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.