Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Great writer gifts day 3:
Getting classy with Lani Diane Rich

We’re at the halfway point in our week of great gifts for writers, and so far we’ve discussed mugs and underwear.

While those things are certainly vital to creative performance, it sometimes takes more than a splash of Earl Grey in a Miss Piggy mug to get you through a manuscript.

There’s a lot of talk about “honing your craft” in writing, though opinions differ on what that means. Some authors learn by trial and error. Others take classes or devour books like Stephen King’s ON WRITING or Donald Maass’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

I've always been a “trial and error” girl myself, but recently decided to treat myself to a class. After all, I have a three-book deal now. I should probably learn to write.

I also kinda wanted to be a student again without the threat of after-school detention.

After a bit of research, I settled on Lani Diane Rich's online series of classes called Storywonk. I already knew I loved her romantic comedies (New York Times bestseller and all). I liked the idea of a six-week series that included both live lectures and online discussion forums where students could interact with each other and with the instructor.

Author Lani Diane Rich
I signed up for the Revision class, biting my nails a little at the $180 price tag. What if it sucked?

It did not suck.

The lessons focused heavily on structure. In the first class, a student expressed concern this could dampen her creativity.

Lani suggested thinking about it like this: let's say you're a seamstress and you've sewn a beautiful dress. But if you leave the dress lying in a heap on the floor, no one can appreciate how lovely it is. Put the dress on a form, and voila! The whole thing takes shape.

That's one of the best analogies I've ever heard.

Under Lani's tutelage, we all identified our "seven anchor scenes" and wrote sentences describing each one. Then she critiqued them for every single student – some more than once. The feedback was occasionally harsh, but always honest, and obviously coming from someone who's been around the block once or twice.

Even Pythagoras reaped the benefits. Lani asked us to watch several movies so we could all analyze structure together. Since I rarely watch movies, my dear husband nearly wet himself with delight when I informed him I wanted to watch Happy Gilmore, Die Hard, and Shawn of the Dead in one week.

All in all, I loved my first experience with a novel writing class. If you're looking for a splurge item on your holiday wish list, consider something like this as an investment in your writing career. Oh, and I have it on good authority that there are several spots left for both the Storywonk Revision class (the one I took, which is for writers revising a completed manuscript) and the Storywonk Discovery class (for writers getting ready to start a book). Both sessions start in January. Go here to read more.

Have you ever taken a class to hone your craft as a writer? What are the most valuable lessons you've learned? If you haven't tried a class, what's the reason? And what other methods do you use to improve your skills? Please share.

Oh and for the record, I didn't get sent to the principal's office even once. There was that nasty incident with the paste and the ruler, but that's a topic for another blog post.


Sarah W said...

Lani's Revision class is terrific - great people, great explanations, and Lani is so funny and snappy and knowledgable! She made me feel like I could do this thing - that's priceless.

The anchor points not only helped me (begind to) sort out the story I'm editing, but I'm keeping them in mind as I write my WIP, too.

And I so love my huge foldable storyboard with the colored post-its (green for anchors). Any class that encourages you to explore the office supply store is a good class.

Shain Brown said...

This is the best one yet. You have opened several new ideas for what I would consider a gift to others and myself. This something I want to look into. Thanks.

Jamie Grey said...

Hmmm...I've been looking for a writing class...I think I will definitley have to go check this one out! Sounds fantastic :)

I think I might save this gift for myself :)

demery said...

The class sounds wonderful! Another idea for a gift from me ... to me :)

Linda G. said...

I love Lani's "Lucy March" blog. If you haven't seen me in the comments there, it's because I'm "Invisible Betty." ;)

Danica Avet said...

I've taken a few workshops and perhaps the ones I remember best were Rory Miller's workshop on Violence and other stuff (can't remember the exact name now), and Jessa Slade's Plotting workshop (which I so desperately needed). I learned a lot from both workshops and try to use what they taught in my writing. It has to have helped since my stuff has improved a bit, right? Right??

Delia said...

I've taken Lani's Revision class, too. It's wonderful. My favorite part is the ability to download the class lectures and materials and review them again and again until the point gets driven through your thick skull like a railroad spike. All right, MY thick skull. Still...

randine said...

Thanks, I think I might just invest in a writing class. I've always wanted to take one, but it's always been a pie in the sky idea.
The trial and error thing ain't working out for me...

And hey, if I get to watch movies, that sounds like the kind of class I can handle.

Jason said...

I'm actually in the middle of an online writing class, one I signed up for through Portland CC. It's just a basic creative writing intro, but I figured I should start somewhere and I was having issues actually getting started on the novel in my head. I had no idea what to expect. And so far, it's turned out a lot better and more interesting that I expected. However, that Discovery class sounds intriguing...

Apart from that, and a creative writing class over 10 years ago my senior year in college, there hasn't been any real training (unless you count reading good writing, which I think counts for something). Been doing a lot of the trial and error thing...

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

You've inspired me to pull out Maass's book again. And in fact, I'm going to pick up Steven King's book as well. I've heard good things about it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yep, you're skirting into giving-homework-as-a-gift territory here, but I'll forgive you. Entertaining post as always!

Also, I bit the principal, twice.


Sarah, didn't you love the class? Anything taught with humor is worth learning, in my book. Ha! I just made a book joke.

Shain, can't wait to hear if you decide to do a class of some sort!

Jamie, sometimes the gifts you buy yourself are the best ones.

demery, hey, maybe you and Jamie (the comment above yours) should buy it for each other! Then you can at least pretend you're being generous.

Linda G, are you really "invisible betty?" Ha! I'll have to look for you. (Bettylicious)

Danica, I think Jessa Slade is in my RWA chapter.

Delia, how long ago did you take it? Don't you love the message boards?

Randine, it's always fun to learn new ways of approaching manuscripts, so it's worth it for perspective alone.

Jason, good for you! Sounds like a cool class!

Kathi, you know, I've never actually read the Maass book or the Stephen King one. They just happen to be the two I hear the most about.

cubbageg, come back tomorrow and I'll ruin all respect you may still have for me.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Linda G. said...

Naw, not officially. But only because the name was already taken, alas. But I am invisible there--I lurk without commenting. Bad me.

Unknown said...

I've taken a high school class (does that even count?) and a uni class. The latter was a great disappointment. As a trial-and-error kind of girl and having spent a lot of time critiquing and getting critiques in online forums, I got absolutely nothing out of it except learning I can't "hear" meters in poetry and a bunch of stories (which are actually kind of good).

My biggest worry about classes etc is - are they on my level?

How can you tell that?

Delia said...

@Tawna, I took the summer session (right before the one you took). The message boards are fantastic.

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