Last Tuesday, I headed north on a frosty evening to start another creative writing course. “A Writer’s World” with Barry Dempster is a ten week program that focuses on poetry and prose. This is the third winter I’ve taken a writing course with Barry, and many of my classmates were also returning for the third time. The evening had the flavour of a family reunion as we all caught up on what had transpired since we were last together in the winter/spring of 2013. The experience reminded me of how grateful I am for the opportunities I’ve had over the years to take great creative writing courses with fabulous teachers. It also made me think of writers who might be considering taking their first creative writing course.
I realize some people prefer to write on their own, and gain knowledge about the craft of writing from books and other resources. But personally I feel a class experience is a richer and more rewarding way to develop as a writer. Here are some of the benefits you might experience in an ideal creative writing course:
- deep learning when guided by a knowledgeable, encouraging instructor who can bring out the best in you and the other students, and share wisdom about various aspects of craft
- a chance to hear the work of your fellow students
- detailed, constructive feedback on your writing from an instructor who knows your work
- answers to your questions as they arise in the course
- in-class and homework assignments that keep the ink flowing in your pen and provide deadlines to work toward – especially important if you tend to procrastinate
- “eureka” moments in class, such as a stunning metaphor that emerges from your pen during an in-class assignment
- motivation: a take-home assignment that is so much fun you stay up until 2:00 a.m. because your writing is flowing and you don’t want to stop
- a chance to be with others who share your passion for writing in a way that other friends and/or family members may not
- new writing friends – people you may continue to write and connect with long after the course ends. You may even consider starting a small writing group with some of your new colleagues
Big Scary Monsters
Often your inner critic (or Big Scary Monster) keeps a low profile as long as you trudge along, following familiar paths, and making choices that involve little risk. But as soon as you consider doing something a bit out of your comfort zone (such as even thinking about taking a creative writing course) and POOF! The monster appears in all its drooling glory, hands on hips, pointing sharp claws in your face. Your inner critic/monster might say things like:
- “who do you think you are?”
- “you’re not a writer”
- “everyone in the class is going to be better than you”
- “you are going to fail miserably”
- “you’re too old” or “you’re too young” or “you don’t have an English degree”
- “why don’t you wait until you retire – you’ll have more time then”
The writer Sarah Selecky wrote a great post entitled “Get Rid of That Jerk” in which she suggests that you draw a picture of your inner critic and write down everything he/she says to you. Getting those nasty thoughts onto paper takes away their sting. CLICK HERE to read Sarah’s post. You might decide to post your inner critic drawing in your writing area. The drawing will probably make you smile, rather than feel intimidated – taking some of the power away from your big scary monster.
Finding The Time
You’ll need to plan how you are going to find the time to complete your weekly writing assignments. If you wonder how you will be able to fit additional work into an already busy schedule, consider these ideas:
- if you share your life with other family members, talk to them about the course you want to take and why you want to take it. Be honest about your concerns about having time to complete your homework. Ask for their suggestions. Ideally they will offer to pitch in (with meal prep, cleaning, etc.) to help you free up some extra time during the weeks you are in class
- consider getting up earlier each day. I can hear you groaning, especially if you already get up before the sun peeks over the horizon, but even an additional 30 minutes of writing time early in the morning six days a week = 3 solid hours of work
- if you find your home environment too chaotic, consider spending some time each week in a study booth at the library
- think about lowering your standards for keeping a clean house, making every meal from scratch. Trade perfection for creativity
Finding the Right Creative Writing Course
- check your local library, cultural centre, and the continuing education divisions of your local municipality, school board, community college or university
- peruse the bulletin board at your local independent bookstore
- ask local authors for recommendations
- your local writing community is a great place to start: WCYR, WCDR, and WCSC. Attend meetings, network with members and ask for their recommendations
- check the speaker and facilitator program of local writing conferences such as the Ontario Writers’ Conference for presenters whose work interests you. Visit their websites and determine if they offer creative writing courses
Make a list of the qualities of your ideal creative writing teacher such as: knowledgeable, treats students with respect, well-prepared, has experience running successful courses, brings out the best in each student. Refer to your list when asking others for recommendations. During a retreat I attended, the writer Pat Schneider told our group that the sign of a great writing course is that you leave the course wanting to write. When people give you a recommendation, ask how they felt when they left the course.
I encourage you to do your homework, choose a creative writing class then take the leap. I bet you won’t regret your decision, and that after you complete your first course, you’ll be keen to take another. I’d love to hear about your creative writing class experiences.
Until next time,
Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, March 23, 2014. We hope you can join us.
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All photographs and drawings in this post are by Janis McCallen.