  You learn just as much about yourself as a writer by learning what you don’t want than what you do.  That’s why I tell wannabe writers to take what makes sense and feels right to you and throw away the rest.

3 comments:

  1. Take what advice makes sense and throw the rest away! That's what I tell friends who are new parents, too! Gee, I hope Professor Oddball never reads my books, about a woman who has a profound relationship with her DOG after the recent death of her father!!

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  2. Wow, I'm so glad you muscled through the bad and ugly or we would have never met!

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  3. Wearing my heart on my sleeve as I do, Jodi, I surprised myself by continuing to write. I think true writers have to write no matter what others have to say.

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