Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Writers Need To Take Writing Courses

I'm currently trying to decide whether I'll take the plunge and apply for the fabulous summer workshop run by the Humber School for Writing. The Workshop runs this year from July 10 -16 at their beautiful Lakeshore Campus here in Toronto (former site of a psychiatric hospital which I find a perfectly wonderful irony given the mental anguish most writers I know go through). For years I've been thinking about going to this renowned program (here's the link - just see what a line up of intructors and mentors they've had over the years!)

But something has always held me back from attending. Oh yeah, there's been the "I'm too busy with the kids" or "Yeesh, I can't afford that this year" or the procrastinators mantra "I'll do it next year". But honestly? The real reason I've been holding back? I'm intimidated as hell to attend. Which makes absolutely no sense since I'm a huge proponent that writers of all levels should take programs, seminars, courses, lectures throughout their writing career in whatever format works for them to learn more about the complex art of writing. After seven years and a few million words under my belt I'm not exactly a newbie beginner but I feel like I'm still at an intermediate level. I still have so, so much to learn. I want to make my books bigger (and that's not about word count people). I want them to resonate with layers of meaning and ring true with deep, emotional heart. I want my plots and themes to intertwine so tightly that a reader is propelled to keep reading to find out how these characters end up because they've become emotionally invested dammit!

I want a lot, don't I? :)

So, if I'm a big fan of ongoing learning, what's holding me back from doing this one? I've taken many courses, seminars, conferences etc. and learned something from each. But this workshop, I think, will be very different. It is run as an intense, five day, all day session. As their website states

Artistic Director, Antanas Sileika, calls the workshop "rocket fuel for the literary life." Participants can expect to be exhausted and exhilarated by the end of the workshop.

At this point in my writing career, I think I need that kind of rocket boost to push me beyond what I think my limits are. That's what good writing courses do to a writer. You should come out changed, energized, excited, WANTING to write. Sure, I'll learn facts and techniques and hopefully whip a manuscript into great shape. But it is the other, less concrete but infitiely more valuable benefit that comes from this kind of investment - soaking up the energy and enthusiasm that comes from spending a significant amount of time with other writers and teachers who all share the same passion for books and writing that you do. People who push you to become better - who know and understand how difficult this gig is but who wouldn't trade it for the world. That kind of energy and enthusiasm is priceless.

And yet even though I know it would be so, so worth it … I'm still nervous about plunging in. Worried I'll discover that I have still so much more to learn and feeling vulnerable about my ability to continue to improve. Is there a wall that writers hit when you can only do so much and not much more? This fear that maybe I'm as good as I'll ever get is not a very pleasant thing to confront. Which, I guess, is exactly why I need to take this kind of course. Not only am I a big proponent of writers taking courses I'm a big fan of facing what you fear. I know I need to break through that fear and force myself to grow as a writer. But I also know when I need some help. And, like going to the doctor for a diagnosis, taking a good writing course may be the only cure for this particular ailment.

Now *gulp* where's that application form?


  1. You should do it! I have always wanted to take that course--the instructors are always amazing. But...sheesh, life and kids. Exactly right :-) Take it so that I can attend vicariously through you!

  2. Oh, just fill out the blinking form and send it in. Just think of the fun you'll have telling people you started your next novel in the madhouse.

  3. Hi Anita! No more excuses - well, I do need to break the news (and the cost!) to hubby.

    AnneB - I seriously believe that there will be ghosts roaming around some of the buildings - and the ms I want to work on is a paranormal. Hmmm, inspiration...

    Thanks for the encouragement guys. This is the year of the tiger so I should be brave and jump right in!

  4. Sounds great! Do it! Do it! If you have the funds and the time, I agree with you. We should always strive to learn; and sometimes, that means classes. :)