Baby Steps: Learning to Write at the Writer’s Center

That title should really say “learning to write creatively after spending the last 10 years learning to write in every other way possible.”

After a failed, blind attempt at novel writing 5 years ago, I decided that this time I need to start the process with a class.  The first time I tried pursuing THE DREAM, I was in between college and law school and was working as a journalist.  I came across the book “This Year You Write Your Novel” by Walter Mosley (incidentally, in my header photo, can you find it??) and thought, “yes, this would be a good year to write my novel!” At the time, the only takeaway I received from the book was that I needed to write every day for an hour.  So I did.  I wrote 150 pages about a girl in New York City who got fired from her job.  (Yes, I was living in New York at the time, but, no, I have never been fired from my job).  I chose that topic because I had a horrible boss, and I was looking for a forum to discuss the injustices caused by a mid-level manager’s power trip.  Of those 150 pages, I thought the part describing how the manager basically hated her life and enjoyed making her subordinates suffer was pretty good.  The rest of my story made me cringe.  I had the motivation and an idea, yes, but writing that thing was like trying to feel my way through a forest in the dark—I had no idea what I was doing.

That, my friends, is how I found myself in the position of having to write a short story in the next four days.  A few weeks ago I signed up for “The Short Story,” a weekly class at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda for (gasp!) $360. (My law school debt should have taught me that education isn’t cheap, but geeeez).  But, do your research, DC peeps.  I doubt you’ll find classes at a much cheaper price (and if you do, let me know).  Anyway, each week we read a selection from the 2012 edition of “Best American Short Stories” and/or two or three short stories written by students.  In class, we discuss all the stories the same way (what did you like? Not like? What was the author trying to do? Was it effective?).  If you are the author of the piece we are critiquing, however, you must remain silent until the discussion is over.  At that point, you answer everyone’s questions, and are gifted with a stack of comments from the group.

I enjoy the class.  It makes me feel at home.  The level of writing experience varies greatly, but I love that we’re all bonded by the fact that writing is our thing.  We were born to write, and we’re trying to get better at it. (We’re also trying to figure out how to get other people to recognize that our work is worth reading.)  It’s nice. 🙂  Of course, originally I wanted to take a novel class, but now I actually think it makes a lot of sense to start with short stories.  First, they are short.  Second, it has created an opportunity to try some techniques I never would have attempted (can I for example, write from a man’s point of view?) Finally, by the end of this, I should have at least two tangible pieces of work that may help me baby-step into the creative writing world.  I submitted my first short story a couple of weeks ago, and my next one is due on Tuesday.  I’m spending the weekend incorporating comments and editing that one, and (maybe) writing a new one.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Have you taken a creative writing class at the Writer’s Center? Or anywhere in DC or New York?  Tell me about it! I’d love to hear the scoop! 🙂

UPDATE: A friend of mine recommended Gotham Writers’ Workshop in NYC, stating that they are “fantastic!” 🙂  I’ve never tried them personally, but the organization appears to offer several classes relevant to the budding novelist (creative writing, fiction writing, novel writing).  In addition, there are both 1-day workshops and those than span over several weeks (I should mention the Writer’s Center also has a few 1-day classes).  Damage is similar, about $300.  I also noticed that they offer some online classes, which seems like a good idea for busy professionals trying to write a novel on the side (you know, like me) or for those living in areas where it’s more difficult to find such courses.   That said, I imagine you miss the community/networking/live encouragement aspect of it.  In addition, those classes aren’t any cheaper.  Love to hear about any other workshops.


3 thoughts on “Baby Steps: Learning to Write at the Writer’s Center

  1. Thanks , I have recently been looking for information about this topic for
    ages and yours is the greatest I have found out so far.
    But, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you positive in regards to the source?

    • Are you in DC or NYC? I’ve only tried the Writer’s Center in D.C. I’ve done 2 courses, and both have been useful and great for meeting other writers. That said, from what I heard, the courses vary with the teacher. Still, there is a drop period where you can get a refund after trying out a class or two. As for the NYC place–I personally have never been, but a friend of mine recommended it highly. It’s probably worth checking out!

  2. Hey, if anyone reading your blog is in the Connecticut area and is still in high school (must be at least a junior so you can apply next year), the person may be able to go to ACES ECA, a school for the arts, which has a department in writing…The school is basically magnet (we receive scholarships) and you only have to pay 50-70 dollars every semester for books and supplies (sometimes we take trips to see plays). So, yeah, it really sucks that you’re paying so much for basically the same education as myself and its so much more expensive.

    I hope this helps SOMEONE. Feel free to email me at –Karla

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