Over the last year I’ve strived to hone my craft as a writer and storyteller. I’ve listened to ten straight seasons of the Writing Excuses podcast. Watched panels, interviews, and lectures. Studied books about style and structure. Participated in workshops. I’ve even taken time off from work to travel out of state and attend my first writing conference, where I met and learned from many SFF luminaries. But nowhere have I learned more than the two days I spent in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Short Story Intensive.
Today marks exactly one month since I finished the course, and the writer part of my brain has finally recongealed and started to work again. So, in case anyone is interested, I thought I’d share my experience.
Going into the class, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d learned about the course when Mary mentioned it on Twitter, which of course meant that all of the spaces were filled by the time I tried to enroll. Fortunately a spot on the waitlist opened up, and I managed to enroll at 5 a.m. before anyone else was awake to take it. (Maybe there is something to that metaphor about worm-eating birds my father tried to teach me.)
The week before class, everyone received a detailed itinerary with everything we needed to plan our weekend around the lessons, as well as our first homework assignment.
On Friday evening, I logged into the class’s Google Hangout session and met my classmates for the first time. I’d never used Hangouts before, but it was fairly easy to figure out.
At first everyone seemed a little shy, which wasn’t surprising for eight strangers statistically likely to be introverts, but we quickly warmed to each other and made brief introductions before our two day journey through the short story word mines.
In the literal tradition of puppeteering nomenclature, the operative descriptor of Mary’s course is INTENSIVE.
For two days we did nothing but learn, write, critique, and sleep (though not much).
By the end of the class we were all sleep deprived, and I felt like I was back in college, furiously trying to finish a term paper before the final of a class I’d slept through all semester. My brain felt like puddle of melted Jell-O.
And it was totally worth every second.
Over the course of a weekend Mary taught us about points of view, character focus, plot development, dialogue, pacing, rhythm, and the structural elements of a fulfilling short story. We learned how to provide helpful critiques and properly receive criticism. In the end, we each had outlines for several promising short stories, in addition to new friends and the foundation of a solid writing group.
Personally, I learned how useful focused writing exercises can be for honing specific techniques and elements of my craft. Most importantly, however, I learned that I can write even when I’m exhausted and have little spare time.
After learning so much, I struggled to return to my daily writing habit. I’ve spent the last few weeks working hard on a milieu story, which is very different from the action-fueled event stories I typically write. And progress has been slow. After several drafts, I’ve decided to banish it to the bone yard. It’s not worth trying to fix, but I learned from the effort, and I’m slowly getting back up to my daily word count goal.
This morning I returned to a story I’d started before taking Mary’s class. In addition to noticing some now-obvious problems, I immediately figured out the perfect ending I had struggled to find before. Having the right tools to craft my story is like having the directions to a set of Legos: it isn’t necessary, but it makes the job a hell of a lot easier.
Thank you, Mary!
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