Sunday, August 25, 2013

Writing, writers groups, writing classes

As I said below, I went to a conference about writers' programs. It was a free conference, presented by the UCLA Extension Writers' Program - a program that has a vested interest in attracting students to writers' classes. There were four lecture/workshop times, with six different topics to choose from each time. Each workshop was forty minutes long; each was conducted by a UCLA Extension instructor who included subtle and not-so-subtle encouragement for attendees to enroll in the program.

But it was interesting, thought provoking, and the price was right (did I mention it was free?)

Throughout my life, I've taken some creative writing courses. I took some as an undergraduate, and enjoyed them. Later, employed by a university, I took some more classes. At one, I studied with a rather celebrated author. I once joined a writers' group - that lasted about three months. About eight years ago I took an intensive, three-day writing course at UCLA Extension. I remember I really enjoyed it. But I never seem to sustain such things.

Lately, I've been looking for a way to amp up my writing, with classes or workshops. I've been looking at community college classes. Yes, I've checked the catalog at the UCLA Extension.

Last winter, I joined a writers' workshop in my local community, conducted by a celebrated senior newspaper columnist. It actually did motivate me to do some writing, but at the same time, I felt I wasn't getting much out of it. My work was praised....but I didn't really feel I got much constructive feedback. After a few weeks, I began to feel writers' block and stopped going (there were other things going on - it wasn't the workshop's fault.)

Also, the workshop took place at the leader's house, which was dusty and full of cat hair.

I tried to enroll in a community college course, but my unpredictable employment schedule made me decide to cancel.

I enrolled this month in an online Continuing Education course - it was quite inexpensive. I've just started it, and I have to say - you get what you pay for. I am not impressed with what I've seen so far. The exercises are not challenging, the instructor's feedback is cursory and superficial, and the course seems to be designed to make students buy the instructor's books.

At today's conference I visited exhibit booths for writer support groups, associations for various genres (screenwriters, science fiction, youth and womens' writing). There were also booths where local universities and colleges handed out information about their MFA Creative Writing programs. At one time in my life, I thought I might pursue that degree. Reading the brochures made me think, wonder, and contemplate what might have been.

What's your experience with writing programs? Do you know anyone who's completed an MFA? What about informal writers' groups or workshops? Do you think writing is something you can take classes for, or just DO?


Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Years ago, I went to a free writers' workshop that had an "open mic" night. I was like a joker slipped into a deck in a hand in which hearts were trump. I'd read my satirical stuff and irreverent poesy, while almost everyone else would rip their ribcages open and show their hearts.

Now, I think the key to writing is to read a hell of a lot and to write almost every day, even if its something insubstantial when you're struggling with writer's block.

Judging from the gorgeous photographs that result from his photographic challenges, Carmi should issue writing challenges as well.

Kizz said...

I'm very wary of them but am considering taking one run by a friend. I think that creativity courses, the online ones like Mondo Beyondo, are going to be more my speed. They'll incorporate writing, I'm sure.

Anonymous said...

As a young mother I joined a writing group where we met in the leader's home. It was a bit unconventional, but I gained so much insight from the leader and the other women in the group. It was the first such class I had ever taken, and the leader was very qualified and only wanted to improve our writing and make a little money at the same time. I stayed in that group for two years.
After that experience, I took other classes at the local university and some summer workshops. I learned and improved the most when the "teacher" was not an ego driven person. I wasted my money many times in classes/workshops given by writers who were more interested in showing us what "great" writers they were. I even took a workshop on how to get published for the first time where at the first meeting the leader told us that is was impossible to get published (which I knew already) and that if we wanted to make a decent living we should give up writing and go work in a factory. The Cnext few meetings weren't much better. What a waste!
I only write for myself anymore. My family will throw all my journals away someday, but I really don't care. It gives me pleasure and that's all that matters now.
Anyway, I think doing the work is the only way to improve. You are a good writer already. I also think you should keep seeking a group or a teacher who gets you and can guide you, if that's what you want. Reading good writing helps, too. You pick things up. Good luck!


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Have you read Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird?

I have taken a wonderful day-long course put on by a friend back in Virginia. She is part of a group of women who travel to Africa and help women there capture their stories.

M. Bouffant said...

Oh ho, I bet I know who the columnist in your area was!!

Anyway, took an expository writing class in another century (& millenium) but have no memory of anything I may have learned beyond that the prof. was kind of a jerk.

My approach is generally to spew, & then trim, reposition & polish. Repeat. And again.

I couldn't possibly have been a serious typist (or even what I am today) before word processing.