Friday, October 13, 2017
A COUPLE OF OPENINGS IN OUR ONLINE NOVEL-WRITING CLASS
As most of you know, I run an online novel writing class that runs for ten weeks at a time and is in operation year-round. We’re coming up to the end of the current session this week, and then will take a couple of weeks off and then begin the next session on October 29. Most times, we don’t have openings for new class members, but it looks as if we’re going to have a couple of openings this time, so I just want to let folks know in case anyone’s interested. If you are, please send me an email at email@example.com and let me know. Below, I’ll give an outline of how it works. When new openings occur, first chance to join is given to the adjuncts and after that it’s a first-come, first-served basis. To be able to devote the proper time to each student, the class will be limited to twelve people. An unlimited number of adjuncts are taken.
Me and Joe Lansdale in Indy after a meal...
Those interested in auditing the class—which would allow the auditing person to receive and view everything the rest of the class does, but not be able to participate actively, solely as an observer. The fee is substantially less for auditors than participating students at $50. Basically, auditors will sit in on the class as an observer. There can be an unlimited number of auditors. Some in class are uncomfortable with very many observing their work and our exchanges as, to be honest, many of our comments are brutally frank. Students know and welcome this, but to someone not directly participating can see it another way. There won’t be any interaction at all with auditors—they’ll be there simply to use the knowledge they might pick up for their own writing or even their own teaching.
Pertinent info for active class members:
This class will be conducted in a workshop format. What that means is each week participants will send a designated number of pages to both me and the other members of the class. When I receive each person’s work, I’ll provide comments/criticism/suggestions to improve for each student on their work and then send it back to them and the others in class. Each person in class does the same for each other—reading and providing comments on each other’s work and sending that back to the class and me. The class is divided into two groups so each person will need to read and comment on 5-6 people’s work. That doesn’t mean they can’t read work from those in the other group—anyone can read anyone else’s work. This is just to keep each member’s work down to a reasonable level. It’s exactly like being in an “on-ground” workshop. I’ve found over a lifetime of teaching classes—beginning with the UCLA Writer’s Program—that this is the single best method of learning. There is a synergy at work with this model. Many writing classes consist of the student sending work in and the instructor commenting. That’s okay, in a limited way, but when you have ten others plus the instructor or workshop leader commenting, the value of the class increases almost exponentially.
I believe in road maps when embarking on the lengthy journey a novel entails; therefore, I ask each student to submit a 15-20 word outline of their proposed novel. I don’t have the space here to explain how that works, but I send a handout on how to create such an outline before the class begins, and it serves to keep the writer focused on their novel throughout its creation and also helps the workshop leader and his/her classmates see instantly if the writer is focused or meandering. I’m a firm believer in beginning a novel in the proper place and once that is achieved, the remainder of the novel becomes infinitely easier to create. We’ll spend the most time on a writer’s novel beginning than any other part of their novel.
This class will be composed of students who’ve previously taken classes with me along with newcomers. To be able to serve each level of student fairly, students who are well along into their novel and have taken previous classes, will be able to submit up to eight pages per week. New students who haven’t taken my class, will be allowed to submit up to four pages per week until they’ve achieved a publishable opening, and, once they’ve achieved a proper beginning, will then be able to send eight pages each week thereafter. Please know that this may sound like favoritism, but it’s not at all. The beginning of a novel is the single most crucial part of writing a novel, imo, and I spend more time on that than anything else. I’ve learned over many years, that a great many writers have a poor understanding of a novel’s structure and it’s crucial that a sound knowledge of novel structure (particularly beginnings) be achieved before devoting much time to the rest of the novel. I’ll spend as much time on the newer student’s four pages than I will on the more experienced writer’s. Please feel free to query those in class who’ve been with me before as to their opinion and I feel certain they’ll agree with me. I’ll be happy to furnish names and email addresses for those writers should you wish to ask their opinion.
Periodically, I also send handouts to the class on some element of writing, as well as other pertinent info that’s useful.
Be forewarned that this workshop isn’t for the faint of heart! Some have termed it “Les Edgerton’s Bootcamp for Writers.” In “real life” I’m not a mean person, but with writing I’m not going to hold hands nor hand out false praise. That’s what writing groups are for and they do it well. I expect each person to participate fully and comment on each other’s work just as they would want others to do the same for theirs. I don’t tolerate very well, those who keep making the same mistakes week after week. For example, the proper and professional format is explained at the beginning and each class there are always one or two newcomers who keep making the same, easily-fixed mistake. Here’s a common example: One of the format rules is that there is only one space between sentences in computer-generated material. Many older writers, in the typewriter days of yore, were taught to use two spaces. The kernaling in computers is different than typewriters and using two spaces is a sure sign of an amateur who hasn’t kept up with current usages and just another red flag a writer ought to avoid. I understand it’s a hard habit to overcome—I had to do the same myself—but there is an easy way to relearn this which we give, and even if it takes awhile to relearn this, a writer can at least do a final edit before sending work in and correct this. To not do so, indicates to me a writer who doesn’t respect either themselves or their fellow writers or the teacher. Frankly, I don’t want to waste time with this type of writer. I’m not speaking of the writer who makes occasional mistakes, but of the one who continually keeps making the same mistake after it’s been pointed out.
Writing well isn’t easy. It’s hard. If someone has told you that writing is easy, they’ve lied to you. Typing is easy; writing is hard. Our aim in our class is to help writers create publishable work. By reputable publishers, not vanity presses.
If I haven’t scared you off, here are the particulars:
1. Fee is $400, payable in advance and nonrefundable. Auditor’s fee is $50 and is also nonrefundable.
2. Each week, you’ll send to the entire group and me, your pages. You’ll also receive work from your classmates to read and provide comments on. The comments aren’t intended to be scholarly or exhibit some high degree of technical knowledge. We just want to know what worked for you in the writing and what didn’t and why you think it did or didn’t.
3. To help make the class run smoothly, there will be deadlines each week. For instance, if the class begins on a Sunday each week, you’ll send in your work by the following Wednesday. Then, starting on Thursday, you’ll send in your comments on each other’s work. I’ll send my comments to each of you by Saturday night. Then, the next week begins on the following Sunday.
4. Often, the class and I kind of hit a wall. It’s pretty intense. To account for that event, we may take a week hiatus and return the following week. In fact, you can pretty well count on that.
5. We don’t expect a student to be a professional writer at all. It’s a class, not an advanced degree program. Our aim is to help each writer become better at their craft as a result of the class, and to learn how to professionally submit material, and to hopefully end up creating work that is publishable legitimately.
6. While I would never say I would recommend students to agents or publishers, very often I do. The people who finish the class almost always have progressed to the point where their work is, indeed, publishable, and when that happens I’m eager to introduce them and their work to gatekeepers.
7. Required reading will be my book, HOOKED, and Jack Bickham’s book, SCENES & STRUCTURE. Recommended reading will be Janet Burroway’s WRITING FICTION.
If anyone is interested and has more questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Some additional info…
We’ll have a couple of new students this time—most writers keep re-upping each time but occasionally one or two will drop out for various reasons: demands of a new job not allowing them to commit the considerable time that is required to participate, needing time off to address the notes their new agent just gave them for the novel he signed, and so on. Most just keep on, even after they’ve gotten an agent and/or sold their novel, and begin writing a new one. Almost all who stick out the entire session come back. The ones who quit usually quit fairly soon into the class. It’s not for everyone. Nobody holds anybody’s hand and every single one of us is focused on but one thing—helping each other write a novel that’s publishable. It’s a tough game and not for everyone.
I try to warn people who are thinking of joining us, how tough the class is, but I know from past experience that even so forewarned, at least some are going to be in for a shock when they see that we really don’t hold hands, pat people on the back for minimum efforts, or overlook writing that doesn’t work. I’m not cruel (at least I don’t think so) nor are any of the oldtimers in class, but most new folks haven’t been exposed to a class like ours. The truth is, most writers who haven’t had a class like ours has been praised in other classes or most likely, has been in classes that use the “sandwich” method of teaching. You know—that deal where the teach applies a bit of praise, then a bit of criticism, and then a bit of praise. Well, that ain’t our shtick. Not even close. The comments we all provide on everyone’s work fit one definition only. They’re honest.
This isn’t to be mean or to act like we’re the only folks around who know what good writing is. Except… we do. I’m not aware of any other class out there with the kind of track record ours enjoys. Virtually every writer who stays the course with us ends up with a top agent and/or a book deal. That doesn’t happen in a single ten-week session. About the earliest anyone has earned an agent or book deal in our class has been about a year. And, that’s reasonable.
The thing is, our writers don’t expect things to be easy.
Here are a few comments by students:
Hi ________. Since Les opened the floor for comments from the "class veterans" I'm chipping in with my two cents. I have a file cabinet filled with stuff I sent Les and then needed asbestos gloves to take the paper off the printer. When I started this journey, I'd never taken an English class past high school. (I was pre-med in college) I figured I love to read, so how hard can it be? Okay, quit laughing at me. Clearly, when I wrote my first version of my first novel, I had no idea about story structure, POV, any of that. I figured I'm pretty articulate and therefore I can write?
Les quickly set me straight. All of this is to point out that we've all been on the receiving end of Les' brutal honesty. I will find some of the comments he made on my work and post them but phrases like "throwing up in my mouth now" and "bury this so deep in the yard no one ever finds it" are seared into my brain and I don't have to look to find those!!! The point is, I took other classes before I met Les and the teachers were kind and gentle and never told me I sucked. If it weren't for Les, I'd still be churning out awful drivel that makes people want to throw up instead of trying not to throw up while I wait to see if my agent is able to sell my book. I would never have gotten an agent without Les. So hang in there. Listen to everything he says and if it doesn't make sense, ask away.
The novel that I am currently trying to sell has been a work in progress since 2009. The first time Les saw it he sent it back and told me to re-write the WHOLE thing!!! My character was a wimp. She sat back and let things happen to her. I argued a little, rewrote a little and then moved on to another book. After a year, I went back and reread it and saw the truth. It was awful. So I took a deep breath and started over. Page one. First sentence. Re-wrote the entire thing. It took a full year and then I revised it again. It's definitely a process. But once you get the Inciting incident and the outline steps down pat, it's a whole lot easier. Trust me!!! And you'll never graduate completely. A few months ago, Les and I went head-to-head on one single passage. I was trying to be lazy and take the easy way out. He called me on it and I resubmitted three or four weeks in a row, revisions on the same passage. I was sure my classmates were so sick of it they were going to stick needles in their eyes rather than read it again! But in the end, the passage rocked!! So hang in there!!!! It'll get better.
That’s all, folks…