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.

 

 

Writing Seriously – Update Weeks 2 and 3

Well it’s been a while and I’ve been extremely busy trying to keep it all together.  Work is booming and adding to the complexities of my weeks.  I’m trying to do it all but my reading is suffering the most, which I knew it would.  I’m reading about four books at the same time.  I usually never do that!  I’ll be spending the next four days trying to finish reading Water Street, Corregidor, Reading Like a Writer, and You, Me & A Bit of We.

As for my writing course, things have been going really well.  I had excellent feedback on my writing assignments for session 2 and 3.  The main focus of week 2 was point of view and character for week 3.    We looked closely at how first, third, and second person can be used to write a novel and how it affects the reader as the story develops.  We had to choose from two writing assignments: 1.  Write a first person account of someone waking up in the morning and finding something surprising in the kitchen in 300 words.  2.  Try to recreate an unreliable character – write a first person account of someone you know in rather unkind terms but try to suggest that the narrator secretly likes the person but doesn’t want to admit it.  All of this must be finessed in a subtle way and in a maximum of 500-750 words.  I went for assignment #1.

I wasn’t sure where to start so I asked my family for suggestions of what could be surprising to find in a kitchen.  I then set out writing stories on the different surprises.  I wrote four different versions.  I rewrote each of them twice and tried to round them out the best I could. I then had trouble picking the one I was going to put up on the forum.  I finally decided on one and worked on it until I felt it was ready to be seen.

The outcome of the assignment was amazing! There wasn’t one story that resembled the other.  There is so much creativity in this group.  There were only a few who attempted assignment #2.  The second week has made me look at point of view even more closely than I would normally do when reading.  It’s so important and can be the difference of the novel drawing the reader in or pushing him/her away.  It made me look at some other of my favorite books and how point of view was used and analyzing why it works.

Week 3 we delved into character.  I notice when I come up with an idea I usually have the main character detailed in my mind, however developing the other characters that are important to the story aren’t nearly as fleshed out.  They gave us a character questionnaire which lists some points to help define the character in more detail.  Some of these points are: Name, Age, Gender, Sexual orientation, Marital status, Place of birth, Current location, Education, Religious, beliefs, Political beliefs, Occupation, Health, Family, Friends, Pets, Hobbies, Favourite music/books/films/tv, Newspaper/magazines, Clothes, Holiday preferences, Food preferences, Desires/hopes, Fears/anxieties, and Secrets.  This extensive list should definitely help develop characters, but also the storyline.

The writing prompts for week 3 were interesting and revealing.  We were told to try 1. using images for example from a magazine, making up everything from name, occupation, marital status, etc, sketching another person by writing a character sketch on someone we know in first-person, 2. writing about ourselves in a difficult situation thinking about how we may appear outwardly and how we feel, while keeping in mind that no one will see it, and 3. looking at strangers on the train, in the supermarket, etc. and get into noticing the details of their appearance (clothes, shoes, hair-styles, jewellery, tattoos, the things they carry, the type of dog they have).  It was suggested we use one detail as a starting point to develop the entire character.

Observing people has become my new pastime, the thing I never really did before at least not in detail. I’ve even started carrying a small notebook where I can jot down details that I see during the day.  I’ve learned so much in these three weeks not only about writing but also about reading.  I feel like I don’t read in the same way.  This has been altered because we have to critique our peers and we have to respect the critiquing pointers to do it:  clarity, point of view, pace, characters, setting, over-writing, spelling and punctuation.  I seem to be looking at all of this; all the time.  It’s making me a lot more critical than I was before.

The writing assignments which were to be posted on the forum for week 3 were 1. write a character sketch on someone we know well, and could be written in first or third person 2. show a character in action – has just witnessed a crime, has had an argument with a neighbor, or is in a public place with someone they like very much, but that person is unaware of their strong feelings, and had to be written in third person, or 3. write a first person monologue as the opposite sex.   We had to write between 500 – 750 words.  In the end, I chose exercise one and wrote a piece that was really close to home about a teacher going to a student’s house to tutor him in English. She hasn’t seen the student in 5 years.  He’s 18 years old now and still isn’t any good in English.  It was different, but I feel it was the worst thing I’ve written since the course began.  😦 Nevertheless, I got good feedback and was told that my descriptive writing was my strong suit and I should stick with that.  So I am…

Writing Seriously…

After the hectic and enjoyable month of February, these next two months will be a lot quieter.  I’d like to thank all of those who kept up, followed, shared, and commented, making Black History Month Reading a success.  Remember #ReadSoulLit has not seen its last days, its pressing on over on Twitter, Instagram, and on here.  Please continue to link the hashtag when you blog or link to social media about books by black IMG_1537writers.  This will help keep up the recognition that black writers so deserve.  So why is everything quieting down for the next two months? Well I’ve enrolled in an intensive online writing course with Faber Academy.  It’s called Getting Started: Writing Fiction (Intensive).

The course has about 15 participants mostly from England, an Australian, and me.  The course started and
we’ve been challenged with writing prompts, but we’ve also been encouraged with George Orwell’s short stories (pretty fantastic writing).  We’ve had to reflect on how much we read (I’ve got that covered), what we read, what to pay attention to, and we’ve discussed books we love and recommend and why.  It was suggested we take a look at Reading Like a Writer A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them by Francine Prose.  It so happens I have that one on my shelf and have already started reading it.

So far I’ve found the writing very challenging.  I’ve done one round of writing prompts.  We are supposed to write for 10-15 minutes on the ones that interest us the most and I found this excruciating.  I could hear myself critiquing my writing as I linked one word after the next.  I have to stop doing this or I’m never going to get over the hump.  I must try to put myself in partial NaNoWriMo mode.  I say partial because I need to focus on how I write things too.  Tomorrow I’ll redo the prompts and maybe try the three that I haven’t done yet. I’m hoping that one of my attempts will jump out at me and that’s the one I’ll try to work on seriously.  Try to make it detailed, descriptive, and interesting.  This 500-word assignment is for Saturday.

I’ll also have the arduous task to critique two of my colleagues’ work.  This should be interesting.  This is what I usually do on this blog, with a twist of analysis and how I felt.  In the end, it’s not the same thing.  However, I’m glad that they gave us some specific guidelines to help us concentrate on the importance of writing.  Here are the areas we need to consider when critiquing and I believe they are useful for book bloggers too:  clarity – what kind of narrative is it?  Is it clear? Is it easy to follow what is happening?, point-of-view – Who is telling the story?  Do the view points change?, pace – Is the story lagging?  Try to identify why you feel less engaged., characters – Are the characters engaging?  Do we learn enough about the characters? Is there any information missing?, setting – Is there enough information about the place?  Is the location clearly explained?, over-writing – Are there more words than are necessary? Are we told things that we as the reader can already work out?, and spelling and punctuation – work should be presented in a clean and precise manner.  So poor grammar will be judged.  As they say, being a careful reader is crucial to developing skills and awareness to help with writing.  I’m pretty nervous about all of this but I’m throwing myself into it because I need the answer to the question that most of the other participants are asking as well and that’s, “Can I write?”  So I hope you’ll enjoy reading my updates on this course and maybe a book review or two for the next 8 weeks….

The Next Big Thing – Birthmark

Firstly, I’d like to thank Victoria Corby for tagging me on The Next Big Thing.  She’s in the throes of writing French Twist, which sounds like my kind of story.  Check it out http://victoriacorby.wordpress.com.  I would say I’m a novice literary writer with a capital N.  I actually sat down last November to partake in the thing that I’ve said I wanted to do for some time now – writing a book.  NaNoWriMo, along with some pretty cool, experienced buddies, put me on the straight and narrow of starting to write my first book.  I was nervous and wasn’t sure I was doing things correctly, as if there is a correct way to write a book.  What NaNoWriMo did teach me was to be consistent about the quantity that I wrote each day, to persevere even when the story didn’t seem to be turning out exactly as planned, and above all to enjoy myself.

What is the working title of your next book?

The title of my book is called Birthmark.  In the beginning, I had put another title but quickly realised that my story had taken a slight turn, but for the better.  So this title works a lot better.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, I’ve always had a vague idea of writing a book which would take place in my hometown New Orleans.  New Orleans is a place with tremendous character, loads of culture, scrumptious food, and beautiful architecture.  I think any avid reader would enjoy reading a book which entails all of that.

What genre does your book fall under?

I guess my book would fall into the genre of contemporary fiction.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m not so sure about that just yet.  I don’t think I’ve captured the physique nor the complete personalities of my characters enough to answer that question.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Birthmark is a story which follows the ups and downs of an African-American family from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Sorry, I can’t say more than that.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Ultimately, I’d like my book to be published by an agency.  Personally, I have a problem with a lot of self-published books.  They often need a bit of editing and there’s nothing that annoys me more than reading through mistakes, poorly written passages, or scenarios that just aren’t plausible.  I want my book to be edited by professionals and of course given a beautiful cover.  I want my book to look just as good on the outside as it is in the inside.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wouldn’t say my NaNoWriMo writing experience gave me a solid first draft.  It did give me an excellent corps 52,650 words in which I can mould into a real first draft hopefully this year.  I wrote it in three weeks which was amazing to me.  I was sure I’d have trouble getting to 50,000 words, but in the end I could have written a lot more.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t actually think of any exact titles at the moment but it would be very similar to a family saga story but with a lot of upheaval, character growth, and a few other twists and turns.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I inspired myself to write this book.  I was tired of hearing myself constantly saying, “I should write a book.” or “I should put that in a book.”  I saw some booktubers on You Tube talking about gearing up for NaNoWriMo and something inside of me said go for it.  You’ve got loads of time on your hands and you have nothing to lose.  The weekend before November 1st I spent trying to figure out what exactly I was going to write about.  My husband helped by asking me questions which then led to me choosing character names and places I wanted to use in New Orleans.  I must admit he gave me that extra swift kick I needed to get started.  I jotted down some notes in an outline form so that I could somewhat get my story off to a good start and voilà.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well there are two story lines going on between two generations.  There’s some intrigue, confrontations, New Orleans culture, etc.  That’s all I can tell you for now.  I don’t want to ruin it for you.

To continue on The Next Big Thing tag, here are two other budding writers that I’d like to tag.

Carole Hill from Piglet in Portugal, http://pigletinportugal.com where she writes about living in Portugal.  She also writes about the challenges of living abroad and about her many hobbies (cooking, photography, etc.).  She too is a NaNoWriMo winner and on a mission to write a book and to get published.

Kimba Azore who writes the blog Fleur de Curl, http://fleurdecurl.com and is from my home state Louisiana.  Her blog details everything you want to know about natural hair, beauty, and fashion.  She even has a rubric featuring what she’s reading and writing.  What a poet she is!

Hope you enjoyed this post and will check out Piglet in Portugal and Fleur de Curl to read about their writing exploits.  I’d love to hear about what you think about self published books as opposed to professionally published ones below.

NaNoWriMo Tag

I was tagged by naturalpoppy on You Tube the other day to do a Why I love NaNoWriMo tag.  So since I don’t do You Tube videos, I decided to do it here for her and you instead.

The main reason I love NaoWriMo is because it got me to sit down and write.  I’ve been saying forever and ever. I want to write a book and other people have told me you should write a book.  Now I’m actually doing it.  It may not be great stuff but I’m getting the words down everyday and more than the minimum daily count.

This is my first participation in NaNoWriMo and I started scared out of my mind.  I just couldn’t perceive myself writing a minimum of 1,667 words a day.  I thought it would take me all day to get it done.  In fact day one went really well I wrote 1,753 words in two hours.  God only knows where it all came from.  I continued the rest of the days hoping they would be the same.  Honestly, some of the days have been remarkable 3,000/4,000 words.  It’s really been unbelievable and an enjoyment!

The weekend before NaNoWriMo started I had a general idea of what I wanted to write about but absolutely no specific ideas.  Needless to say I procrastinated the entire weekend.  Finally, on Monday night my husband (my muse) started questioning me to see where I was on my planning.  Sigh!  Nowhere.  He then started to ask me about characters and setting and some other things and suddenly I realized I knew a lot more than I was aware.  As a matter of fact, I was pretty adamant about setting, characters, and time period.  In my opinion, Day 1 was the most important day for me.  It was like opening a vault and then wanting to take the time to discover the treasure from within.  I’m enjoying it tremendously and have connected with a group of great writing buddies that are keeping me motivated and I them.  If you’re not participating this year and you would like to write a book one day, I strongly urge you to sign up next year.  It’s the experience that’ll give you that swift kick up the butt that you need to begin writing, but most of all to continue even beyond the 50,000 words demanded.  I wish all the participants who might be reading this Good luck, don’t give up no matter what and especially Happy writing……

Favorite sentence that I wrote this week:

He sunk into the sofa and attempted to envisage his lonely future.

Describe a character in my book that I’m fond of:

I’m fond of Zachary at the moment.  He’s hard-working, good-looking and a good dad sort of.  He’s a lousy husband and has a bit on the side.

How many words have I written so far?

32,115

When and where have I been doing most of my writing?

Every morning, I write near a well-lit window in my living room in an extremely comfortable chair.  My legs are propped up on a pillow on another chair and my Macbook on my lap.  If I start by 9am, I’m usually finished by noon and sometimes even before, unless I feel like writing more.

Have I had to sacrifice anything in the past week in order to devote myself to writing?

No not really.  I can’t move around a lot because of my torn Achilles tendon which is healing slowly, but surely.  In essence, I’ve got plenty of time to write at the moment.

Be obscure clearly.

                 ——E.B. White

NaNoWriMo snippet

Today is Day 9 of NaNoWriMo and I haven’t yet started to write, but ideas are brewing up top.  I’ll be doing some night writing to see if that agrees with me.  I decided to share a little snippet of my story.  What do you think comes after It was 3am…?

She woke suddenly in the middle of the night.  She looked over at her husband rolled up in a deep narcotic sleep.  She felt her side of the bed as she got up.  There was a large damp circle of wetness that had seeped into her nightgown.  She went to the toilet to urinate and reflected on what to do next.  As she pulled down her underwear she noticed the little beads of water running continuously but slowly down her leg.  It was if the faucet had a drip that wouldn’t stop.  It was 3am…..

massdistraction / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sharynmorrow/3363758/”>massdistraction</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks

It’s NaNoWriMo in less than one day and five hours.  Either you’re dreaming, scheming, brainstorming, and/or outlining, but hopefully not terrorizing.  If none of those words means anything to you and you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re either very confident and have lots of creative, brilliant ideas or haven’t got a blasted clue what you’re going to write about and are probably planning to improvise or fly by the seat of your pants. (fly by the seat of your pants is a much better expression for the NaNoWriMo word count)

Since I’m a NaNoWriMo virgin, I’ve done a bit of all the above.  Now that we’re less than a day and a half away from NaNo Day I’ve decided to really throw my back into it.  The only thing that’s going to stop me from writing is a block falling on my desk.  Ok, ok, I know that’s not likely to really happen but you get what I mean.

I’ve surfed the net like crazy gathering useful information and advice from NaNoWriMo regulars.  I’ve understood that this is essentially a writing exercise.  I repeat this is a writing exercise.  Henceforth, go forth and write, write, and write….  During my search for great advice, I watched some You Tube videos and read a few blogs.  Below I’ve compiled the useful tips and tricks I’ve found to help those striving to reach the 50,000 word goal for the 30th of November.

1.  Beat your inner editor into submission!  Don’t critique or edit!  All first drafts are crappy anyway!  You can edit and proofread from December on.

2.  Checkout the Special Offer rubric on the NaNoWriMo site.  There you’ll find free offers of writing programs that you can use the month of November on a free trial basis —- like Scrivener, Storyist, Yarny, and WriteWay.  There are also offers from companies like Createspace and Outskirtspress which can help interested participants with independent publishing.  None of these offers are obligatory but they can apparently be helpful in the writing process.

3.  Check out the NaNoWriMo twitter sprints.  The twitter sprints can urge you to continue to write and faster at those grave moments of the blank page.

4.  Find nice places to write and if possible, change spots to give you different perspectives.  Carry a notebook with you at all times for when you get ideas in weird places, like in the middle of a work meeting, in the toilet, on the train or subway, buying tea or coffee at Starbuck’s, etc.

5.  Track your progress on the NaNoWriMo site.  This will incite you to keep up to a correct pace.  You can also track everybody else’s progress and that should whip you into shape.

6. Tell everybody you know that you’re going to do NaNoWriMo.  What better way to be boosted into finishing the challenge of 50,000 words.  After telling so many people you won’t dare quit.

7.  Go to local write-ins.  It’s good to have face-to-face buddies, as well as virtual ones.

8.  Plan and make the time to write at least 1,667 words everyday.

9.  Prepare a story outline and know your characters.  You then won’t waste so much time on things like names and places.

10.  Consume like crazy the NaNoWriMo pep talks which will arrive in your mailbox everyday.  Encouraging words from published writers who know what you’re going through can be nothing more than an aid.

11.  Get a play list of music ready to play while writing to get you into the mood of your book.  This will help with constructing the setting and ambiance of your novel.

12.  Stock up on a few snacks and try to make at least half of them healthy.  You don’t want to overdo the sugar and fall asleep while writing or worse drink so much coffee that you get the jitters.

13.  Last but not least, have FUN!!!  You should enjoy yourself.  You shouldn’t be taking on this challenge if you don’t like writing.

I wish all the NaNoWriMo participants lots of luck and enjoyment.  If anyone has any other tips for me, drop me a line or two in the comments below.

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.

                                                                                                                       ——– Jules RENARD