Saturday, July 24, 2010

Your Book Starts Here--Online Class *or* The Surprising Benefits of Online Learning While You're Writing Your Book

When my novel, Qualities of Light, was published last fall, I celebrated as anyone would, enjoying the readings, book signings, and kudos fully. The book did well, got some good reviews. I even had my brief moment in the sun, being interviewed on WNPR.

Then the furor died down. I unpacked my suitcases, went back to my writing desk, and faced my next book-in-progress.

Post-publication is a bit like the aftermath of a great party.
Fun and hard work are done, cheerful noise has subsided. Even the party balloons lie spent on the floor. An author might glory briefly as another fan letter arrives, as another interview is scheduled, but that solitary life of the everyday writer is back again.

Some writers fall into a creative slump. What just happened? we wonder. Where was I?

I felt disoriented for many weeks. No inspiration, no creative juice. My writing was stale, and I worried how I would get back my groove, if there ever was one.

Browsing the Internet one afternoon, avoiding my novel-in-progress, I came upon a listing for online writing classes. Understand that I’m far from high-tech, that I even delayed long past reason in getting my first email account. Online classes weren’t on my radar. I appreciated that distance learners enjoyed them, that they easily fit busy schedules. But they were not for me.

As a writing teacher at the Loft and other schools, I pride myself in creating a strong, supportive learning environment. I enjoy helping writers practice new skills that transform their work. I love the unique creativity of a writing community gathered in a classroom. Miracles happen regularly and I’m privileged to be part of them.

Sunk in my own stuckness, I needed such a miracle. But my schedule allowed no possibility of attending a class in person. To avoid the looming post-partum depression, I took a deep breath and signed up for my first online class.

Attending My First Online Writing Class
We were a small group, twelve writers from the U.S., Canada, and U.K. with assorted skills, writing in different genres, all in search of inspiration. Each week we logged on to the “classroom’s” main page where, in cheerful colors, was our lesson, suggested readings, and three writing assignments. We took the week to read the new lesson, test out the theories on our own work, experiment with the exercises.

Everyone was asked to post their best results by Friday evening, their writing-in-progress. Be brave, the instructor encouraged. We’re all kind here.

Only five posted that first week. I was one. I kind of liked what I’d written from the first exercise, which was a short series of movies about character. I enjoyed reading the other writers’ work. Some was raw, some revised, all interesting. We were kind; we each commented gently on each other’s writing, asked questions, suggested ideas. I read the feedback on my piece and thought about it. It was fun to have time to think, not have to rush your answers. Online classes are slower for those, like me, who need that time to process material. There’s none of the classroom pressure, where the boldest talk and the quietest don’t. Everyone gets a chance in virtual classrooms. Ah, I thought, an unexpected benefit.

I eagerly awaited the instructor’s feedback. She was accurate, thoughtful, and encouraging. Her comments were generous. This was great!

By the third week, I was really enjoying the course. Certain writers became my favorites; I logged on as soon as they posted. I looked forward to the instructor’s responses to my work, full of exciting ideas and suggestions. Each time I visited the classroom, I felt inspired. It was truly a creative space, a fun, enlivening, and easy way to learn.

Surprising Benefits
Over the weeks, my novel-in-progress opened up surprisingly from the class exercises. Several new scenes came through for one of my difficult characters. I was back to writing every day, the course giving me good reason to create new material.

Online learning became a big YES! in my book.

Then I Was Asked to Teach One!
I love the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, one of the most creative places on the planet.  You can visit the Loft's website at  I've been teaching "How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book" at the Loft three weekends each year for about eight years.  This two-day intensive creates a toolbox for writers who want to take their book to publication.

This fall, I'll be teaching "Your Book Starts Here," an online class for the Loft.  It runs for 12 weeks, starting September 13.  Each week we'll cover a step of the book planning, writing, and developing process.     

Having been a student, I now know what matters in an online class: a supportive community, ease of use of the virtual classroom with plenty of support as needed, great material and writing exercises, open discussion and sharing of work, and continual feedback from the instructor.

We’ll have all of that and more in "Your Book Starts Here."

The twelve-week class is based on chapters from my forthcoming book by the same title. By the end of the class, you’ll have completed a thorough plan for your book-in-progress, including visual maps, three-act structure, chapter drafts, and analysis of your readership and market. Each week’s writing exercises explore both the process of writing a book as well as the product of creating pages, chapters, and a full manuscript. My goal is to, as always, help you become a stronger writer with more inspiration, a well-stocked toolbox of skills, increased stamina for the sheer work of writing, and more knowledge of the publishing industry today.
We’re limiting the online class to the first twenty students that register. This way I can make sure you get plenty of attention and feedback on your book-in-progress.

So if this fits your writing needs and schedule, please join me. Registration information is below—call the Loft soon or click the link below to find out more and register: class

Hope to “see” you there!

This Week's Writing Exercise
Does fall (still far away--don't worry!) inspire learning in you?  Do you get kind of excited at the array of new notebooks and school supplies on sale?

This week's writing exercise is to find a next step for yourself and to consider online learning, if you haven't already.

Some great sites to visit include:
Gotham Writers' Workshop
The Loft Literary Center
Online class description:
Your Book Starts Here--How to Plan, Write, and Develop a Book (online class)
In this online class, you'll get to know your book—what it is about, how to structure it, how to plan to finish it! You’ll learn a step-by-step plan, including flexible timelines, chapter grids, storyboarding, and other techniques. You’ll look at ways to flow chapters, find holes in your material that need filling, organize research and concepts, construct plots, and bring your book into manifestation. You’ll also learn what editors and agents look for and gain essential tips on editing and evaluating your book in all its stages. Designed for writers who have a book concept or a work in progress--be it a memoir, nonfiction book, or novel--and for any writers who feel stuck and need a fresh look at their material.
Date: September 13 - December 6, 12 weeks
Registration fee: $420.00
For more information:  Call the Loft at 6120-379-8999 or visit the link above.


  1. Hi Mary...the class looks great. I have a question about it. Is the class designed for fiction writers that are at a specific point in their writing (first draft, revisions, etc.)? Or is it designed for a writer at any stage of their book? Thanks!

  2. ...hmmm... may require more thoughts...

  3. And do let me know if you have questions along the way, Nicole . . .

  4. Heather, the online class works with book writers at any stage of the process. The twelve weeks will be tailored individually to writers who are just beginning their books as well as those who have manuscripts in progress. Let me know if you have any other questions . . .