Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Online Writing Class

Sometimes, I’ve found, it takes just a single word or a picture to jump start the writing. A couple of connections, a spark, and BAM, the engine starts and I’m on my way. I knew that about myself somewhere in the deep ravine that doubles for my mind, but never really understood the concept until enrolling in an online writing class. And not just any writing class, either. I am a proud Wayward Writer and a member of the Literary Kitchen.

The class format runs like this. Each of the eight weeks during a session, our mentor Ariel Gore issues a short and a long assignment. The short is called a Quick Write. She offers a prompt like a word or phrase or photo, then we write for eight minutes, polish another minute then submit. I confess that I kept to the letter of the law the first couple of times and the results sucked. I let the time factor get to me and I could get out of my own way. What to do?

I noticed that a couple of submissions from the vets ran a little longer than might be expected for eight minutes. Example. One had a word count of 796 words. Even just straight typing, that’s a touch under 100 wpm. I couldn’t type 100 wpm for a lottery win. So I forgot about the time, totally. If it took an hour, it just took an hour. I’ve found, though that I can usually accomplish the mission in fifteen minutes with a three or four minute cleanup. Anything over fifteen, and I admit to the group that I cheated. This is not news, either. I told everyone in a conference call what I did.

The results have been startling. I’ve managed to be funny and powerful and poignant and insightful all in that fifteen minute time frame. Some of those writings have been better than things I’ve agonized weeks over. Some of the group, Ariel included, actually prefer my quick writes (particularly when it pertains to my boyhood) to my fiction. I confess I do, too sometimes. Going back and reading them, I’m astounded by how strong those experiences were. At the time they didn’t loom as large as now, probably because I was going through them.

They’ve made me a much better writer. Without question.

The long assignments I use for Catch a Falling Star or my short stories. I always get useful feedback.

The process of finding the class started in the Southlake branch of Barnes and Noble, the reference section, writing in particular. I saw the spine of a book with a long title, then ulled it off the shelf to see. How To Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, by Ariel Gore.

I laughed. Opened the book and read a couple of pages. Bought it. Took it home. Read it from cover to cover. It touched me someway, somehow. I laughed. I cried. I learned. Because this book is unlike any I’ve ever read on the subject, more than 100 cover to cover over 30 years and parts of countless others. My particular favorite sections are when Rising Lit Star asks Magnificent Meteor. I won’t summarize the book here because you might want to read it someday, and I don’t want to take away any of the joy you might get from reading it yourself.

From there, I checked out Ariel’s website, saw the class listed, e-mailed her asking for a little more info. She e-mailed me back quickly with the info and I signed up.

That was one year ago.

I spoke last week of The Writerie, the writers group I belong to? This class is important to me as well. I’ve made some friends I’ll probably never meet face to face, and received wonderful critique. Notice I said, critique, not criticism.

And all of it started with a prompt. Seeing the book on the shelf. Buying the book. Reading the book. Joining the class. “Choose one of the following pictures and write a story around it.” That particular prompt generated one of the best stories I’ve written. I’m entering it into a contest this weekend (later today).

I didn’t intend this to be a testimonial for The Literary Kitchen, but I suppose it is. Or maybe just a reminder that generating kickass ideas is so easy its difficult. The Literary Kitchen takes away the difficulty. And I’m most grateful.

To Ariel: When I do become famous, I will tell The New York Times that you’re a genius.

Okay, I weighed 273 as of last Sunday, a total of 12 pounds down since August 1st. So far, so good.

My writing goals this week are to submit two of my short stories, and to pass page 125 in Lucky Thirteen of Catch a Falling Star.

I’ll let you know next week how I did.


  1. I'm so glad you're submitting the story. It's stunning--

  2. Thanks, Ariel! I really appreciate all you've done. The Rock

  3. Rockstar - I LOVE what this class has done for you. I can't wait to read this story. xo

  4. All positive moves. You'll see, these assignments and your short stories will hold the key to your success.