The only way to learn how to write is to plunk oneself on a chair and start typing. What happens next will show whether or not you have what it takes.
Or what happens next will be, in the vernacular, a hot mess. And depression.
Oh you might read those first fine careless pages the next day and fall in love with your words. And that way lies certain disaster.
One can spend years typing oneself in and out of depression, elation and frustration, and eventually one can learn the craft after trial and error and the reading of many books on writing. This was my method. Looking back I figure I spent the equivalent of time it would take to get a PhD writing my way through one flawed novel after another until I finally got good enough to be published, to get an agent, to be able to consider myself finally a real writer.
Did I take a course? No, because they were few and far between way back in that distant past. But I did go to a wonderful writing conference, and I did attend any genre convention I could find that had panels on writing and publishing. And now I am on those panels. And I am teaching writing, giving the kind of course that would have shaved years off the long apprenticeship I served.
In my opinion, this is the main gift any writing course can give you: by pointing out the pitfalls that lie ahead, help you to avoid them, to achieve your goal sooner. It will still take years to hone your craft, but at least you will now have a bright flashlight to illumine your way through the gloom!
Will taking a class turn you into a successful writer? There is no secret handshake, no hidden formula, no short cut to success. And success itself is something different for everyone. What I try to do in my classes is to give my students a way to deal with all those ideas swimming around in their head, all those characters struggling to have their say. I help them open the door.
That first evening in class, when everyone talks about their ideas for the novel they know is in there somewhere, the terms used are broad and rarely does any clear picture emerge of what the writer wants to say. But there is enough to let me know what is in there, what help is needed to get it out into the light. Once that does emerge, we have a clear picture of the story that writer wants to tell. And as a group we help give them a structure to hang it on. By the end, each writer has a story with a beginning, middle and at least the hint of an end, although sometimes along the way the original idea has been thrown out the window and a bright new shiny one has evolved in its place.
Does this mean that every student will write and sell a novel? Some do, for example, the person whose blog you are now reading*. Most, however, will not. In this business talent is only part of the equation. I see a lot of talented people in my classes. And I know that first night that very few will ever succeed. Not because they are not good enough or cannot become good enough, but because they refuse to take the time to learn, or because they don’t have the drive, the sheer cussedness to hang in through rejection and disappointment till that glorious day when they see those wonderful words: ‘We would like to publish your novel’.
Of course, not everyone who comes to class has dreams of publication. Some just want to get that book out, that story that has been banging around inside their head for a long time. Some just want to experiment. And some write as a sort of therapy. It doesn’t matter. A classroom is a safe place to do all these things, and have a good time while writing your way into your dream.
Will you find the Holy Grail in a classroom? You’ll never know if you don’t try!
Caro Soles teaches at George Brown College:
Writing a Novel 1 (fall and winter term) and
Writing a Novel 2 (Winter and Spring term)
* NOTE: This was a guest post on Jill Edmonson’s blog last year. I admit it. I am lazy. 🙂