I've never taken any classes in creative writing, outside of high
school English composition. Those four classes were taught in 9th -
12th grade by (respectively) a soccer coach, a football coach, a
basketball coach and a baseball coach. For all four of them, a
successful composition was one that repeated back the themes that
they'd read to the class from the textbook.

About the best that could be said for them as teachers is that they
could usually tell when you made grammar mistakes. Variation and
deviation (i.e. original thought) was discouraged.

This was not the best environment to be a stubborn smart-ass with a
big vocabulary and a strong sense of individuality.

I sometimes wonder what my fiction would look like if I were to go to
a workshop or seminar, or if I were to take a class of some kind.

I've got a shelf full of books on writing (King, Lamott, LeGuin, Bell,
etc.). Between blogging, NaNoWriMo, #FridayFlash, etc., I've written
something like 600,000 words of fiction and related essays. Despite
the occasional horrible days, I'm generally feeling OK with the
progress I'm making.

Is there something to be gained from seeking some formal training or
education at this point?

Follow me on Twitter: @TonyNoland


  1. Tony, I'm similarly 'untrained' in lit and writing (I play a scientist by day) and have wondered the same question myself, though I'm thinking more along the lines of MA/MFA in creative writing. I've done classes and workshops, online and in person. All -- invaluable. You learn as much critting your peers as getting critted yourself. But... it's important, imho, to be able to discern when a comment is on target -- or not. Else you spend a lot of time chasing your tail. I've made some marvelous relationships with pubbed writers and non-pubbed along the way, also a wonderful side effect to such a solitary pursuit. Peace, Linda

  2. Linda: I know that my rate of progress has accelerated enormously since I started interacting with other writers. Truly solitary work is too easy to devolve into nothing more than navel gazing.

    Your comment about listening to and responding to comments is spot on. At first, every time someone said something good about my writing, I though "I Have Arrived!". Every bad comments meant, "I Am A Failure".

    I think I'm more balanced these days. Sometimes, a comment is just off base, or is coming from a reader perspective that I can't address with that piece of writing.

    While pursuing an MA/MFA is out of the question for me, I have been giving more and more thought to identifying a one- or two-day something or other, just to see what I might learn from it. It sounds as though you found the time to be well spent.

  3. I'm about to get my degree in Eng w/ a minor in creative writing, so I've taken quite a few workshops. One bonus is that people tend to be more brutal in class than online, which kind of seems counter-intuitive. I also think Linda is spot-on about there being as much to gain from giving a good, honest, crit as there is from getting one.

    And I think going into the experience as an adult, which I did (an old adult) makes a difference because you do know how to filter the comments on a more mature level. I would definitely recommend finding something that would fit in with your life. I went to a community college for two years, and I know you can sign up to take classes at most of them without being enrolled in a program. If a workshop is led by a good teacher, it is worth the effort.

    Having said that, I feel like I have some trusted readers now and that is the real treasure.

  4. I joined the Queensland Writing Centre the first year I started to write seriously and each year I try and take at least one short course with them.

    Each time I'm learnt something, plus got the opportunity to sit and meet other writers.

    Last year I did a six month critting course (six classes across the six months) and purposely took it to improve my ability to discern what was good and what needed improvement in someone's writing (to support what I was doing with CW) but also to be able to look at my work and to see what was good and what needed work.

    I agree that the more I interact with writers, the more I ask other to read and review my work, the better my work has got. My last three stories all are credits to those who read at the beta stage.

    And it is a process of working out what comments work and what comments don't. I always have the immediate "That's not true... this HAS to stay in." Then the following day when I look back, I realise whoever commented that way was spot on.

    So this is a long winded way of saying - yes, a short course is well worth the time and money invested.

    Do you have a writers centre in your state?

  5. Lou & Jodi: Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm becoming more and more convinced that I should seek out a formal course of some kind.

    There is a large conference here in Philadelphia, held annually. Philadelphia is a major metro area, and New York, Baltimore and Washington D.C. are each with a two-hour drive. I haven't tried to search yet, but I imagine I could find whatever I wanted.

    Now, if only I knew what help and instruction I wanted. Or more importantly, what I needed...

  6. You know what Tony - with the exception of going along to a World Building Masterclass... I just go along and be open to getting something out of it.

    I've been most focused on short story courses etc and thinking seriously about doing an online couse which is stuctured to support you to complete a novel length manuscript.

    Just find something you think looks interesting... and don't worry so much on what you think yu 'need'... after all, writing is about fun!

  7. Just my opinion: You know how to write, you don't need 'instruction' as thought of in a traditional sense. You need a good workshop, which really means a good teacher who knows how to run a good workshop. At this stage, I think it will be more about finding those things you (we) are blind to and developing a more critical eye on your work and the work of others through the workshop process. You gain so much when other people put their work up and you see what people like/dislike about their stories. It's just a great way to identify your own strengths and weaknesses and also find inspiration in what others are putting up each weeek. And I am sure this was may more cents than you wanted from me. ;-)

  8. Not at all, Lou, this made a lot of good "cents". I don't really need a class on grammar and the basics of dialogue; as you said, I'm past that point of needing instruction in the mechanics.

    What is beyond the mechanics? Art.

    You need a good workshop, which really means a good teacher who knows how to run a good workshop.

    It's tricky to know in advance if a workshop will be good, run well by a good teacher. I've never done one, so I'd have to rely on reviews & reputation and otherwise just take a chance.

    Either in a local event or in an online class, as Jodi suggests, I'll see what I can find.


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