E.L. Doctorow once said (and Anne Lamott repeated in the iconic Bird By Bird), that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Now, imagine that you’re driving from New York to California. You could mainline espresso and go out on your own, getting stuck somewhere around Chicago, or you could join a caravan of fellow writers as we work together to get through that long middle stretch and help each other refuel.
In this six-week class, we’ll reenergize our manuscripts and use a mix of craft and process strategies to keep ourselves on track. We’ll talk about the common struggles novelists face while working through a draft, and use a mix of workshopping, writing prompts, and craft conversation to help each other through them.
Week 1: The Heart of the Book. In our first week, we’ll talk about our motivations and goals for our novels—think of it as making our plans for travel. We’ll each read the first page of our novels, along with a brief synopsis, and do our best to figure out where and why we might be stuck. We’ll leave class with an understanding of our intentions and goals, and ideas for how to reach our destinations.
Week 2: Characters. Characters are the core of all novels, and this week we’ll dive in to explore ours further. We’ll get to know our characters better, and use what we learn to propel us forward in our writing.
Week 3: Impactful Endings. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a book that sticks its landing. This week, we’ll discuss how to end well, and use our ideal endpoints to guide us as we write through the middles of our novels.
Week 4: Structure. Lots of novelists eschew the outline, but this week we’ll talk about how mapping your novel—be it a conventional outline, a beat sheet, an emotional arc, or something all your own—can guide you forward.
Week 5: Tricks and Tips. This week we’ll play with various prompts designed to break you out from wherever you’ve gotten stuck. We’ll experiment with point of view, place, and chronology to work through specific sections of your novel that are troubling you.
Week 6: Project Management. It’s one thing to write well, and another to consistently put the sweat in to achieve your goal. This week, we’ll discuss keeping yourself on task, strategies for building and continuing momentum, and how you can use the tools we’ve talked about in class going forward.
Each week, we will set our own personal writing goals (whether it’s a certain number of hours, pages, or a project-specific goal, like figuring out a specific scene), and then check in the following week to hold each other accountable. Each student will have the opportunity to workshop 1-2 times over the course of the class, depending on class size. Instead of submitting pages, as in a traditional workshop, students will use their workshop time to discuss their narrative issues, and brainstorm solutions. Students will also have the opportunity to submit the first fifteen pages of their novel, as well as a synopsis or outline, to the instructor for feedback at the end of class. Students at all phases of the novel-writing process are welcome, but it is recommended that you will have taken at least one novel workshop before this class.