Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Writing Class

Here's the deal: I teach writing. Writing is what I do for a living. It's what I would do even if nobody paid me for it. Teaching the art and craft of writing is something I love because so much writing out there is so bad. Even the published stuff. By famous writers who make the bestseller lists. Stinko. Lousy.

My standards for what qualifies as good writing are high. Too high for some of the editors I've known. Never high enough for my own ambitions. I'm a good, dependable writer lucky to remain steadily employed for two decades. But I can read a paragraph by Frederick Exley (A Fan's Notes, Last Notes from Home) or a short story by David Sedaris (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day) and think, never, not as long as I live, will I be able to type something that great. Read the lede of a front page crime story by Miami legend Edna Buchanan ("Gary Robinson died hungry" -- about a man killed in a fried chicken store) or the way Raymond Chandler could paint a word picture ("He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food"). Genius.

Somebody once told me that you're born a writer or you aren't. Like being born with perfect pitch for music, you come into the world with an ear for language. Think about rough-at-the-edges Abe Lincoln, who obviously had an ear for how to turn a beautiful phrase ("...that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth"). And then there's Ivy League-educated, upper-crust-born George W. Bush, deaf to the music of words, who can take any phrase and turn it on its ear ("I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep on the soil of a friend").

If you never become a professional writer, or even a published one, you can tune your ear to what good writing sounds like. That's what I have always emphasized to students. By becoming familiar with the "music" of writers who do it well, you gradually become a better writer. That means reading and trying on different styles. It means doing a lot of writing. It can be a killer, that solitary, brain-pretzeling act of creating interesting clumps of words, separating them with the right punctuation and allowing them to land in the right order on the page (or computer screen, as it were). But reaching "word-gasm" is immensely satisfying. You'll see.

Here's the offer: The Phantom Professor's Online Writing Workshop. Open admission. Free tuition.

Using all the exercises, reading lists, quizzes and other tricks I have developed during 15 years of teaching, I will offer you, the blogistas, the benefit of my experience and expertise. I will also incorporate new things I learned at the University of Iowa Summer Writing Workshop, the most creative and inspiring haven for writers in America. You can find most of what we'll read on the Internet or in a library, so you don't even have to buy books. (Though some of them you will want to own.)

If you need help getting that novel or screenplay started, this four-month workshop will kickstart you into a creative mode that will get that sucker under way. If you're interested in journalism, here's where you can start. If you have just never felt confident putting words on paper, step right up. You don't have to be college age. My techniques work whether you're 12 or 92.

I will post short exercises to help you improve grammar, punctuation, spelling and style. You will do them at your own pace and grade them yourself.

Every couple of weeks, you'll have a short assignment (no more than 300 to 500 words) due. You can email them to me or post them in the comments section for everyone to read. We can "workshop" your output together. With positive but honest critiques to work from, you will rewrite these assignments until they are polished. You can even drop in and out as your schedule permits or your interest waxes and wanes.

Why am I doing this? Why not? As I watched my professor friends head back to classes, I just thought, "Why waste all the good stuff I've accumulated? Why not make it available for anyone who wants to do it?"

Even my agent likes the idea. Even though I'm doing it gratis.

So let me know what you think. Would you join this "class"? If enough of you do, we'll start a week from today. I always did like the Tuesday-Thursday schedule best.


Anonymous lucille said...

Yes, yes, yes. If you do it I'll be there. I wanted to be a fiction writer. I was pretty good. But all the artists I knew had trust funds, so it was off to grad school (and wasn't the joke on me when I earned about what artists make and less than I did as a grad student on fellowship).

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Zuleme said...

I'll give it a try. I have a chapter book for 8-12 year olds that needs going over and another one started. I'm low on ambition these days and writing video scripts for my business so maybe htis will get me going again. I wrote some musicals and short plays too, learning as I went along.

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes, what a wonderful opportunity! Thank you so much.

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Madeline said...

I'm impressed. A ridiculously-talented writer willing to share her knowledge with the world - for free. That's a true respect for talent, which is even rarer than talent itself. Thank you so much, and count me in!
This will be very interesting for me - I'll be taking my first ever creative writing course (yes, high school level) starting in a few weeks, so I'll get two opinions at once.

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Séamus MacLaimh said...

How very kind of you! Séamus

9:11 PM  
Blogger The Calvinator said...

I think I would like to give this a whirl (he types one-handed while holding his 9 month old fourth daughter).

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yess! i'd love to!

9:35 PM  
Blogger M&Co. said...

I'm in!

10:05 PM  
Anonymous VerySlimBroom said...

I'm interested!

10:27 PM  
Anonymous andrea said...

I'm in - just so my blog isn't painful to read.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

This is incredibly generous of you, and I would be honored to be accepted into the workshop.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous mikl said...

I would love to give it a try. Thank You

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a great movie the other day called "Goodbye Paradise" which was written to sound like a Raymond Chandler novel, but with Australian slang:
"She looked ten years younger since her hysterctomy and was as mean as a beach full of bluebottles."

You could tell the writer of the screenplay was having the main character say things he wish he could.

Thanks - Tim.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd definitely join the "class." Thank you for putting this kind offer out there.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

Fantastic! I'd love to be part of this.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Lizett! said...

In law school, your writing skills are essential, so sign me up!

10:59 PM  
Blogger Lois said...

Count me in too.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'm in! Thanks so much!

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Hannah said...

I'm interested, if you don't mind that my work schedule is hectic, I'll do my best to keep up. This is a terrific idea. How exciting!

11:39 PM  
Blogger Miranda said...

Like everyone upthread, I think this is a terrific idea and I would be thrilled to join. Thanks, Elaine!

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Dragonpaws said...

Ooh, I'm in too!

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My standards for what qualifies as good writing are high. Too high for some of editors I've known"

Ah, but perhaps not too high for some of *the* copywriters you've known?

12:20 AM  
Blogger RC said...

I'd like to join as well. I do poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction.

12:22 AM  
Anonymous omair said...

I've always wished that my writing could improve as well. I am a student at the amazing university that everyone loves to teach at :) The rhetoric department isn't as good as it could have been. I learned more writing skills in chemistry than I did in rhetoric.

I'm looking forward to the class!

12:36 AM  
Anonymous La Quebecoite said...

As my friend P. once said, "Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa...yes!" If you still have room, that is. Your idea is extremely generous. Blessings!

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

Even though English isn't my native language, I'd definitely like to give it a try. Thanks for offering us this opportunity.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Bill Millan said...

Love the chance to write and get criticized. Let's do it!

3:03 AM  
Anonymous Lisbeth said...

This must be my lucky day! Cannot wait to join your class. Great idea. Very generous of you. Many thanks.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Sam(antha) said...

Me too.

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Clarence said...

Surely you have masochistic tendencies because my creative writing has been known to cause pain for readers. If you are tough enough to bear up under it, I will certainly give you cause to rue the day.

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This will be great, I get to remember beer bongs and reactivate unused brain cells in four short months- I can't pass this up. Hey, prof! I gotta take off early in a couple to jet down to Central America to pick up a couple of trained monkeys. Do you think I'll miss anything?

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would be amazing: what an incredibly brilliant idea. Definitely definitely do it.
Thanks so much.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Mackenzie said...

I'm in.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Oh my gosh. I'm in. I took part in Nanowrimo last November and was unimpressed with my writing. Any help is appreciated.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My daughter is heading off to a small liberal arts college in a week. Maybe this will help me adjust.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous cld said...

I would be interested in this as well.


7:44 AM  
Blogger amanda m. said...

Where do I sign up?

7:52 AM  
Blogger TheSatch said...

I'm in! Thanks so much for offering this. I'd love to get some structured training. I've been writing fiction, non-fiction, etc. for years, but have never felt good enough to really publish anything.

7:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm in, too.

re: your opening comments. i've been teaching a section of freshman comp as part of my grad school funding package for a year now. the whole time, i've been weighing the same question about teaching and learning how to write. most days i think it's an innate ability [how pessimistic of me, i know], but your post makes a lot of sense to the music student in me. i'll have to try harder to tune my students' writing ears.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Dusty Lane said...

I'm always looking for a good excuse to write and polish. Add my name to the list.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous ollie said...

sweet! i'm in!

8:15 AM  
Anonymous kevinsue said...

Awesome offer!


8:21 AM  
Anonymous liddybugs said...

I am in.

8:24 AM  
Blogger PrincessChristie said...

i am afraid that you may have overwhelmed yourself with this generous offer, but it is so greatly appreciated! i have been looking for something like this and didn't know where to begin. thank you!

8:26 AM  
Anonymous sam & co said...

I would really like to join this workshop. Thank you for making this available; it is astonishingly generous of you!

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count me in.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Count 2 more (my wife and I).

This is a great idea! Thanks!!

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you have room for one more, I would like to join.


8:35 AM  
Anonymous Mhmac13 said...

what a fabulous offer! I cant wait till the first class assignment. I have relished your ability to bring those "Ashleys" to task. I was at SMU long before those days. What a generous gift for us. (does sucking up count in online classes???) MHMac13

8:49 AM  
Blogger P. G. said...

Absolutely count me in -- this sounds like an excellent opportunity to participate in an experiment and learn something.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will also like to enroll... do we just come back to the blog next week>?

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll join...as long as you promise to continue posting about the Hilltop.

9:25 AM  
Blogger The Monkey Attack Victim said...

I am so excited! Thank you for doing this.

9:28 AM  
Blogger hannah said...

I'd love to. Something to get me writing instead of whining about my two jobs summer.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Sarah M. said...

I'm down. :)

I'm even considering sending it to a couple of the newer copywriters at my agency -- they could really use some help, alas. (How does one become a professional writer without the vaguest idea of how to use commas?)

9:42 AM  
Blogger Raul said...

¡Yo también!

9:54 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

*raises hand* I'm completely interested. I've been working off an on for years on my "Great American Novel"... because, you know, I have to as a 30-something Gen-X'er.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a former student of the university and department you previously taught. I never had the pleasure of taking one of your classes and I look forward to this opportunity. Thanks!

10:09 AM  
Blogger Duby said...

Oooo la la! Thanks heaps!

Definitely count me in.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Lifefeed said...

I would love this. I need to start shaping up if I'm going to do that National Novel Writing Month thing in November.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes I said yes I will Yes.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like a Tsunami of would-be writers. Will you accept a student who wishes to audit the class?

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a god! Thanks!

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

What a terrific idea! I'm in as well!

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely, I am a English Minor and would love to have your help especially as we start to dive into the school year. God knows everything I've learned from last year has just about escaped me!

I hope we are able to do this, what a wonderful idea.

Thanks for all the help!

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Tiana said...

...and you were worried that you wouldn't have papers to grade anymore. I'm up for anything.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be up for some free learning.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

Hell yes I am interested!!! I need this kind of a kickstart. You are awesome! :)

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! I'm a college professor who will be on sabbatical this fall. I'll be working on songwriting for fun (in addition to writing a book in my research area . . .) and would love to participate!

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Yes, Please!

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need this!

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, to have my soap box stands reviewed! By the way, I am annonymous only because I can't seem to register as a "blogger," which I'm not. I'm just an individual who loves to comment. You know, we're not the same as the MSM. At the end of the day, writing for a paycheck is different than what our Founding Fathers' envisioned when the First Amendment was set down in stone, allowing people to speak and spout off, without fear of arrest and imprisonment. Now? We just put our fingers to plastic, instead of our feet to milk cartons. What a joyous gift you are offering out. Count me in. On. And, ready, to boot. CAROL HERMAN

12:52 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I'll be taking part as well.

That said, my writing is horrible. So it can only get better

12:56 PM  
Blogger Doran Williams said...

Yes, count me in. EVen if Prof. Froomkin is not teaching it, as he mis-lead me to believe, I still want to do it.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I would be honored to be a student of yours!

-Allison A.

1:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, please.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Hillabeans said...

Weeee! I'm up for it

2:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll join the stampede if I may. I have too many half finished essays lying around.

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this idea!

3:54 PM  
Blogger Kevin T. Keith said...

Fantastic. What a great service! I'll be very interested.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous serendipity82 said...

Count me in. What an opportunity.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heck yes, count me in!


5:12 PM  
Anonymous Ames said...

Looking forward to it.

5:35 PM  
Blogger FutureFoodTVStar said...

In high school, I royally sucked at writing (teachers exact words.) In college, I struggled through classes that required more than a one or two word answer.

Somewhere between college and when I applied to culinary school last November, something started to click. I don't dread writing as much as I used to. I still don't think I'm very good at it though.

I blog nearly every day and I've written a few papers for school. I am getting good grades on my papers but since I'm going to the Art Institute and not Baylor I have a feeling the professor's standards are a few stories lower.

I would love to join your class. I work full time and go to school full time and I may not be the most prompt student you have online, but I will give it my best.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For an offer like this, I'll get a blog to join. What wonderful encouragement!

F. C. Bryan

6:11 PM  
Blogger BeckyJ said...

Yes, please.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous patty said...

I'd sure like to give it a go, but if you're too full at this point I'll sure understand.

11:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to participate too!

6:39 AM  
Blogger James said...

I'm definitely interested in participating, but I'm having a heck of a time finding the email option here. I'll keep looking.

6:46 AM  
Blogger kristen said...

very impressive professor!
i'm interested as well, and hoping this will be good luck as i have 2 books waiting on agent OK.

thanks for doing this --- it's very nice of you.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous ella said...

oooh this'll be exciting! i simply cannot wait!

I love writing!!!

Thank you, Phantom Professor!

8:16 AM  
Blogger sarah the great and wise said...

I, too, would love to participate.

Thanks so much for doing this.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Mont D. said...

yes Please

Mont D. Law

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the generous offer. I'll be here next Tuesday!

10:26 AM  
Blogger Sid said...

Only if, more teachers shared your enthusiasm and generosiy, the world would be a different place. Thanks for the offer. I will be there on Tuesday.

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually check your blog every few days so that I have several entries to read, therefore, I've just seen the entry about your class. It's a great idea and I'm looking forward to seeing the kind of assignments you will give.

10:46 AM  
Blogger fnord said...

This is great. I can't wait till it starts.

10:55 AM  
Blogger alg said...

count me in

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Gigem said...

Sounds challenging. I'm in.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm interested.


2:39 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Wow! Yes, please!

6:07 PM  
Blogger Parikshit said...

Hi there.. Cud you pencil me in too.

11:04 PM  
Blogger The Everglades said...

Yep, I'm in too!


12:08 AM  
Anonymous MomWolf said...

Would you be adverse to a fifty something in a one stoplight town in The Hill Country jioning? If not, Thank you for the opportunity!

9:41 AM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

I also would like to join. Thanks.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Vee said...

I'm in. Lord knows I need all the help I can get.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous CE Petro said...

Is it too late to sign up for your writing class? I think this is a wonderful opportunity you are providing.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Marian said...

How generous! Yes, please.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm in. How do we sign up?

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Vanneste said...

Thanks, I would love the opportunity to participate.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

TheSatch told me about your blog (and your course). He and I work together and are starting a writer's group at work. I had a short story published in a teen magazine (although I'm in my late 30's) a couple of years back, and a short (400 words) article in a magazine a couple of months ago. The magazine has also just accepted an article proposal, so I’m agonizing over that right now. I also have a novel I am working on – ACTUALLY working on, not toying with.

I have so much to learn and cannot express to you how grateful I am for what you are offering. Those first three articles you had us read were wonderful.

Thank you so much.


12:46 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

May I please sign up for this course? I'm so excited to find such an opportunity! If it isn't too late please let me know!

5:14 PM  
Blogger bitchphd said...

I'm in. Awesome.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Leslie in CA said...

Hot damn! I'm there. Thanks!

6:47 PM  
Anonymous Sunil said...

Hi there,

Through many a link, I've finally stumbled upon your blog and would love nothing more than to enroll in this free writing course.

Unfortunately, I don't have a blog of my own so I'm not certain how I will find out more details regarding your benevolent program.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Elise Hiller said...

Finally! What a dream come true. Sign me up and fast!

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't wait--sign me up, too!

3:54 PM  
Blogger just sayin' said...

May I join? Please?

6:48 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

Thanks so much - can't wait for more info on the course.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous kate said...

This is definitely a dream come true!

11:46 AM  
Anonymous LeAlan C. said...

Yes I am very interested in the course, and would like to sign up.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I would love to participate if you get a class going.
What a generous offer!

6:52 PM  
Blogger greylady said...

Hopefully this will be an evening course. What time? I'll be there.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow would love to join class! when and where.
I think it would help all writers to take a writing course once in a while to brush up on their writing.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, how do I sign up and is it too late? Let me know please, I'm very interested. I'm only 14, but I LOVE to write. This is like a dream come true. Thanks for the opportunity.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it too late? Today is June 7, 2007. please let me know if you are still doing this class. I would LOVE to sign up. My parents aren't being able to find how you do that though. They will also need to know more details about this "class". please let us know

2:18 PM  
Blogger Adi said...

Thank you for sharing.
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Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

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