In a Real Writer’s House

Before I took my creative writing class, I didn’t personally know any full-time, professional writers. Yes, there were many I admired, but I imagined them in a world far removed from my own–tucked away in urban lofts or secluded, rustic cabins, typing complex, metaphor-laden sentences on a laptop while sipping on a cup of pour-over coffee.

Then I met E, a successful, well-respected, full-time writer who also appeared to be a normal human being with a fondness for collared shirts in muted colors. During the six weeks of writing class, we writing students got to know each other and our teacher E. She was approachable and seemed genuinely interested in our lives–a deep curiosity that seemed to spill over from her experience as a journalist.

During one of our classes, she told us that a piece that she had submitted to a literary magazine was picked up and would be published the following week. Her excitement was palpable and contagious. My classmates and I couldn’t contain our curiosity. What was the submission process like? we asked. How long did it take to research and write the piece? How did she choose which publication to submit the article to?

Incredibly, E answered these questions in generous, glorious detail while we listened with rapt attention. As she demystified the basics of her draft to publication process, I felt a tingling awareness: Could I do this? Maybe I could do this.

After the class ended, I kept in touch with E. It felt important to keep her in my orbit, like a writerly guru. I wanted her knowledge and experience to rub off on me. Continue reading “In a Real Writer’s House”

Writing Podcasts I Love

Podcasts are one of my favorite forms of entertainment. I spend a lot of time working solo in my production kitchen, and podcasts help pass the time in a way that feels meaningful and intellectually stimulating. While I subscribe to about 50 podcasts, there are about 15 that I eagerly download and listen to as soon as they pop into my feed. And this year I’ve discovered the world of writing podcasts. I’ve found that the best writing podcasts are practical, honest, inspirational, and entertaining.

  1. DIY MFA RadioHosted by Gabriela Pereira, founder of DIY MFA, this podcast features weekly interviews with debut and bestselling authors, editors, and agents. The interviews dig into the craft of writing and the authors share their individual writing processes, struggles, and tips. My favorite interviews are the ones with debut authors, who have just overcome the hurdle of writing and publishing their first book. The most recent interview with Kimmery Martin, author of Queen of Hearts. In it, Martin talks about her extensive revisions and the lessons she learned while writing her first book. Pereira ends all her interviews with the question “what is your number one tip for writers?” which always leaves me with something concrete to take into my own writing practice.
  2. Ann Kroeker Writing CoachAnn Kroeker publishes weekly 5 to 10 minute scripted episodes with “practical tips and motivation for writers at all stages.” Often her episodes are musings on the craft of writing, snippets of inspiration, or small writing “assignments” to boost your creativity. I particularly like her series episodes, where she delves into a certain topic (like “what do I write next“) for multiple weeks.
  3. #AmWriting with Jess & KJ. This podcast is a conversation between two friends and writers, Jess Lahey and KJ Dell’Antonia. They talk about a variety of different genres and types of writing with guests, as well as their own personal successes and challenges. While their discussions can sometimes go a little off the rails, I like the hosts’ frank and sincere tones and practical advice. And it’s always a pleasure when their friend, the prolific romance writer Sarina Bowen joins the conversation.
  4. What Should I Read Next? Okay, this isn’t really a writing podcast, but as writers, we should also be reading lots of books! Each week, Anne Bogel creator of the blog Modern Mrs Darcy, interviews a reader about the books they love, the books they hate, and the books they’re reading now, and makes recommendations for what they should read next. It’s fun, lighthearted, and I always come away with new book recommendations. I especially love the episodes with booksellers. Doesn’t owning a small, independent bookstore sound like a dream come true? This podcast will inspire you to keep reading (and writing)!

What podcasts (writing and other) do you listen to? Have you gotten any tips or practical advice from podcasts that have helped you become a better writer?

6 Reasons to Take A Community Writing Class

This week I finished my first community writing class, which was offered through a local liberal arts college. The college offered a handful of writing classes; the one I took was on creative non-fiction. It cost about $100. If you’re an aspiring or amateur writer who is on the fence about taking a writing class, here are some reasons why you should take the leap.

  1. Accountability. Knowing that there would be ACTUAL living humans reading my writing gave me a push to work hard on my essays. I put more effort into editing my work than I normally would if I were just writing for myself. Of course, there are no grades in community writing classes, and the teacher made it clear that we should still come to class even if we didn’t have something prepared. But, if you are the kind of person who responds well to outer accountability and you want to write more, then this aspect alone should be a convincing reason to take a writing class.  
  2. Encouragement. Don’t expect technical or substantial critical feedback from your community writing class. I went in expecting critical feedback, but I soon realized that this wasn’t the point. What our teacher understood, was that instead of ripping our work to shreds, most of us just needed the validation that something in our writing connected. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes that most unpublished writers “need attention. They need someone to respond to their work as honestly as possible but without being abusive or diminishing.” (155) It’s okay to need tenderness around your writing, especially when just starting to share your work with others. After all, this is not an MFA, it’s a community writing class. You will leave your writing class feeling uplifted and motivated to continue. 
  3. New Writing Forms. Your class will have a writing instructor, and that instructor will (hopefully) know more than you. My writing class instructor is an extremely talented writer who has been published in journals, magazines, and papers all over the place. She knows a lot about writing, and she shared that knowledge with us. Each week we were assigned a different “form” of creative non-fiction: memoir, humor, document-based essay (drawing inspiration from a photo or a receipt or an old recipe, etc.), montage essay, and more. Writing in a variety of forms was at times challenging, and at times liberating. I enjoyed the challenge of stepping outside my comfort zone to explore new ways of writing.
  4. Make New Writer Friends. Sharing your writing with others and reading their writing in return is a beautiful way to build meaningful connection. A writing class is a vulnerable, but deeply supportive place. Lean in to these connections, and when the classends, chances are you’ll have writer friends who may even want to continue meeting as a writer’s group. I was the youngest of five people in my class. We all came from diverse backgrounds with wildly different interests and writing styles, yet, by the end of our six weeks together, we all felt a deep connection to one another. Writing is hard; you need other writers with whom you can celebrate and commiserate. What better place to find these like-minded people than in a community writing class?
  5. Great Reading Suggestions. Take a writing class for no other reason than the good reading material you’ll walk away with. Each week we were “assigned” various essays and articles from which to draw inspiration. Additionally in each class, the instructor offered numerous suggestions for books and journals and websites, which I furiously wrote down in my notebook and transferred to my Goodreads list. Other students offered suggestions for reading material–books on writing and other creative nonfiction books. I came away with a thick stack of TO READS that I know will help me to become a better writer.
  6. Write More. There is no doubt about it–taking a community writing class will help you to write more. You’ll get into a weekly rhythm, and the warm fuzzy feelings from class will buoy you with the energy to write, write, write, and re-write. Whether your goal is to apply to an MFA program, get published, or write your life story for your future great grandchildren to read, a community writing class is the little energy boost to get you going. Do it!

Have you taken a community writing class? Did it help your writing? Would you recommend it to others? I’m curious to know what others’ experiences are!