This Tuesday night, I'll be attending my first "creative writing class" ever. I was accepted into a six-weeks writing workshop titled "The Art of the Short Story," at the New York State Writers Institute, a highly respected but definitely "literary" outfit.

There was an anonymous submission process, and I sent in the first 20 manuscript pages of Mood Swing. So evidently the fact that it's genre fiction didn't turn them off, but I'm in the process of shoring up my ego to withstand the possible critiques. Oh, I've been to plenty of workshops and belonged to writers' groups, but all were of the "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" persuasion. (I'm exaggerating - I've been critiqued, but in a basically constructive fashion. )

On public radio's "Fresh Air," I recently heard an interview with the lead singer/songwriter of the group Weezer, in which he talked about his trepidation in going back to Harvard and taking creative writing with younger unknowns. He survived, though, and I hope I will too.

What do others think about taking creative writing classes after you've been writing for years? Any advice?

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If it's fun, it's okay. I wouldn't like it.
The only creative writing classes I ever took were in high school, but it can't hurt to learn new things, especially if you have been writing for ages. You might pick up new techniques, or see flaws in your writing you've never noticed before. Good luck!
There was a period when I took a class every semester, sometimes with the usual college crowd and sometimes with a large group of older students sitting in. Perhaps it helped that I was published (non-fiction) but I looked on the situation as a means of expanding my knowledge and a way to pick up anything that would help with hangups or give me new ideas. Even the poor classes were fun to some degree, and some were outstanding, introducing me to wonderful people and leading me into new areas. I enjoyed these classes a great deal more than I enjoyed studying for my degrees.

Go into it for the fun and have a good time. You already know how to write and have proven it. If it should be a poor class for someone with your background, at least you have new coffee buddies and lots to talk about. If it should be a good class for you (and I am betting it will be) then you will have a good experience and learn lots. Relax and enjoy the ride.
It sounds like you run a great class, supportive and inspirational, as well as instructive.
I agree with Beth - you sound like an ideal writing teacher. I like the positive approach, which sounds a lot like what I've experienced in less formal settings.

My own academic training was in fine arts, but my goal was to become a painter, not a teacher. I never felt right about teaching other people how to paint, so I went back to school to train as an art therapist - in part because by that point in my life, I'd realized I wasn't setting the art world on fire and I needed a viable profession. Using the arts to help people explore and work through their own feelings has always seemed more meaningful to me than the "how to" approach. But perhaps a good writing teacher is able to do both.
Congratulations on your acceptance into the creative writing class. It sounds like the competition to get in was stiff.

I went back to school to complete my Masters a few years ago, and some of the same trepidation. It wasn't writing, but I was still nervous about going to university classes with a bunch of 23-year-olds. As it turned out, it wasn't an issue at all. I think writing classes are scarier, because writing is such a personal activity. I suppose the best advice I could give would be multi-pronged.

1) You will probably learn a lot, meet wonderful people, grow as a writer, and find that your classmates and instructors are generous and supportive. The odds, in my experience, are in favor of that. Just in case anyone is hyper-critical, though, I'm adding bullets 2-5.

2) Remember that you're there because your work is good. You were chosen based on your work. So whatever anyone says, you have the chops to be there.

3) Remind yourself, as often as necessary, that any criticism your manuscripts receives, even if it's not phrased very diplomatically, is directed toward making your writing stronger, not toward judging or hurting you as a person. (And if it isn't, that's the other person's issue, not yours!)

4) Most people are nice. Anyone who isn't nice is probably making themselves twice as unhappy as they are making you. Pity them, but don't let them make you feel bad about yourself or your writing.

5) Repeat #1.

Good luck! And again, congratulations. Let us know how it goes.
Excellent advice, Beth. Thanks!
The first class turned out to be informative and enjoyable - not all that different from other workshops and writers' groups I've been in, except that the instructor asked people to be honest and not sugarcoat their feedback.

I got one of the instructor's novels from the library - excellent, but definitely "literary" (as evidenced by all the semi-colons and parentheses). Nothing like anything I'd aspire to write, so that makes me feel less inclined to agonize over about his possible reactions.
Umm, what's wrong with semi-colons and parentheses? :)
Okay, Julie, I'm going to weigh in on the dark side.

I had to take four graduate writing classes for my MFA, and I couldn't get out of them fast enough. Too many of the students weren't writers, they were using writing as therapy. One of them out of a class of twenty-five had something sensible to say, constructive criticism I could use in the work, and that includes the teacher. It was an almost (trying to be fair) complete waste of my time, but I had to have the credits to get my degree so I was well and truly stuck. I'd say what I learned most in these workshops was endurance. Not necessarily a bad ability in a writer, but not what I signed up for, or paid for, if it comes to that.

I've heard Jennifer Cruisie talk about how wonderful her critique group is, and probably the difference is that the people in it have hand-picked each other. They can trust each other to actually read the work, and have something useful to say about it.

I would never go into a creative writing class cold ever again. Anyone who does has the courage of a lion, including you!
I can empathize with you about taking graduate writing classes. I got my MFA in fine arts at Columbia University, and it was a true ordeal. This was in the 60's. Abstract art was still in, and I was the only figurative painter, so they didn't know what to do with me. I didn't learn a thing. Only bit of advice I remember is Robert Motherwell saying, "Always have a drink before you go into the studio." (He was the big-shot artist in residence that year.)

Thanks for your "lion" comment. I'm a Leo, and I love the big cats - little ones too, like my cats Beep and Lunesta (yes, the latter is named for the sleeping pill.) So far, the class is fine - but then I don't have to submit anything till St. Patrick's Day.
I echo something Stephen King said in "On Writing." A writing course is at least a place where writing can be taken very seriously.

I think if you can get good, solid, specific critiques, it might be useful.

I've sat in on a few workshops and such here and there and not found many useful, but that is because they are often vague or very elementary. That said, I very much enjoy listening to authors talk about their approaches, how the developed a plot or character, etc.

I must say the best writing class I ever took was a 3-day news writing course conducted by the Associated Press Managing Editors many years ago. You'd write a story, hand it to them and they'd rip it to shreds in front of you. Then you'd go rewrite it. The critiques were brutal, honest and dead-on. When I left that class, I was ready to run out and strangle anyone who used a passive verb or improper grammar. I probably need to take it again.


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