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Author Topic: Help me pilot my novel writing course
johnbrown
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Folks,

I am developing a novel writing course and am looking for folks to pilot it with me and give me feedback. I want to extend the invitation to everyone here to join in the first pilot class. I'm thinking I want to limit it to 10-12 folks.

It's free and will probably take two or three months to complete. If you join, your job will be to do the work. And there will be work. I'm thinking 10-15 hours of work per week. Please don't ask to join if you don't want to make this commitment. I only want folks who are serious and ready to give this a shot. In addition to the work, you'll need to report your experience with the course as we go, sharing with me where you get stuck, what's confusing, what's helpful, what does and doesn't advance your skill. In fact, if at some point the course just isn't providing you any value, you are welcome to drop. That's good feedback too.

It's going to be a blended format that includes self-paced work and some type of weekly meeting. I will be guiding the class. At the very least, we'll meet and chat at my site. I don't know if we'll do a live meeting or not. Still working that out.

I struggled for many years, trying to figure this stuff out, then had a number of epiphanies during Orson Card's boot camp and continued from there. Of course I still have lots to learn. But I want to share what I have.

I love teaching and have been teaching in one form or another for the last 20 years. I'm currently an education program manager at a large software firm. What this is all means is that I'm trying to build a course that guides folks through a process that will help them learn to WRITE novels. Not just talk about them.

So this is not a series of lectures with quizzes that test your ability to recall, although I will quiz you.

It's not a course with an end goal of teaching you what I've learned about the concepts and principles of plot, character, and setting, although you will need to learn that.

This is about increasing your ability to get ideas, develop them, and then write.

It's about doing the work. It's about production. It's about finishing product.

If you already feel comfortable with your ability to finish novels, this is NOT the course for you.

You can learn more about the course here, although this is just an initial draft: http://www.johndbrown.com/writers/

Remember, this is a pilot. Even though I've taught about writing for a number of years to various audiences, there might be some rough spots. We might find we need to change the work requirements or activities or any number of things.

But if you're interested and serious, click on the Contact link on the menu of my site, and shoot me an email. I think we'll have a good time.

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Grumpy old guy
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I'd have to think about this. I'm currently in the process of building the framework for a book on storytelling. Not the mechanics of writing a story but what people want to read, why, and how you go from idea to story. Then, once you have a story, how you can then develop a novel. Only that's not a part of the book I'm writing, I'm focusing on story, not book.

So, I'm more likely to be a critic than a participant and I'm not sure that would be a help.

Phil.

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Kent_A_Jones
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Captcha wouldn't run when downloaded. WordPress didn't run when downloaded. I'd like to be included, but can't complete the email as instructed.
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johnbrown
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Give it a shot now, Kent.
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wetwilly
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That sounds awesome and I would love to take part, but I don't have 10 extra hours in a week to devote to it.
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johnbrown
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Maybe next time, then [Smile]
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extrinsic
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At first, I took the thread title to mean the denotative definition: to pilot; verb, act as a guide. I'd read the course materials posted to date before the invitation. I thought perhaps guides were wanted to shape the course, peer reviewers who might inform the course's parameters.

I see now, though, the word pilot is used connotatively as well: the noun, used a verb, for a television serial sample to test marketability and audience focus group responses, more emphasis on the latter definition.

I can play both roles, which is problematic. A vessel commander wants pilots standing watch to respect the commander's prerogatives and leave redirections out of the mix. Dynamic composition instruction teaches an instructor at least as much as instructees. Burnt-out, unimaginative instructors lose passion for learning. I presume, therefore, an intent for the course is to learn stronger composition skills -- instructor and instructees alike. That's a pivotal criteria, though often non-conscious, for why writers share what they've learned about composition, not to mention career development and marketing incentives.

Why this course and not another? A straightforward answer for me is broadened horizons. No one composition instructor or instruction entails a comprehensive survey of skills and models. Naturally not. Broadly varied individual intents and beliefs and the sheer volume of material makes instruction little more than a survey of existent knowledge and skills. Therefore, more than one course, more than one instructor, more than one instruction method are best study practices. New knowledge, at least new to a receiver, is a valid reason for entering a composition course.

Having read the existent course material, what's new about the content and organization direction and knowledge? Composition courses, books, instructions, essays, etc., that stand out from the fray entail an innovative idea, a novel approach, dynamically repackage existent knowledge, introduce new knowledge, or a combination of one or more of the above.

I see a pilot course seeking a unifying foundation. I don't see new knowledge, dynamic repackaging, an innovative idea, or a novel approach.

Who's the end user, the consumer, the target audience of the course? The content, as it is, is most attractive to intuitive writers. Planning writers might find a few useful ideas not previously considered. The content instinctively oscillates between intuitive and planned composition, though unsettled on one or the other or a synthesis of both and more.

That latter, possibly, that's an innovative idea and a novel approach. The process of planning a composition course and lesson plan invariably, for innovative thinkers anyway, develops a stronger emphasis upon planning and organization, both on the instruction and on methods taught. Intuitive writers, though, resist planning. They might be persuaded if new knowledge learned convinces them to consider an evolution of method.

Likewise, an innovative idea and approach persuades planning writers to consider an intuitive-planning synthesis.

Frankly, that's the direction I predict the course will incline toward. Having a direction in mind keeps instructor ahead of instructees by enough of a lead to keep a course dynamic.

Though, for me, the strongest attraction of composition instruction is discovering new knowledge. Again, what's new from the course? I've studied composition widely and deeply, to at least be able to assert an idea, perhaps of mine own invention, is current or new or a still-accepted old idea or a current or old idea has developed new significance.

The course as it is surveys existent knowledge, reviews the state of the art, so to speak.

I don't see innovation in the course that stands out from the fray. The course, to me, is another escort vessel seeking a flagship. Or for a successfully published writer, a flagship for a career itself. Like for Damon Knight, flagships of his writing career were the Clarion workshop and the aesthetics text Creating Short Fiction. Of note, s singular premise of the text stands the book out from the fray: Knight's "daydream writing" observations. Stand-out observations are attractive, even if, like Knight's, they are uncomfortably astute and alienating.

For example, the flagship of the Associated Writing Programs organization is its publication The Writer's Chronicle. The organization's overt purpose is fostering and guiding accreditation standards for creative writing programs. The publication supplements that mission and supports creative writing culture. The organization's several platforms enhance and unify the organization's cultural citizenship.

A journey person on this life of writing, the Poet's Journey, at one stage repeats, reviews, perhaps synthesizes knowledge learned. A master craftsperson develops new knowledge, perhaps dynamically repackaged existent knowledge, perhaps genuinely new, attractive knowledge, perhaps a degree of both. An expert craftsperson secures a degree of acceptance as an expert from introduced new knowledge that passes peer review.

Again, I predict the course will evolve. After all, is not a pilot's purpose, as in introductory pilot, to develop into a fully realized intent and meaning and innovation.

What might that criteria be for this course? Having read and analyzed the course content, at present, I see a too abstract concept; that is, a dynamic synthesis of intuitive and planned composition. A more immediate and concrete criteria is warranted. Perhaps a revisit to classic aesthetics instruction may enlighten.

The Poetics of Aristotle contains the foundations of every creative composition instruction I've studied. I've studied many. The Poetics wanders as much as others I've studied. Aesthetics instructions naturally do. Aesthetics are naturally resistant to explication, though amenable to subjective reconciliation. Like a distant vessel on the horizon, looking directly at an aesthetic resists visibility or even whether the aesthetic actually exists. Mariners learn to look from a slant to see as clearly as possible a distant vessel.

The Poetics surveys numerous composition principles, only one, though, as the principal organization principle: causality. Numerous areas for building upon the surveyed principles, glossed over principles, offer opportunity for dynamic repackaging and new knowledge development.

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johnbrown
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Extrinsic,

Let's see.

(grin)

This has nothing to do with flagships or marketing. I don't how many courses you've developed, but my experience is that you can do a lot of agile development with an early crew. That's what the folks in this course are going to be a part of.

Second, I love teaching. Period. I love the exchange. I love it best when it's effective. That'm my approach. This is not about offering the world mind-blowing Einsteinian novelty. It's about effective instruction. That means the vast majority of the class will have nothing to do with what I've written or the story model I share. Because it isn't about that.

Thanks for the suggestion to use Aristotle's The Poetics, but I never found him all that helpful. There are other authors who I've found to be much more practical.

Finally, it sounds like you have a lot of ideas. There's certainly a book in there or your own writing course. I wish you a lot of success.

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johnbrown
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Extrinsic, the assessment you made concerning feeling and structuring is perceptive. I do a good amount of planning, but I've found it's not enough. It can't be the final arbiter. Also, while we won't be using it, you made me want to go refresh my Aristotle. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
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extrinsic
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I've found neither planning nor intuition is enough alone for instructing or learning to write effectively nor for narrative composition. Together, they work more effectively. Yet at least one more kernel, essential approach has eluded me. Study has given me a number of satisfactions that fit to a degree though as yet not synthesized into one comprehensive aspect.

These elusive aesthetics share commonality, each to a degree related to emotion and moral values and each to one another. Aristotle held the first clue, though glossed over less than other glossed-over features. Attractive tragedies portray self-involved -- self-caused -- and proactively self-satisfied, for good or ill outcomes, moral crises.

Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction comprehensively examines moral values in fiction as an aesthetic aspect which fully satisfies that perhaps abstract though pivotal feature. Booth gives a nod to E.M. Forester, Aspects of the Novel, who claims moral values need not be preached, alienating if they are, though moral values can nonetheless underpin a fully satisfying narrative.

Forester's Aspects of the Novel is one of very few respectable aesthetics texts which focuses on novel-length prose works. Most are generic or focus more on short lengths, though each noteworthy text contains insights regardless of a prose work's length.

[ January 30, 2015, 12:49 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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I'd like to join, but at the moment I am in the middle of a novella course that's fairly intense so I couldn't give you the commitment you ask for.
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TaleSpinner
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Hi Johnbrown,

With an unfinished novel and several unfinished novellas on the backburner for the last umpteen months, I guess I'm part of your target market, but alas, I'm autodidactic and happy with my process and my plan to make time for more SF writing these next few months in amongst several other projects.

What follows may seem negative but I hope you'll find it a useful insight into how a potential customer, one committed to writing and making time for it, keen to learn but regarding time as a precious commodity, evaluates your pitch.

FWIW I found the hectoring tone (as it seemed to me) of the pitch unattractive ( what the cr*p am I doing? I'm writing an effing novel with your effing assistance I hope and who the cr*p are you to start effing and blinding at me?) I don't think cussing students is good for building their self confidence. I see unnecessary cussing as a sign of inarticulateness, not desirable in a writing coach.

We would disagree on what seems to be a premise of the course: I do not think that as writers we deliver a service to readers: for me with 20 years in the telecom industry "service" is the installation of cables under the road, or provision of maintenance and repair service, or hoteliery, or catering service: "service" for me is selling time and skill at a (preferably high) day rate and having done it as a consultant for three decades I ain't doing it no more and, sorry, I would not be prepared to change that world view for a writing course. This seemed to me an effort, misguided in my view, to make what otherwise looks like a standard writing course into something different. I like different, but for me this is the wrong kind of different.

I asked myself, "who is this guy and why should I listen to him? what's he done in SF?" I cruised around the johnbrown website, got frustrated with broken links, and came away with "he claims to be an award winning author, awards not specific,; he went to OSC's boot camp; he is published by Tor (excellent), seems to be in the fantasy genre, enthusiastic about sharing lessons learned about writing" sorry John, Tor is good but I see no benefit for me above having read books on writing SF by OSC, Ben Bova, and Christopher Vogler because these authors have broad experience of the fiction writing industry, and SF&F specifically. (There's an implicit promise of workshopping with other participants, but the value of that will depend upon our collective abilties, and with no entry criteria I see no way of being assured workshopping will be worthwhile.)

The course outline lacks specific learning objectives and outcomes laid out on a timeline.

Then I asked myself to be positive and focus on the tangible outcomes that the course promises. But I could not find any, beyond 10 or 16 hours of work a week for three months - producing what? And unspecified hours writing feedback for you, work that's time consuming (I don't even have time to list the broken links on the website) that's of little value to me, but of inestimable value to you. I see no promise of coming away with finished stories, just a promise of work. Wot, no fun?

I hope this helps and wish you and all who sail with you good fortune,
Pat

[ January 30, 2015, 05:31 AM: Message edited by: TaleSpinner ]

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johnbrown
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Pat,

Thanks for your feedback.

I thought we had fixed the broken link problem. If you can provide me an example of one, that would be great, and we can track down what's going on.

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TaleSpinner
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the link on the Newsroom page entitled
10/12/2009 How To Get Ideas: Talk to Cows on BSC Review
goes to a page that seems to advertise many books, none of them "how to get ideas".

sorry, i don't remember where else i tried to cruise.

Pat

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johnbrown
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Aha! I'm betting it's the links off site. That one is pretty old. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for those.

Thanks.

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johnbrown
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If you're waiting to make a decision, I have one slot left.
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johnbrown
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And the slots have been filled [Smile]

Here we go.

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