No, this isn’t a post full of advice for navigating the stormy waters of social media, although my personal motto has always been “Try not to say stupid shit.” This isn’t a post on the author-reader relationship. See my previous motto for advice on that one. Today, I am going to talk about taking classes.
I love school. I love classes. I get excited about the possibilities provided by a good essay test. They give me a rush. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it, but there it is. Unfortunately, we all have to leave school at some point, whether we are on the four-year, five-year, or fifteen-year plan. If you didn’t go to college, it is the same thing. High school ends, and suddenly there are no classes. They take away the number 2 pencils and bubble sheets that have been our constant companion and say “no more.” There is no one left to fight, Caesar.
It’s a damn shame, and you shouldn’t stand for it.
I’m always looking for something to get me to the next level in my writing. I read all the books, even the ones that I don’t agree with. I peruse the websites. I receive every issue of The Writer and scan them for advice. Recently, I decided to enroll in a couple of classes.
I’ve been a member of the LitReactor website for a few years, now. I’ve participated in the writer’s workshop for much of that time. I highly recommend it, if you write any type of transgressive literature and want like-minded people to read it. Most people find the website through Chuck Palahniuk. It sprung up from the writer’s workshop that was hosted on Palahniuk’s website. As a result, there area lot of great essays there from writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Jack Ketchum, and many more.
In addition, they also offer classes. I finally gave in and took two classes. In June, I took a horror class benefiting the Shirley Jackson Awards taught by Helen Marshall, Jordan Hamessley, Nicolas Kaufmann, and Simon Stantzas. In July, I took a class on Noir with Benjamin Whitmer, author of the excellent Cry Father.
Every week had a lecture and an assignment. Students then critiqued each other’s assignments. I could go in to what I learned, but it really comes down to breaking out of your comfort zone.
Everyone has a different process. They use different exercises. They harvest ideas in different ways. Sometimes, you can get in to a rut with your writing, especially when you are still developing your skillset. You need to try new things, and that is a lot easier when you have people telling you what new things to try. There were things I will probably never use again. There were other things that I will add to my toolbox. Most importantly, I shook my process up a bit and ended up with ten short stories in a two month span that are no doubt a bit different than the ones that I would have otherwise produced.
There is another benefit, as well. The writer ego is fragile. This is a rough business. I’ve had a fair number of short stories published, but I’ve made well over 100 submissions in order to accomplish them. My acceptance ratio of right around twenty percent is higher than average, according to Duotrope. So, I get a “no thanks” on eight out of ten submissions. That can grate on a person, especially if you are going to spend months working on a book.
The instructors of these classes are solid, accomplished writers. Their support and praise meant the world to me. Having writers that you admire tell you that you are a great writer–money can’t buy that. Their critiques gave me things that will hopefully turn a few of those no’s in to yes’s. I got reading recommendations, suggestions on things to work on, and just general reaffirmation that I am doing some good stuff.
I came out of the classes feeling good about my writing and feeling justified for the sacrifices that I have made in order to chase that illusive dream. I had a lot of fun in the last couple of months, and I am sure I will find myself in another class at some point.
If you are feeling stuck in an artistic rut, or you just seem to be trudging through the publishing landscape with no sense of progress, remember that you aren’t the only one trying to find your way through the swamp. Take a class. Find a workshop, Shake things up. At best, you will try things you never would have considered. At worst, you will come out of it with a bunch of stories to send off to those publishers.
On a last note, my short story “Copy Rights” is in the latest issue of Sanitarium Magazine. In the story, a genius slacker invents human cloning technology to get out of his shift at the health insurance call center. You can get a copy from a number of different sellers. Just follow this link.