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….