Sometimes people ask me what to look for in a creative writing class, so I thought make a list of some of the most important qualities to look for and why.
1) attention to process/emotional support and attention to product/ craft
2) supportive community
3) good readers, and different kinds of readers in the class
4) small class size for individualized attention
5) flexible assignments, so that you can try new things and but also follow your own process and projects
6) carefully selected outside reading so that you can be inspired by and learn from works of other writers, develop your analytical abilities and broaden your vocabulary for thinking and talking about the tools and skills of writing
7) ability to experiment, try different genres and forms, and make mistakes
8) freedom to ask for the kinds of feedback you want and not always have to follow the same format—maybe one day you want line by line edits and another day you don’t
9) time to generate writing in class in community—some people love this, some don’t but it’s always fun to get outside of your comfort zone and try something new and surprise yourself with what you can produce in a short amount of time in class
10) fun—after all, a writing class should be something that you look forward to going to each week!
I believe strongly that it is possible to find a class that provides both a truly supportive and encouraging atmosphere for writers at every level and at the same time teaches and supports the craft of writing and has a high standard for the writing and product itself.
In many writing circles, people tend to think of process and product as antithetical, and to assume that if a class is emotionally supportive it won’t also have a strong analytical and craft component.
We tend to think in terms of either/or instead of both/and. But that kind of thinking severely limits us. We get caught in old cultural dichotomies, dividing the head from the heart, the intellect from emotions, the mind from the body.
We also tend to think in strangely hierarchical and misogynist terms. Almost whenever people start making false divisions between the head and the heart, the assumption is that the head is superior and that the realm of the heart, emotions or “sentiment” is less serious and the space of “women.” Or conversely, we think that doing intellectual work prevents us from doing deep emotional work.
So it’s time to bring light to those old biases and move beyond them!
I believe that a good writing class assumes that the emotional support is part of the analytical and craft support that is offered. We’re only able to do our best work on the page, if we can listen deeply to ourselves and trust our own process. And, conversely, we’re able to listen more deeply to ourselves and grow more if we also attend closely to what is happening on the page, which serves as a tool to make us be more precise, more authentic, and more original.
Bringing the head and the heart together in the creative process creates a generative feedback loop in which we grow into our own authentic voice, understanding and vision.
I design my classes, to help people get to this integration of process and form. The supportive community; small class size; freedom to experiment with assignments and with form; encouragement to try new things and risk making mistakes; ability to ask for and receive different kinds of feedback, depending on the project and day; the carefully selected outside reading assignments and careful analysis of those outside texts that encourage you to expand your own limits; the generative in-class exercises and the fun we have together in class —all support you to create your very best, most daring, most honest and powerful work. These conditions encourage both emotional depth and technical brilliance.
Unlike other writing classes, my workshops are open to people writing both poetry and/or prose.
I find that not being overly strict about genre leads to more exciting results for the students: rather than keep people caught in rigid categories, it allows writers to think more expansively of their work, to be explicit and honest about why and how they are writing, and who their readers are—and aren’t. And it allows writers to change and grow with time and with individual projects.
In my poetry class, we look closely at published poems, but we can also learn, sometimes, from narrative prose, and sometimes a particular piece will want to be written in prose rather than poetry. Similarly, in my prose class, looking closely at poems can sometimes help us think more carefully about word choice and help writers break out of over-used forms.
My classes are also open to writers with a very wide range of writing experience, from complete beginners to published and professional writers.
We all learn from each other, wherever we are along our journey. It’s good to keep a beginner’s mind, no matter where we are, because we’re always learning new things. And it’s also good to remember that we are all experts and authorities in our own lives in a variety of capacities that we can draw upon in our writing.
I’ve had students who have started as complete beginners in my class and gone on to publish books; I’ve had students who are very clear that they never intend to publish anything but are writing for their own enjoyment and growth; I’ve had students working on finding the shape of their first book; students finishing their third books; and students who, having recently finished a book want the freedom to play and explore again without needing to worry about publication.
If you’re in the Boston area and are interested in joining one of my classes, I have just a few more spaces left in each and would love to hear from you to see if it’s a good fit.
Classes will start September 16th in my home in North Cambridge and each run for ten Mondays (excluding holidays). My morning class, which focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on poetry starts at 10:00, and my afternoon class, which focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on memoir and creative nonfiction, begins at 12:30. You can see more about the classes here.
https://www.nadiacolburn.com/writing-groups-in-boston.htmlBecause the classes are small (capped at 9 people each), I like to talk to each person briefly before they join, so just reach out and contact me at [email protected]
If you live elsewhere or if the Monday classes don’t fit your schedule, you might be interested in online classes. My 31+ Day Meditation and Writing Course will open for enrollment again this fall, and Align Your Story will open for enrollment in early 2020.
I also encourage you to look for in-person classes that fit your location and schedule and to ask questions before joining a class.
Joining an unsupportive writing class, or a lax writing class that doesn’t take writing seriously, can set you back in your own life as a writer for years. I’ve had students join my class after having stopped writing literally for years because of a bad writing workshop experience. So before you join a class, look at this list of questions and talk to the teacher and see if it will be a good fit.