Writing courses: How to prevent your classmates hating you

Writing Classes by Tom NashThe old saying goes that everybody has a novel in them. Many of us like the idea of recording these ideas but lack the skills needed to actually transfer the thoughts to paper (or screen these days), let alone craft a meaningful narrative that others would happily pay to read.

Luckily, there are people out there that work in publishing or that have successful writing careers of their own who love the craft so much that they are willing to share what they know with enthusiastic folks like us in classes- whether they be college or university courses or more informal affairs.

I’ve been lucky enough to take part in a fair few writing classes and, being the observant and altruistic chap that I am, have decided to put together a lickle list of tips that could be useful if you are thinking of getting your scribe on in a classroom setting and you would like to avoid the chance of your classmates bonding through their mutual hatred of you:

Remember there are other people in the room
If you’ve paid a decent amount of money to be on this course, it’s understandable you’d want to get the most out it; everyone (who is out of their teens) feels the same. So please stop nodding and murmuring agreement with everything teacher says and if you could think about not holding up the class to pick apart every last thing, that’d be great, as you are distracting the other people who paid to be there.

Find yourself answering all the questions? Shut up for a bit and let someone else have a chance. Perhaps you think you’re the voice of the class- the one who asks the questions the less confident are too scared to ask. You’re not. Shhhhh.

I’ve covered something like this in a post about students: Read. Learn.

Give what you get
Perhaps your course isn’t the only aspect of your life; maybe you need to work to fund yourself through it. Fair enough.

There will probably be times that you can’t make it to a class because you have to cover a shift or something, right? Perfectly understandable.

But what about that critiquing task- how will you get the latest feedback on the opening of your novel? Don’t worry- you can just ask your classmates to provide their feedback online, via email or the course’s forum or whatever. Sorted.

Well it is if you make sure you reciprocate and send them their feedback online, via email or the course’s forum or whatever as well, otherwise you can fuck off if you think anyone will do you any favours again.

Writing can be a lonely business- when you are on a course, you have access to a group of people who are all in the writing/editing/creating mindset. You may not get such an opportunity again. If you can nurture the relationships you build during this time, you can swap manuscripts and get useful, honest and constructive advice from your peers for years to come. Disrespect your classmates one time too many and you may find that nobody is willing to support you. Wah. It’s probably for the best anyway- your writing is boring and lazy- stop using adverbs.

Listen to suggestions
When you do get feedback, you don’t have to take anything anyone says to heart or implement it when you edit (well why would you? It’s not like you’re paying to improve your skills or anything… Oh, wait), but do your fellow aspiring writers- and your teacher for that matter- the decency of looking like you give a shit, will you? They took time out of their day to read your ‘story’, probably more than once (and to my housemates when it was really bad…), to write notes and now to talk at your disinterested and confrontational form. What a great way to show your appreciation…

And if everyone notes a certain sentence is too long or a metaphor is confused or that your dialogue doesn’t work, maybe they have a point. You may not respect them as writers but you should respect them as readers- especially if you are serious about a career doing it. Tweak the passage a bit- don’t just leave it there for the next feedback session like a middle finger to the room. The same outcome as above will occur.

Speaking of which:

Shut up when receiving feedback
If you are lucky enough to be published one day, will you be standing over everyone that reads your masterpiece, explaining what you meant in all the lazily written bits you included when you self-published? Exactly. If you find yourself itching to reply to a criticism with “Actually…” or ‘Well I was going for…” or anything similar- don’t. Just don’t. Shut up and listen, because it sounds like you need to.

Yes writing can be deeply personal, but if you can’t handle other people reading it, can’t handle criticism- no matter how constructive (because it will be- the people on your course are charming, intelligent people) and you don’t account for the fact that people interpret things in their own way, meaning your writing needs to be clear to prevent confusion or ambiguity, what are you doing on a writing course? You are wasting EVERYONE’S time.

If you can’t afford Word or Pages and have to use WordPad or Text/Edit, fair enough. We’re not all minted.

But don’t most browsers include spell check nowadays…?

USE IT. Please. It looks lazy if you don’t and the lack of word processing software will only fall on sympathetic ears for so long.

Gauge reactions
Do you like making jokes? Think you’re the class comedian? Quick question- is Jeff Dunham’s Achmed the Dead Terrorist funny?

If you answered ‘yes’- look around next time you drop a classic one-liner. Do heads drop as soon as you pipe up? Does no-one laugh, no matter how hard you implore them to by laughing AT them and boring your psycho stare into their poor, uncomfortable, shifting-in-their-seat skulls?

They do? You’re not funny. Give it a rest.

Remember where you are
That’s it, act like a dick around writers- they won’t use it as material, will I…?