1. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    WD writing course online - thoughts?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by StoryWeaver, Sep 29, 2013.

    I was thinking of taking one of those Writer's Digest online writing workshops (Fiction Writing 101, 102, viz characterization/setting writing methods, writing a novel first draft in 12 weeks). They cost $400-600 or so US dollars. The money is not that great a concern. The thing is the more I delve into the instructors' backgrounds I am not so sure how useful the course(s) would be; the instructors have each written a novel or two, but when I look for their novel(s) on amazon i can't find it (of course it is possible a pen name was used). What does that say? I was quite positive at first of taking such a course, now I am more neutral/cautious. Because the other route I could go is to utilize some of the books those courses use, and of course make good use of the forums here on writingforums.org I am fairly good to go on story structuring, plot, arc, theme from my screenwriting background. My thought had been to take an online formal course to learn more about writing techniques specific to prose fiction / novels. As I said, I am neutral at this point, looking for votes on whether I should take such a course(s) in order to interact with an instructor/classmates; versus use forums like this and book on novel writing. Thoughts?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Have you looked at the Gotham Writers' Workshop? It's in the same price range and is online as well.

    Since you asked for opinions, my advice is to save yourself the money and learn writing by reading, interacting with other writers (like on this forum), and perhaps finding a local critique group.
     
  3. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    Haven't, will do. On my to do list today. I also did some screenplay critique exchanges on Zoetrope.com and I believe they also have prose writing critique exchanges. I also just snagged a few ebooks on writing, and some ebooks of novels often discussed for technique including some that have been quoted here even in response to some threads I started (e.g. The Lovely bones).

    I like that idea a lot.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I took a few of the Gotham courses and I found them very helpful. I was even able to find my instructors' novels on Amazon, published by real publishers! Woohoo! And the students, who (along with the instructors) are the ones who critique your work, are almost all serious, intelligent, honest, and generous with their time. Also, they're all adults (no offense to any teens here).

    I found one of the main benefits I got from the courses was having my work evaluated by an actual professional writer - someone who'd been published by publishers and magazines I recognized. It was worth it just to have someone like that say I wasn't deluding myself.

    Like any other courses, you get out of them what you put into them. There is no magic way of suddenly becoming a great writer - you can't just give someone money and become a genius instantly. You still have to work, and work hard.
     
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  5. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    ^^^ +1
     
  6. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    I have to share though that about six months ago i found the local writers group and went to the fiction writing group and it was quite bizarre, dismal, and useless (not the norm for local writing groups I am sure); anyhow i met up with the 'group' at a nearby cafe where they met-- and it ended up being three people. One sat and knit a scarf and admitted she wanted to write, someday. A second wrote non-fiction but enjoyed being at the meetings. The third, the leader, wrote memoir. The topic of the [fiction writing] meeting was decluttering one's house. Lunch was served-- overpriced unpalatable hipster yuppie food i could not stand and that I pretty much left on my plate. Anyhow that was one weird 'fiction writing group'.

    I think I would fare better just hanging out here in this writing group. And I can avoid yuppy expensive foul-tasting sandwiches and just eat my egg salad on rye here at my house while being in the (virtual) meeting here.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Of the 3 writer's critique groups I tried, only one fit my needs. So I wouldn't judge them all from one bad one. I also tried a lot of writing advice books. Some worked for me, some didn't. I'd want to be sure the $400 course I was paying for was going to fit my needs.
     
  8. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    One thing about the Gotham Writing courses compared to WD courses that concerns me is it appears you have little knowledge no say who your instructor will be for a GW course. WD courses at least let you choose the instructor. Not all instructors are created equal in terms of their passion for teaching, time and effort they might put into feedback, style of feedback on writing assignments, etc.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've learned so much from one specific person, I'll be putting him in the dedication when my book is finished.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    gotham is probably the most respected of all online writing schools, so i wouldn't worry about not being able to choose your instructor... their reputation is such that i think you can trust them to match you with the one who will best fit your needs...
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    What I have found most helpful in terms of a writing course was the feedback from other students, in addition to the feedback from the instructor. I was very lucky in that my local bookstore had offered a writing course taught by a woman who had published a half dozen books or so, and had also actually taught writing at several universities. She wanted to 'give back' to the community and help the local indy bookstore, so she gave these classes for about $100. Sadly, she moved away, so she's no longer in the Philly area.

    I just signed up for one of Gotham's courses, because I was able to get a "deal" on one -- a while back there was a groupon-type site that offered one of their classes for $199, with no registration fee. I decided to do it, even though $199 is not nothing. I figure at least this gets me in as a past student afterward, which I think means you don't have to pay the registration fee for subsequent classes. Unfortunately, the class that was offered as part of the deal is not one of the two classes I really wanted to take. But I already bought this, so we'll see how it goes.

    I would be leery of $400, even though WD seems to have a good reputation. You should try to find a local live class -- they seem to be out there, but they're often "hidden," in that they don't seem to advertise very widely. (If you can find a local writer's group, often people there know of these classes.) I truly believe there is an irreplaceable element in live, in-person meetings/classes that just isn't there in an online setting. I think online is a good alternative if there really is nothing available live, or there are other factors that make a live class impossible. But, I bet you could find a live one for less than $400. And you might even meet someone who has taken the course you are considering and could give you an opinion.
     
  12. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    It seems like such a roll of the dice sometimes, having faith (or not) in an instructor who claims to know the craft. I have been burned bad before on this (screenwriting), but I have also had some great instructors/courses. Just today I was reading a kindle ebook on the craft of fiction writing. The author claimed to have the true method for novel writing, has taught it for over 30 years through workshops and through ten years at a university. And yet that author/teacher has not publish a single novel. wtf? If I had mastered the art of how to write a novel and proclaimed I had that skill mastered and was teaching it for 30 years, wouldn't the world kind of expect me to walk the talk, viz write and publish at least one novel under my name or even a pen name? I know some teache better than 'doing', but still, 30 years and not one novel? The problem is that I would love to be mentored one on one by S. King or David Balducci, but such successful writers just are not going to mentor anybody other than their friends/family. Then again I once paid $800 for one on one mentoring by a screenwriter whose script became a #1 movie at the box office for a long time, and I got really burned, it was a horrible mismatch of student+teacher. My best experiences were with two teachers from UCLA online, both wrote screenplays in addition to teaching, both were great teachers, one even had several of his screenplays made into hit films; hoping to find something similar for novel writing but I am open to WD/Gotham/other.
     
  13. StoryWeaver
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    I think I found a course + instructor combo that I feel comfortable with, course starts early nov which gives me october to fine tune my story outline (using Scrivener, really liking it!) in preparation, as well as read some of a novel the instructor wrote and also read a how-to on writing mystery that the author wrote (my story will be a paranormal mystery), and study a bit from some novels that are discussed in the course (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lovely Bones, etc). Thank you all for listening to me rant and babble.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i sure hope s/he didn't call it 'mentoring' as true mentors traditionally help/guide beginners freely, not for a fee...

    i've never charged a penny for mentoring the thousands of mentees i've helped/guided over the years and wouldn't think of doing so... even though i've taken on a handful of clients in the past year, all my mentoring is still done free of charge... and for the record, mentoring is always done one-on-one...

    so, if some offer 'mentoring' but charge a fee for it, they are not mentors... they're tutors, or writing service providers...
     
  15. StoryWeaver
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    StoryWeaver Member

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    They (UCLA extension online screenwriting program) did/do.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'm shocked and dismayed that so reputable an institution would do so... imo, it should be called what it actually is--tutoring... and at $100/hour for only 6 hours total, i can't say it's a bargain, either...
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm, the truth is, most of us here are unpublished (or else only self-pubbed), so it's hard to tell you if these courses are worth anything in a way. I guess the advantage would be that you'd learn slightly faster if you were on a course, but I'm not convinced you couldn't have taught yourself the same thing by simply writing and reading a lot. With a course behind you, perhaps you'd be more aware of tools and elements and devices you could manipulate, ways of writing you weren't consciously aware of before that now you can utilise properly - for example, I couldn't tell you what forms of dialogue or narratives there are out there nor how to write them or recognise them, I couldn't tell you any of their names, or name you any authors who wrote that way whom you can learn from. Having this knowledge could only help you, however.

    At the same time, you can very well write a novel and be successful without any of this knowledge too.

    I guess if you wanted the technical details and nitty-gritty mechanics of writing, yes, an academic course will be useful. But it all depends on what your end goal is. If all I want is to write a novel and I couldn't care less about knowing the specifics of writing, I could be using those tools without knowing and still make it. Some people don't care about the more academic side and it doesn't help them. For others, however, such knowledge might be invaluable. I think it depends on how you learn best too.
     
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  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The worth of a course is not measured only by whether or not you publish after taking it. Publishing, for me, is a distant second - I'm still unpublished, and I'm still happy I took the courses I did.

    The main value of the courses, for me, was in boosting my confidence. I got honest critique from experienced writers who were professional instructors, in addition to honest critique from the other students. How do I know it was honest? Because I was honest in my critiques of the work of my fellow students, and the other students generally agreed with my assessments. We had some students in class who were poor writers, and the rest of us let them know that, and the instructors did, too. (Of course, we phrased our criticisms in the most constructive ways we could find, but we were honest.) If my classmates and I were honest with poor student writers, why would they not be honest with me?

    Taking a course gives you a good idea of where you stand, ability-wise. Before I took the courses, I knew where I was heading - I knew how to improve and how to learn - but I had only a vague notion of where I stood. I was like a ship's navigator who has a compass to show him his heading, but has no sextant and chronometer, so he doesn't know his position. The courses showed me my position.

    That's extremely important, in my opinion. Whether or not you're published, or will ever be published, it's important to know where you stand.
     
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  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @minstrel - that's an interesting point you raised, and I agree that knowing your position and esp boosting your confidence can be invaluable. However, I can also say my confidence has been boosted simply by writing and improving, and having got feedback from several online writers (some from this forum, others not), I know I'm at a publishable standard. I also know there're still those who hate my writing, but I am confident enough to know when to ignore something and when to take it on. Why should these online writers not serve the same purpose and give you the same fruits as the course you took? The distinct advantage a course has is of course the fact that you have a professor there, or better, a professional, published writer. But other than that, what's the difference, in a way?

    As for position - well, if you're published and successful (note: AND successful), then I think you know your position. And even if you don't, by that point, well, who really cares? But I can't see you not knowing where you stand if you're already a successful writer. And I don't mean one hit wonders like Twilight or even Harry Potter - I mean people who consistently put out bestsellers like James Patterson and Brandon Sanderson etc. Never mind whether they're artistically "good" - their "positions", as it were, are pretty good and solid. They know what they're writing and how to write what they do, and when they write what they write, they write well enough to sell millions. And I think, for a writer, that's all you really need and well, all I really want. It's ok, I've dropped all pretence that I want my work to be some masterpiece of literary genius - I just wanna tell a good story, and if I'm good at the genre that I choose to do and the masses like it, I'd be a happy author.
     
  20. StoryWeaver
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    Well I am at a crossroads, interested in opinions. I was all ready to take an online course but now I am not so sure. For one thing, the instructor(s) seem to have a novel or two under their belt, but generally those novels seem to be published by small obscure presses. And I got hold of a couple of the novels from two different instructors and let's just say the writing did not grab me at all (and that is putting it mildly). In contrast, I see many short kindle ebooks on techniques for writing and some of those authors have many (30+ novels for one recently ebook how-to author) novels under their belt. I am actually more concerned about being taught weak or even bad technique through an online course; although I completely admit any instructor knows more than me about writing novels. I just wonder if I would be better off saving the $600 from an online course and instead utilizing a variety of how-to ebooks, write, write, write, and post samples of my writing here on the forum for brutal feedback so I can learn by rewriting. I am on the fence on this one, could go either way. Part of me just wants to get busy writing my novel, as I already have it completely plotted, outlined, in fact this is coming from a feature length spec screenplay that I already have written that I want to write up as a novel.
     
  21. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @StoryWeaver, you can learn from how-to books, but you have to be careful which ones you pay attention to. How-to books for writers are a pretty big industry right now, and hundreds of them are available. Many of them are junk. Decide what kind of writer you want to be and find books written for that kind of writer.

    The number of novels a writer has published is no indicator of how good they are at writing or teaching. The most prolific writers are usually hacks, churning out formulaic trash that will be forgotten almost as soon as it's published. A how-to book by a hack is likely to teach you to be a hack - it will explain the formulas hacks use. There's nothing really wrong with being a hack, and if that's what you want, more power to you, but make that decision before you start following advice you find in how-to books.

    There are also some excellent books on writing by fine literary artists. You might want to check them out.
     
  22. StoryWeaver
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    What is kosher here in terms of the rules of the forum if I were to post a link to a how-to book on writing fiction? We certainly would not want anybody committing libel. But if I find some how-to books, is it okay to post a link to for the purpose of getting any thumbs up or down from members here? (or should I just go by e.g. amazon review star ratings? The problem with that is sometimes there are so few.)
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In our Resources subforum (link is at the top of the page) there's a category for Books on Writing. It's empty now - nobody has listed any yet - but you can put a link there. Members can discuss the book and rate or review it if they want.
     
  24. StoryWeaver
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    Awesome. Thank you.
     
  25. StoryWeaver
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    The how-to ebooks i am studying right now are rated five stars on amazon kindle and are from a NY Times bestselling author of many novels, so I am feeling pretty trusting of the how-to author's wisdom/lessons. But I agree with you in that one must be careful who to trust for 'how-to' as well as feedback/critique. I once ran the first ten pages of a screenplay of mine past a writer who has written a blockbuster screenplay that sold for seven figures (he does script doctoring for A-list actors and producers for mid six figures) and he graded my writing 8/10; an unsold writer on a screenwriting forum graded that same sample of my writing 2/10; when I posted another sample of 'my' writing for that unsold writer to critique, he utterly trashed the writing, which in fact was a famous passage of screenplay from an Oscar winning screenplay that has been studied in many how-to books on screenwriting. Enough said.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2013

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