A little over a year ago I mentioned that I was going to refocus on my writing and use it as a tool to find meaning in a life that was radically changed. It was pure coincidence that I made this decision around the same time I noticed Richard Thomas—author of both Transubstantiate , and Disintegration, editor of The New Black and Exigencies, and Editor-in-Chief of Gamut Magazine—was teaching a short story class over at LitReactor.
It sounded like just the thing I needed to get my tuchus back in gear, but I was hesitant. Despite growing up around computers—anybody remember the Commodore 64?—and having the option in college, I’d never taken an online class. I always enjoyed interacting with my professors and classmates, and I wasn’t sure how well I’d learn in a different setting. It seemed so cold, so impersonal. Plus, I’d always been hesitant to commit to a deadline when writing was involved, and I wasn’t sure I could produce a whole work in a two week time frame. Let’s face it, I’ve never been the bravest person when it comes to putting my work out there. And, to make myself feel better, I’d say to myself, “You know, it’s a mysterious thing, this pulling stories out of the ether. I just don’t know about making it happen on demand. That feels artificial to me.”
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but excuses sure as hell seem to. I don’t even need an excuse tree. I have an excuse plant. It sits in a little clay pot by my bed, and its a hardy little thing, always ripe with fruit no matter if I water it, or shut it up in the dark. I can kill anything green and growing, but, man, those excuses, they’re always growing.
Yes, when everything works it feels like magic, but the material, it’s all there. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s wonderful, but it’s all you.
So, after a week or two of picking those excuses and swallowing them down, I decided to give it a go, and I’m really glad I did. I learned so much about the short form, and I ended up developing a short story in that class that Richard encouraged me to send to him at Gamut Magazine. (Check out Gamut if you haven’t already. It’s a great online magazine full of dark stories that’ll chill you as well as touch your heart.) So not only did I learn about the short form, I ended up making a contact, and a friend.
From there, I went on to take another class taught by Richard, a sixteen week course on contemporary dark fiction. This class was more involved, requiring more work, but I loved it. And while the LitReactor class was done through message boards, and online articles, this class met weekly on Skype so I was able to get that face to face interaction I love so much. And then, I took another class, a sixteen week Advanced Writing Workshop, also taught by Richard.
If you haven’t picked up on it, I’m a fan of his teaching. Richard is extremely personable, and very helpful. He’s open to being approached with questions and has a gift for encouraging talent in others, something you always want in a teacher, but don’t always find. (I’ve been really fortunate to find great friends and mentors within the writing community. St. Louis has a wonderful community of writers. If you’re anywhere near STL I encourage you to get involved.)
I’ve found these classes to be a nurturing environment. I’ve pushed myself, and I’ve experimented, and I’ve read some really great literature along the way. The feedback I’ve received, both from Richard and my classmates has been tremendously helpful. And, I’ve learned about the industry. While the business side of writing isn’t the focus of these classes, I picked up some really useful information from listening to Richard talk, watching how he worked, and reading everything he put out there, and he’s put out a lot. This dude is prolific.
I haven’t yet researched other online classes in detail, but for me the Skype component has been crucial, and I’d love to find some more online classes that utilize it. It’s been a great way to learn and interact with other writers, something I think is invaluable, especially early in a writing career. I’ve met some amazing authors, and made some great friends, all colleagues that I’m either already seeing great things from, or who I expect to see great things from in the near future.
Whether you’re a writer just starting out, or have a couple pieces published, of are already well-established and looking to push your writing in different directions, I encourage you to take a class. And while I enjoy Richard’s classes, if they’re not for you then check out other options, find something that speaks to you. LitReactor offers a wide selection with different authors and different levels of involvement. I haven’t had any experience with Story Studio in Chicago, but I know they offer online classes, and I’ve heard great things about Kathy Fish’s intensive flash fiction class.
Do you have information on online classes I haven’t mentioned? I’d love it if you’d comment, and share your experience.
So, what’s next for me? As I mentioned earlier, my short story “Prey” will be published sometime this year, and I have an upcoming announcement I’m really excited about. I’m also planning to restructure this blog, or possibly move it to its own domain, but either way, there’s more to come soon. Look for an upcoming blog post about structuring routine for work days, and holding to a strong work ethic.
I’ve also put up an author’s page on Facebook so you can always go over there and give that a like to stay up to date.