Spring into Writing: Six Ways to Make the Most of a Class
Every writer benefits from writing classes or writing instruction. Even the best writers seek an outside perspective. Almost every professional, whether involved with writing, sports, or business, admits that continued instruction is helpful.
Have you contemplated taking a class? Perhaps you’re seeking certification or maybe you’re enrolling in school to acquire a writing degree. I returned to school after many years to pursue a master’s degree. It was difficult and exhausting but worth it. Yes, for me, two-and-a-half years of writing classes was a fantastic choice.
So, perhaps you’ve enrolled in a course. Now what? How can you make the most of it? Here are six ways to benefit:
"It's amazing what you can learn after you've learned all that you think there is to learn." ~Ray Hunt
1. Get organized.
These days, writing classes come with technological learning curves. After enrolling, you may have to approve email addresses, create an email list, change or update your browser, download an app, learn a new software, or create a profile on a platform. All of that takes time. Before the class begins, give yourself time to understand its technological requirements. That way, you won’t be alienated by technology when the class begins.
Also, create a calendar. Handouts should be provided to you before or when the class begins. Mark all the deadlines associated with the class in your calendar. Certainly, missing a start date or a deadline happens, but don’t add to the stress of taking the class by missing important dates. You’ll feel frustrated, perhaps embarrassed, and those emotions will take away from the benefit and satisfaction of taking the class.
And for heaven’s sakes, if you do miss a deadline, read what the instructor has said in the syllabus about missing deadlines and follow accordingly. Do it promptly! Don’t wait and don’t make excuses. Submit your work and then don’t dwell; it happens. Dedicate yourself to meeting future deadlines.
Most instructors offer a syllabus or handout that provides subject matter, assignments, and deadlines. If such documentation isn’t provided, ask for it. (If it isn’t offered to you in a timely manner before or when the class begins, beware. Taking a class from an unorganized education provider or instructor is frustrating!) Upon receipt of the materials, take the time to read what has been provided to you. If you have questions, compose a succinct email with an effective subject line such as “YOUR LAST NAME, CLASS TITLE, AND QUESTIONS,” and submit it to the class organizer (or instructor if it’s allowed).
3. Combine the class material with your goals.
Read the documents that are provided to you. In fact, read them several times so you understand the class. Then, weave your needs into the class material. Ask yourself how this class will improve your writing skills and current projects. Study the class subjects and write down your goals as they relate to what’s being taught. Revisit this list during the class. If the instructor has office hours, meet with him or her to discuss how your goals are coinciding with the class. Be as specific as you can; that way, the instructor can drill down to topics that are important to you.
All instructors are different and some are better than others. Does your instructor have a website? A LinkedIn profile? Books and social media? Familiarize yourself with him or her. Study the instructor’s style and his or her beliefs in regard to writing. When the class begins, study how he or she communicates. Is he a compelling speaker? Does she follow the class’s agenda for the evening or does she deviate? Is there an agenda? (I hope so!) Does she allow questions during the lecture period or does she prefer them afterward? How quickly does he return assignments? How can you follow up if you have questions?
Knowing the instructor’s beliefs about writing as well as how the instructor works will enhance your experience. While you can’t change an instructor’s teaching style, understanding instructors’ strengths and weaknesses helps alleviate stress and enhances satisfaction. Such knowledge will offer you more control over the outcome of the class, regardless of the quality of the instructor. Ultimately, the class will be what YOU make of it!
You’ve made the choice to invest in your writing skills, so create a space where you can succeed. Establish a writing and reading space, and carve out time during the day to devote it. Do not feel guilty about it. Make it a habit to stay on top of the reading and writing assignments. You’re worth the time and effort!
6. Be willing to listen.
Be willing to listen to constructive feedback rather than leap to defense about your work. When I was pursuing my master’s degree, many of the classes were workshops where the professor and classmates would provide feedback. The rule was that the person being critiqued had to wait until all evaluations had been delivered before responding. Good rule. It encouraged active listening and discouraged knee-jerk defensiveness. Recently, I took an online writing class where a few of the participants seemed not prepared for the instructor’s input. Rather than contemplate the insight she provided, the students defended what they had written, offering explanations about why their plot and characters shouldn’t (or couldn’t) be changed. Sure, the instructor was blunt and did not sugarcoat her responses, but as a student that’s what I want; I prefer raw honesty rather than sweet nothings from an instructor. I want to take a class to enhance my skills, not justify bad habits.
In short, I highly recommend taking a class. If you’re lucky enough to find a high quality class near you, take it in person. You’ll find great reward in connecting with the instructor as well as with other writers. You may even be able to form a critique group after the class ends. If online classes are your choice, I hope you enjoy the convenience of them and make new writer friends around the world.
~ Tracey Kathryn
Writing classes are available online or in-person. Pricing ranges from free to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some universities offer free classes or open courses that are monitor-only; in other words, you may take the class at your leisure, but you will not receive feedback, credits, or grades. Continuing education departments at local colleges offer great options that include assignments and instructor interaction that are reasonably priced. Writer’s Digest University offers an impressive list of classes that may be expensive, but serve a range of skill levels and needs.
Next month: Rainy Day Writing Prompts. Use prompts to inspire your work.