Final thoughts on Faber Academy Online Writing Course

It’s been almost three months since my Faber Academy Online Writing course (Getting Started (Intensive) Spring 2015) has ended and I have had time to really think things over.  Many people have asked for my opinion on how it was.  So here it is….

PROS:IMG_1801

1. The syllabus is concise and well-organized for the 8-week course.

Week 1:  Beginning to Write

Week 2:  Point of View

Week 3:  Character

Week 4:  Setting

Week 5:  Time

Week 6:  Structure

Week 7:  Writing Development Time

Week 8:  Writing Development Time

2.  The basis of the course is to write as much as possible during the 8 weeks. The writing exercises (videos and reading material) will slowly but surely bring you to an understanding of your writing and where you have difficulty.

3.  There is a big assignment to finish and upload on the forum every Saturday.  The practice exercises help you improve your writing and to focus on what is asked for in the big writing assignment at the end of the week.

4.  Reading and critiquing your peers’ writing will encourage you to try different things and motivate you to improve where you need to.  Each participant is supposed to critique at least two pieces of writing each Saturday.  The critiquing is meant to be based on the following criteria which is excellent (the following criteria was written by Faber Academy in the Taking it Further: Reading for Writers file of the course.  All of the critiquing must be done constructively and politely of course:

Clarity: How has the writer made sure the narrative is clear and the reader can follow the plot? If it’s tricky to follow the story line, is the author withholding information for a reason?
Point-of-view: Who is telling the story? Why might the author have chosen to use this viewpoint rather than another?
Pace: Is the writing energetic and absorbing? Does the pace vary or even flag at times?
Characters: How does the author engage us in these characters’ lives and bring them to life?
Setting: How much information are we given about where the action is taking place? Does the setting play the role of a character in the plot? What would the effect be of moving the story to a different place?

5.  Communication among participants is allowed throughout the course either through private messaging or online class forum.

6.  The Alumni section gives you a step-by-step plan on how to continue your writing for the next six months and allows you to exchange with other participants from your class and other classes.

7.  The price of the course was very reasonable compared to other courses I’d checked out online.  The fee for this 8-week course was approximately 430€.

 

CONS:

1.  There are only general comments from the tutor on the writing of the class as a whole. No personal critiques are given.  I was a little disappointed with this but I quickly adjusted to the general critique that was given by the tutor.  However, I tried to read as many pieces from the participants that I could on the weekend so that Wednesdays’ commentaries from the tutor made more sense.  I did enjoy getting critiques from other participants because when people noticed similar problems or similar good things about my writing I felt reinforced.

2.  Since this is an online course some participants aren’t always active.  The list of participants of the course was 15 names long at the beginning, but in fact less than 10 were actually active.  So it took a while to get used to who was really in the class because some never added pictures to their profiles.

3.  The examples of writing styles and authors centralized mostly around British authors.  I found that limiting and lacking in variety.  A list of authors was given to check out to expand our writing possibilities at the beginning of the course and Toni Morrison wasn’t even on it.  That really surprised me.

4.  Towards the end of the course, they propose an alumni section which costs 70€ to keep in touch with participants in our class and to have access to our course work for the next year.  It allows access to live chats with authors.  We also get regular updates on alumni members who have won writing contests or have been lucky enough to get published.  We can even post to the online alumni forum the writing we’re working on for critique.  The downside to this is that we are only three to join this alumni group from our class.  I don’t know if the others just went on about their business or if some joined the next course which is 28 weeks called Writing a Novel:  the First 15,000.  It’s an advanced course and I’m definitely not ready for that.  So the 70€ for the alumni section isn’t really worth it.  I have spoken to the other 2 ladies only once since the course ended.

5.  The last two weeks are spent writing the final assignment which is the first 3,000 words of Chapter One of our respective novels.  Now I was really excited about that until I realized we wouldn’t get any personal tutor critique unless we paid a little over 200€!  Needless to say, at least half the class didn’t even do the assignment.  I think there were only 5 of us that did it on time.  Oh well it’s to be expected because the writing assignments got harder each week and maybe were still too fast for some people to feel comfortable writing the first 3,000, words to their novels.

All in all despite the cons, the course has got me back to writing regularly and reading differently.  It has made me realize I have more of an aptitude for writing short stories, which is odd because you now how much I wasn’t in love with them before.  Happily, that has changed.  Moreover, descriptive writing is what I do best.  So, there are a few significant positive outcomes.  Now it’s up to me to keep at it until I can finally write something that one day can be published.  Honing good creative writing skills takes time, perseverance, continual writing, reading, and observation.

 

 

Meeting Zadie Again

It was a breezy evening in Paris.  Shakespeare & Co was filled with its normal charm and groups of anxious, excited bibliophile tourists.  The ka-ching of the cash register couldn’t be missed from outside, which was filling up with hopefuls who wanted to catch a glimpse of or hear a few words from the illustrious Zadie Smith.  This would be her second visit to the famous Shakespeare & Co. in Paris – almost exactly one year since her first visit, which I was equally IMG_1750lucky to attend.  I waited with three friends hoping that arriving early would equate to available seating.  However that wasn’t so easy since this meeting was set up by New York University(where Zadie Smith teaches creative writing) for students and staff.  They paid so they got ninety percent of the seating.

All the festivities took place outside and that led to a different, noisier atmosphere.  Last year it took place inside Shakespeare & Co, where the staff lined tiny little stools among all the available space inside the less than spacious bookstore.  It was a tight squeeze but we all made the best of it because we were going to see Zadie.

Once all the chairs were lined up outside.  We finally grabbed four available seats and just prayed nobody would ask us to give them up. Whew! 7pm came and we were still seated. By this time there was an extremely thick crowd that surrounded the seating making for an impressive turnout.  Since I was in the back row i could feel people just behind my chair.

The festivities took off right on schedule.  Zadie’s opening act was none other than her husband Nick Laird, Irish novelist poet.  I had no idea he was going to be there.  He was a nice surprise though.  His rich Irish accent and his humorous, straightforward poems were refreshing.  I’m looking forward to picking up one of his collections.  He seemed a little nervous in the beginning but he soon warmed up to the crowd that was obviously mostly there to see his wife.  His poetry got lots of laughs and smiles and was an excellent debut before Zadie Smith.

At last Zadie started to speak and the silence from the audience contrasted hugely from the cars, trucks, buses and blaring horns that seemed to surround us.  Nevertheless, we all had our ears perked up for the story she read us which was a bit of the new novel she’s working on, that she called Swingtime.  Love the title and adored what she read.  It was about two little black girls and their meeting for the first time and recounting a birthday party they attended.  It was all IMG_1796very Zadie Smith – race and class conscious, sensitive, a strong first person voice.  It was everything I love about her books.  I could see that they inspire each other.  The strong first person voice is present in both their work.

After her reading quite a few pages :D to us the book buying recommenced and the lines for book signing lengthened quickly.  It didn’t take too long before I found myself in front of Zadie again.  She signed my three books that I didn’t get signed last time – The Autograph Man, On Beauty, and Changing My Mind:  Occasional Essays.  She was very pretty and dressed in a cute dress which looked thrifted.  Her brown turban was covering her hair as usual  but making her bright wide eyes stand out on her beautifully freckled face.  She was smiling but not nearly as much as the first time I saw her.  She seemed tired.  All in all I was happy to see her for a second time and hear a bit of the new book she’s working on, which I can’t wait to read.  Apparently she’s been working on a film with her husband but not sure when it’s coming out or what it’s about.

 

 

A Piece of Mine

IMG_1725I’m slowly but surely working my way through J. California Cooper’s work and enjoying each one.  I’m marveled at her mastery to tell a story.  Anyone out there who is attempting to write short stories should absolutely read her.  All the ingredients in her stories are carefully chosen and used to depict well-rounded characters placed in common life situations.  All of her stories have a moral.  She isn’t preachy but she definitely tries to favor the positive side of life, even in the most burdensome situations.

A Piece of Mine is only 124 pages and can be read in one sitting.  It contains twelve short stories, each as interesting from one to the other.  They all revolve around  the central theme from the catchy title, A Piece of Mine.  Cooper was very good at giving her short story collections titles.  All the titles are memorable puns chosen to accompany her perfect stories.  Cooper’s simple yet direct writing style shines through these relevant stories.  “Her stories, parables, and monologues take flight with truths about being alive, rhythm of folks at ease by the creek and the pool table, songs of love and remorse, syncopated, galloping, and beguilingly, genuine.” Ntosake Shange (back cover of Anchor Books edition)  “Ms. Cooper is as  down-home as Zora Neale Hurston, thank you, and blooming into as skilled a storyteller.  Cooper’s characters are the folk heroes of Black culture…Tales of triumph that give you reason to keep reading.” Essence (back cover of Anchor Books edition)

 

Hotel Iris

This is the first book I’ve read by Yoko Ogawa.  I’m not often drawn to Japanese literature but since my book club chose The Housekeeper + The Professor as one of our seven reads for 2015-2016, I decided to buy this one too.  The story is about seventeen year old Mari who works in her mother’s shabby little hotel by the seaside called Hotel Iris.  The voice of Mari narrates the story in a chilling honesty that is often staggering. She is trapped in the hotel and isn’t allowed to live life very much.  So, it isn’t surprising that she is searching for something more, however the violent humiliating relationship she has with the translator is unexpected and odious.

Her mother is a woman running a business and seems to have little feeling for others.  The story begins when an incident happens in the hotel between a mysterious man and a prostitute.  There are loud noises which are preceded by yelling from the prostitute who leaves the room insulting the man.  Mari’s mother threatens to call the police and demands that the damages to the room and the trouble caused be paid.  From this point on Mari Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 19.40.51becomes enthralled with this mysterious man she calls the translator, and has an ongoing explicit relationship with him.  Here I must caution readers who have difficulty reading about sex (bondage) and most of all sex between a minor and a man in his sixties.  This exceptionally dark novel isn’t only that however it may seem as if it is because it is so short, only 164 pages.  I read it in one sitting.

What I liked most about the novel is the writing.  Ogawa has a very keen sense of description and the book is full of references to smell, taste, and sounds.  The minor characters of the novel accentuate these senses beautifully while telling Mari’s story.  There is a blind English woman, a mute nephew, and a kleptomaniac maid.  However minor these characters they add to the sensation of the senses that Ogawa seems to be trying to paint throughout the ambience of the book.  The translator is a contradiction because he never really explains himself.  As Mari learns about him, so do we.  His job as a translator should make him a character who is clear but he hides a lot of himself throughout  the novel.

I’ve been trying for a few days now to come to a conclusion about what Ogawa was trying to say really in this book and I’m just not sure.  After much thought, I think she wanted to write a book full of different kinds of extreme emotions. This we have examples from the beginning to the end. Some things are described so well they appear vividly in the imagination and in my opinion that’s a gifted writer no matter what the storyline.  Maybe she just wanted to show a look into Mari’s life.  I guess there is a little bit of no one knows what somebody is really living syndrome to the story.  Nevertheless, she is definitely an author to check out, if only to experience the beautiful descriptions and where you will undergo intense emotions.