Sunday, March 13, 2011

drowning in a flock of classes

Yes, they look cute now... but just wait.
It happens every year about this time, when all the chickens I adopted in January come home to roost.

In this case the chickens are writing classes. Every January, my inbox fills up with promos from the dozen or so writers' groups I belong to for a breathtaking array of classes. As I believe that even a good writer can always get better, I sign up. And sign up. And sign up.

At $10-$20 each, the online ones are a bargain, and even the bad ones generally produce at least one usable tip. Unfortunately, my aspirations always outpace the hours available in my day. Especially in those months when I discover that I've signed up for six classes at the same time (what was I thinking?), I invariably end up archiving the materials for at least half of them. The result: I have stacks of class materials I've never even opened.

This year, the normal deluge of online classes was supplemented by a tantalizing array of traditional classes, the kind where you travel somewhere, stay in a hotel for a weekend, and sit in a classroom for 24 hours over two days, packing your brain with as much as it can hold (and then some).

Signing up for these classes took a good deal more thought than the online ones ever had. The fees were steep (relatively, though a bargain for what you get), the travel costs daunting, and each outing required an investment of from one to three days of vacation time.

But how could I say no to a chance to spend two days with Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire and author of "Writing the Breakout Novel," my writer's bible? Or to learning the secrets of writing screenplays (and how to apply them to novel writing) from David S. Freeman in his first-ever offering of "Beyond Structure" in my native Southeast? And, of course, how could I miss my annual Hermit Week at Isle of Palms, living in a multi-million-dollar oceanfront mansion and writing for six glorious days with a dozen other novelists just as besotted with words as I am?

I couldn't, and so I signed up for all three. Oh joy! Oh raptures unconfined! (Yes, I admit it. We writers have an odd idea of what's fun.)

And then out of the blue came an opportunity to attend the Romance Writers of America's national convention in New York City as the representative for my chapter, Lowcountry Romance Writers (based in Charleston, S.C.). I've never attended, and the chapter offered to pay a sizable chunk of my expenses because none of the chapter's other officers could attend. Four days of seminars with the industry's top editors and agents? I'm so there!

And then I looked at my calendar. And my bank account. And my rapidly dwindling supply of vacation days. I can't archive these classes. I can't even lurk in them. I have to actually attend and participate to get value for the investment I'm making. I have to be in Pennsylvania for three days in March, in Atlanta for three days in early June, in New York for five days in late June, and in South Carolina for seven days in November. And again I find myself asking: What was I thinking?

Even so, I'm excited by the prospect of all I'll learn. These opportunities are a blessing. I'm especially blessed to be able to take advantage of them in this economy, when so many people don't have that luxury. And so I not only plan to soak up every last drop of knowledge offered, but also to do my very best to stretch beyond my comfort zone and go where the instructors can lead me.

I already know my top New Year's resolution for 2012, though. Read my lips: No new classes.

That doesn't mean I won't be learning, of course. After all, I still have all those archived classes just waiting to be discovered.

What is your experience with writing classes? Teach them or take them, love them or loathe them, please share your best and worst experiences, or pass along the best (or worst) tip you've learned.

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  1. I majored in creative writing in college, so no, I don't take classes these days. I find that I do learn a great deal from editing - I've worked as an editor and of course, work with editors for my own stuff - that's great hands-on experience. I'm glad to hear that when you manage to put in the time, you get something out of the classes. It is a big commitment.

  2. Oh man, McKenna can I so relate. I usually don't sign up for so many, but I am a bona fide class junkie. That's all I'd do, if I had my druthers, which I don't, of course. I have to say, I've never taken a bad one. For a long time, I was timid about online courses, but once I discovered they were easy to sign up for, I usually take several a year. But you're right. It's hard to keep with all of them.

    Wait. Did you say David S Freeman's coming to Atlanta? Where do I sign up.

    Terrific post. Your blog is great.


  3. Welcome, Linsey and Julia. Glad you both dropped by. Hope you'll come back often.

    You majored in creative writing, Julia? Go you! Wish I'd had the courage, but my practical side said I'd need to earn a living, so I went for journalism. Gave me a wealth of experiences to write about, though, so I don't regret it too much.

    Would love to meet you in person, Linsey. Just click on the "Beyond Structure" link in the post. That will take you to David's website. Near the top right you'll see a list of his classes. The Atlanta "Beyond Structure" class is near the bottom of the list. June 4-5. And if you're an RWA member, just enter your RWA number on your registration for a $50 discount. Hope to see you there!

  4. Oh, and I just spotted your website in your signature, Linsey. I LOVE that site. Need to add it to my "Writerly Websites" list. Off to do that right now.

  5. Excellent post! I love going to nationals every year. The workshops, networking abilities and literally being immersed in a writer's world for days is like heaven to me! I've also recently been looking at the "away classes". There are cruises that look like a blast and writer's retreats. It will be a few years for me before I can do some of the ones that over a week long, however, I will be attending at least one weekend retreat this year in addition to nationals. With little kids still at home, to attend the longer away classes, my husband has to take off work, or I have to hire babysitters... But in a few years the kiddies will all be in school and that will be a lot easier for me.

    Enjoy your classes this year! I love that there are so many available!

    In 2012, you may decide not to take anymore classes, but don't give up on the conferences if you can, those IMO are invaluable!

  6. Thanks so much for popping by, Eliza. I took one of your classes - A Noble's Life in Medieval Times. It was definitely one of the good ones. Honored that you took the time to visit. Hope to see you at Nationals!

  7. I've not taken that many classes, though there have been a few situations where the timing wasn't the greatest making it very difficult to follow up adequately on what I had learned. My biggest waste is a large collection of writing books I haven't found the time to read. They are truly great bargains for the dollar, but not much help on my calendar of limited hours in the day/week/month/year considering I'm a very slow reader.

    Janice Green

  8. I have to ban myself from classes because I love them so much. It's the same with books on writing. All I did for years was read books about how to be a writer and nod my head in agreement at the chapters that talked about how hard it was to be a writer. ;) That being said, I am dripping envy at your class schedule, the Donald Maas one in particular. Maybe you can come home and teach all of us what you've learned? (Hint, hint...)

  9. Hi, Janice. Welcome! I have some books like that, too. In fact, my Donald Maass books were like that until I opened the cover of the workbook and realized what a treasure trove of do-able writing techniques it contained. Now I'm doing my best to at least glance through all the books I have and mine what I need or can use now.

  10. Hi, Dena. Should have realized that you'd be a fellow class junkie. And I'll be glad to share -- if you'll rejoin the critique group. *Hint, hint* :-) Come on, you know you want to!