Have you ever thought about crowdfunding a novel? Are you curious what the process is actually like behind the scenes? Listen to the latest episode of the Writing Bloc Podcast in which authors Becca Spence Dobias, Cari Dubiel, Jacqui Castle, and guest Jason Stokes talk honestly and openly about their experiences crowdfunding – the good, the bad, the inspiring, the deflating. ALL OF IT! Listen below:
The third episode of our Writing Bloc podcast is now live over on Podbean (or via the embedded player below). This time, the amazing Rachael Sparks, author of the hard sci-fi thriller “Resistant,” discusses the art of world-building with your hosts, Christopher Lee and AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR Jacqui Castle. There’s plenty in this episode to enjoy, from a discussion of different world-building approaches and resources to another appearance from the Writing Goat.
You’ve probably seen the ads– Writing Retreat on Maui! Escape to a cabin in Vermont to write! It sounds amazing– a dedicated time and place to focus on your work in progress. Unfortunately for most writers, these retreats are inaccessible– they’re either too expensive, too far away, or too long to fit around other obligations.
I decided to plan my own writing retreat– one within my budget (thanks to a gift from my husband for mother’s day!!), 45 minutes from home (far enough to feel “away” but not so far that my whole trip was spent traveling), and for two days– long enough to get some writing done but not too long away from my husband and young kids.
Here are my tips for planning your own DIY writing retreat.
Pick a Cool Spot(but not too cool) You know that place nearby that you’ve been meaning to check out but haven’t yet? That’s Temecula for me– Southern California Wine Country. Though it’s less than an hour away and people say it’s cool, I hadn’t spent any real time there. This seemed like a good chance to see what the hype was about. If I was a huge wine person, though, this probaby wouldn’t have been a good pick. This isn’t an ordinary vacation! Find somewhere you’d like to visit but where you won’t feel pulled to spend the whole trip sight seeing.
AirBnB is Your Friend AirBnB is a writer’s dream when planning retreats. You can find much more affordable, much nicer accomodations, often in a unique setting. I stayed at the Rusty Fork Ranch, and it was absolutely perfect. The hosts were wonderful, the view was incredible, my room (The Cash Room– each room has a cool theme too!) had a comfortable writing desk, and there was coffee and tea available in the morning! Plus, there were real miniature writing goats!
Plan Your Eats Ahead of Time You don’t want to spend hours pouring over menus and reading reviews when you could be writing. Scope out good food before you go. I ate at Gentle Grill, E.A.T. Marketplace, and a couple coffee shops.
Pick Goals Ahead of Time I knew before I set off on my retreat that I wanted to edit and rewrite ten chapters. This was a big goal as I usually get through one chapter every two to three days. Big goals are good, though, as long as they’re realistic! Know when and how you’ll get your work done. I wrote up a schedule for each day saying how many chapters I would get through at the coffee shop, how many I would do after lunch, and how many I would do before going to sleep.
Move Your Body Intensive writing marathons mean a lot is going on in your mind and your fingers, but not so much the rest of you. Take breaks to move! When I started feeling sluggish, I would stop for a few minutes and stretch or do some yoga. I also maaaaay have had a mini dance party.
Don’t Forget to Relax This is about writing but it’s also about retreat. Find some ways to treat yourself and do nothing too. I tried to enjoy my yummy food, rewarded myself for finishing chapters by playing a little Harry Potter Wizards Unite, did a face mask, meditated before starting in the morning, and read a book before bed. Allow space for activities that will leave you feeling refreshed enough to be productive when you get home too!
Planning your own writing retreat? Tell us about it in the comments!
When I first sat down to write this review, I pulled out my laptop. I know, I know. What was I thinking? But, habits are hard things to drop, which is why we all need a bit of help sometimes.
Luckily, I realized my mistake and quickly closed the laptop and grabbed the Freewrite. And that, my friends, is how I am writing this review. So, be prepared for a freeform, word-vomit salad of a review in the true spirit of the FreeWrite – a tool designed to help authors write without looking back.
I’m an author and freelance writer. I spend 4-6 hours a day writing. I also get distracted easily. I know this about myself, and yet I don’t always take the steps to optimize my writing time even when I know what those steps are. Close the tabs, don’t check social media, just get 1,000 words down without stopping to research when you get stuck. Just. Keep. Writing.
Enter the FreeWrite. The idea was instantly appealing, and I didn’t think long before I ordered one(thankfully for me, they have a payment plan). Since I received this marvelous little machine, I’ve found I can double or even triple my wordcounts during a writing session.
The FreeWrite is an electronic typewriter designed as a forward-momentum only, first draft writing beast. It’s not for editing. In fact, you can only make the minimal edits possible through pressing the backspace key. No highlighting, no cut and paste, no ‘let me just check one thing real quick’. Onward you must go. The small screen has enough room to display one to two paragraphs at a time so your mind is always kept in the present or future.
When you are ready to upload your unedited, free-form masterpiece, simply switch on the WiFi button and the content will sync to the cloud. This is where the Freewrite earns a big leg-up for me when compared to good old pen and notebook – no need to transcribe anything later.
Let’s see… what else do I like about it? Hey, I warned that you were getting a Freewrite-style review here. Though compact, it has a full, weighted keyboard that I find therapeutic to type on. The E-Ink screen backlight is optional, and so you can turn it off and can sit outside at a coffee shop or a picnic table and not worry about glare on your screen.
The entire thing is fairly light. I can fit it into my computer bag along with my laptop as long as I move a few things around. What else? Oh, there are multiple folders you can toggle through, allowing you to work on several projects at once if needed. Also, there are options for starting a timer, or tracking your word count if you are sprinting or are trying to achieve x number of words per a day(this would be a great tool for National Novel Writing Month).
The best part? When you find yourself distracted, when you otherwise would have started researching obscure facts from the 1940s or switched over to a social media tab for ‘just a minute,’ instead, you look up and take in your surroundings. You employ the far off gaze of a writer at work and you wait for the next spark of inspiration. Eh, what do I know? I’m mostly rambling. But, that’s the beauty of the Freewrite.
What can I say? I’m really enjoying it so far. But, I realize this wouldn’t be a balanced review without throwing in a few caveats. The keyboard could be a quieter. There is also a slight lag when typing quickly, so you will find yourself waiting a second for the words you just typed to appear on the screen. If either of those are deal breakers for you, then there you have it.
So, what are my final thoughts? I love my Freewrite, and the times that I remember to use it I am more productive, no question.
It is not for anything other than first drafts, so anyone who buys one thinking otherwise will be sorely disappointed. If you are a writer with excellent focus who can always keep their mind on the task at hand and who writes for hours a day with no thought of anything else, then congratulations, you win. Maybe it’s best to spend your money elsewhere.
So, in conclusion, if you find yourself craving a tool that allows you to type on a full keyboard, seamlessly send your work to your computer when you are ready for the editing phase, but otherwise devoid of other temptations and distractions then this might be the tool for you.
As a librarian, I am constantly thinking about book reviews. I use them to select books for my library’s collection, as well as to decide which titles to hand-sell to my patrons. I review for Booklist and read reviews critically. I see a review as a tool – something to help people make decisions about a book before reading it. And it’s cool to give back to the reading community by creating those tools after I’ve enjoyed a book.
In my writer-life, it’s different. Reviews of my own work make me cringe. I cannot open the Goodreads pages for anything I’ve written. Better to remain in la-la land.
Because here’s the thing – reviews are for readers.
And every reader will have a subjective opinion. Whether you’re indie-published, trad-published, or in some little hybrid land like I am, your reviews are not all going to be five stars. Even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the highest-rated book on Goodreads, has 4.62 stars.
In library terms, we call that 1. Every book its reader and 2. Every reader their book. These are two of S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship. Some readers will resonate with your work, and others will loathe it. That truth cannot be avoided, and it means that as writers, we must become comfortable with reviews that we don’t like.
OK. Now that you’ve sat with it for a while, we can get back to the task and art of writing reviews of other people’s work.
Some writers will give the advice that you shouldn’t review other people’s work at all. That’s a perfectly valid choice, and it’s your boundary to set as a writer. For me, it’s not feasible. First, because I’m a librarian, and second, because I just can’t stop reading books. Seriously. It’s an addiction.
So I have some Very Particular Rules for how I review and blurb. I generally do not rate anything lower than four stars. I figure, if the book was worth my time to read and I enjoyed it, it’s worth four or five stars. If I am sent a book for Booklist that I cannot review under this criteria, I decline to review it. But, like the decision to review or not review, your star-code is yours to set. Readers vary widely over this – some readers will give one star even if they read the entire book! This is another reason why the stars are so subjective.
A few other general tips:
Don’t use the review as a platform.
Remember – the review is for readers. Now, if you have some connection to the book, you may certainly state that. But the reader is not interested in what you have to say about your own work. They are trying to figure out if the book is worth their time investment. Also, this is not the time to be using writerly jargon, being overly critical, or give feedback the way you would in a writer’s workshop. The book is published. That time is over.
Do comment on the very specific strengths of the book.
What sets this book apart? I like to think of myself as writing a query letter for someone else’s book every time I write a review. I’m helping the author sell the book by pointing out its strengths.
Do focus on the appeal factors.
If you are not familiar with appeal factors – brush up! We librarians use them to help match readers with books. These are the juicy characteristics of books which entice readers: plot, character, language, setting, and so forth. Here is a fabulous crash course which I use in my readers’ advisory classes for librarians (thanks, Molly At the Library!)
Do be mindful of the star rating.
“But, Cari, you just said the stars don’t matter!” Yes, I did. But the overall star rating will impact how readers receive your review. I’m not saying you should change anything based on it – stick to your star-code. Just know that the star rating is there and it’s part of the package.
Do acknowledge the author’s hard work.
A thoughtful review helps the author know that it was worth it for them to put that work out into the world. Help keep the good karma wheel spinning.
Well, I’m a sucker for new toys, particularly when it comes to my writing craft. Anything that can help me wrangle the herd of cats within my wild imagination is a plus, especially when it comes to story structure. That is why when I came across the trail of Fictionary, I was instantly curious. I got an email with a package deal for another year license for ProWriting Aid, which I recommend to all writers, and with it was a new developmental editing software called Fictionary.
I signed up for a free trial and was blown away by the level of detail the creator and fellow author, Kristina Stanley and her team had created. Fictionary allows you to upload your manuscript from Word or Google Docs directly into their user interface so that you can take a bird’s eye or 30,000ft view of your story and its structure. What I was most amazed by was the simplicity of the surface of the program as well as how deep you could go.
Fictionary breaks your manuscript down for you!
There be a number of bells and whistles under the hood of Fictionary and I don’t profess to know how they work in full, but after inputting my old manuscript for Nemeton: The Trial of Calas, I was instantly presented with a visual element that tracked my story’s narrative arc against that of prototypical or common story lines. This was a super cool feature right off the bat that let me see just how far off my original vision really was. This was helpful in many ways as, I am currently in a revision or rewriting phase with my previously published work.
But, where Fictionary really shines is in the scene by scene evaluation. The Visual components allow you to track the primary story arc as well as different character arcs and subplots across your manuscript, and that can be super helpful if you’ve got multiple arcs.
The three core functions of Fictionary.
Fictionary breaks it down to three key pieces, visualizing your arcs, evaluating your scene by scene story structure, and then exporting the monster once you are done with it. You can make edits on the fly, or edit your work 100% within the Fictionary software, kind of like Scrivener, but with a simpler interface.
Visualizing your story’s arc.
When Visualizing your manuscript you can check the full story arc, the amount of words per scene to aid you in nailing down your pacing, and also track how many times characters are showing up on a scene by scene basis. Though these three features seem potentially slight, they are remarkably powerful, not to mention I’ve got it on good authority that soon they will be rolling out even more powerful features.
Evaluating your manuscript scene by scene.
When Evaluating your scene by scene, Fictionary aids you by dialing in your character, plot, and setting down to the real nuts and bolts. Each scene or chapter has an interface to the right that highlights a number of tabs under which there are a list of critical questions that you should have asked in your first draft, but most likely didn’t if you are anything like me. Beyond the questions, each field is complimented by an infographic tip that educates you on the precise reason for each question or field. This is where the real power of the Fictionary software resides.
The Character tab features a range of questions like what character appear in the scene, who has the POV, what are the internal and external goals, what are the stakes and consequences, and the impact on the protagonist as well as other characters. The list goes on including an entire array of illuminating questions that, at least I often forget to include in my first draft. Plot, setting, and additional notes further aid you in dialing in your edit.
Fictionary, is it the next big thing?
I can’t speak to that yet, as Fictionary is a relatively new tool and I know that many writers are super comfortable with Scrivener. But overall, I think the interface is much more user-friendly. The primary draw is for writers who have already finished a rough or first draft of their work and want to import that manuscript in order to take it to the next level. I found the detailed list of questions and fields aided me in further cementing my story’s structure, theme and message.
Fictionary offers a free trial so that you can take it for a test drive, but I personally recommend that after you do so you take the dive. A year-long license won’t break the bank and I know that they are working hard at rolling out some key features like multiple manuscripts and an autosave feature to prevent losing precious progress. Overall I think Fictionary is a killer tool for novel based writers to explore.
Writing Bloc has your back!
We have partnered with Fictionary to provide all of our members with a killer discount on your first three months or on your first yearly license!
Fictionary is offering Writing Bloc writers and readers a 50% discount on the first three months ($10 per month, regularly $20 per month) or 50% off Annual subscription ( $100 per year, regularly $200 per year)
July is Camp NaNoWriMo, and here at Writing Bloc we’re using the month of June to pack for camp, and we invite you to join us!
Even if you are familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you might not know that the organization also hosts two ‘camps’ throughout the year – one during the month of April and one during the month of July.
While National Novel Writing Month in November challenges writers to whip out a 50,000 word novel in just thirty days, the camps are lighter and breezier. Participants, or ‘campers,’ set their own goals and can track their progress through an online dashboard(much like they do in November).
I will be working on adding 20,000 words to the novel I started in November, but many authors choose to work on short stories, or other projects during this time – even skipping around from project to project with the goal of writing every day.
The second Camp NaNoWriMo of 2019 takes place less than a month away, and Writing Bloc wants to make sure you are ready! So, let’s dive into a few action steps you can take to prepare for camp.
Set Your Goals
Whether you are aiming for 1,000 words or 50,000 words, set your overall goal before the month begins. Look at your calendar for April and set aside time to write each day. If you have something that can be checked off your to-do list before the month begins to make more time for writing, do it now.
Next, you will want to set smaller daily and weekly goals. These can vary depending on your schedule. Maybe you want to hit a goal of 5,000 words a week, but you know you have the most time to write on Thursdays. You could set a goal to write 2,000 words on Thursdays, and 500 words the other six days of the week. Setting attainable goals will help with forward momentum!
Let your family and close friends know what you are working to accomplish, and accept their support!
Join a Cabin
Cabins exist within the Camp NaNoWriMo website and encourage groups of writers to support each other and also hold each other accountable. Writing Bloc will be hosting a cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo, and you can request to join us here(will add link here as soon as Cabin Registration opens up).
Prepare to Sprint
NaNoWriMo holds word sprints on their twitter account around the clock during November, April, and July. Sprints are timed writing challenges in which participating writers across the globe take off writing for a specified amount of time, and then report back with their progress. They are great fun, and a wonderful way to keep each other motivated.
If you are sprinting to the finish line trying to hit 50K before that clock strikes 12, the fine people at @NaNoWordSprints have got you covered with non-stop sprints for the next 7 hours as we close out all the time zones!
If you are a plotter, outlining ahead of time will get those words out faster.
If you are a pantser, then even jotting down a few plot points or scene ideas will come in handy.
While it is always a good idea to save the research and fact checking for the editing stage, sometimes we just need to “check one thing real quick.” If this sounds like you, you might consider having a bookmarked list of related websites prepared for speedier referencing during your writing time.
Have your Tool Box Ready
Do you have a list of tools that help you when the words aren’t flowing? For some writers, it’s a music playlist organized according to mood. For others, it’s having writing craft books handy to inspire creativity.
Whatever it is that helps you keep writer’s block at bay, make sure you have your tools within arms reach when you sit down to write. If you need a few ideas, you can check out this article we wrote last year on 6 Techniques for Busting Through Writer’s Block.
Check out our Handy Prep Week Calendars
As a gift to all of you Camp NaNoWriMo participants, we have these handy calendars from April’s camp for you to download, set as your desktop background, or print and gleefully cross out each item as you complete it. Basically, use it in whatever way will help you the most. Check back throughout the month as we add content each week!
After a lot of work in May, our panel of readers and judges chose the stories to be featured in our second annual short story anthology, Deception!We received a plethora of great, well-written, and fascinating stories, and making the decision was quite difficult. In order to make the selections, all entries had the author’s name replaced with a random number before being submitted to the committee of readers. Each person on the committee rated and ranked the stories based on criteria such as originality, character, setting, style, and, of course, matching the theme of “deception.” These rankings were averaged out together to create a list of the top stories, and in the end, we chose twenty-five.
All of the stories were incredible. The work produced by our indie author community never ceases to amaze me. It was difficult to choose between them all, but if we accepted everyone, we would have one gigantic anthology with a hefty price tag. For those not selected, we are working on ways to still promote and expand upon their work, either through features like our new podcast (which you can listen to on the sidebar here on the website), or through a writer’s short story workshop we will soon announce.
The List of Selected Stories for the Deception! anthology
Without further ado and in no specific order, here is the list of the stories and authors to be featured in the upcoming Deception! anthology, anticipated to be published later this year:
“The Cleansing” by Jane-Holly Meissner —
Jane-Holly, an Oregon based writer, has been scribbling stories into notebooks and online for most of her life. She squeezes in time for homeschooling her four kids, date nights at the movies with her husband, and explaining her first name to everyone she meets. Jane-Holly believes that, if creativity is directly correlated to how messy your house is, she might just be one of the most creative people on the planet. https://www.facebook.com/jhmeissnerauthor/ / jainholliewrites.wordpress.com
“Violet Crane” by Jason Pomerance —
Jason Pomerance’s first novel Women Like Us was published in 2016, and his novella Falconer debuted that same year on Nikki Finke’s Hollywood Dementia. His short story Mrs. Ravenstein was part of the Escape! Anthology, published by Writing Bloc in 2019. He also writes for film and television. Jason lives in Los Angeles with his partner and their animals. www.jasonpomerance.com
“Scammers” by Ferd Crôtte —
Ferd Crôtte is a practicing physician who writes for fun and fellowship. His short story, “Captiveedom,” appeared in the Escape! Anthology, published by Writing Bloc in 2019. His debut novel Mission 51 is currently in production by Inkshares. Ferd lives with his wife Gail in Winston Salem, North Carolina. https://thebestparts.net
“Card Tricks and Other Tavern Miracles” by Phil Rood —
Phil Rood draws, writes, makes podcasts, and plays music because he loves to pull thoughts from his head in a number of ways. He loves his family, his cats, coffee, and Oxford Commas. philrood.com / inkandsunshine.wordpress.com
Mike x Welch lives in Western N.Y. with his wife and twin sons. He contributed a story (Convict 45) to the Writing Bloc’s inaugural anthology, Escape! Mike is hard at work on his debut novel PrOOF Vol. 1: The Vampire and the Dragon. http://Mikexwelch.com
“Quibbles” by G.A. Finocchiaro —
G.A. Finocchiaro was born and raised in South Jersey. He is a self-described goofball with a taste for bad jokes and good burgers. Finocchiaro currently lives in the Philadelphia suburbs. www.theknightmares.com / www.gafino.com
“Honeysuckle Sky” by Tahani Nelson —
Tahani Nelson focuses on writing the stories that she didn’t have growing up– strong, amazing women that would rather receive a sword than a glass slipper. Her debut novel, THE LAST FAOII, is available now. facebook.com/the-last-faoii
TCC Edwards comes from Waterloo, Ontario, and has been enjoying the life of an expat teacher at a university in Busan. He lives just outside Busan with his wonderful wife and two young sons. He helped edit and wrote short stories in four anthologies by the Busan Writing Group, and he has had work published by eFiction Magazines and Every Day Fiction. writeorelse.com / www.facebook.com/tcceauthor / twitter.com/writeorelse
“Uncle Dean in the Canoe” by Nicolina Torres —
Nicolina Torres was a manager for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores, and represented B&N on Channel 2’s Living Dayton Show for two years. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult, she has become an advocate for marginalized people, working with the National Association of Attorneys with Disabilities (NAAD) on mentorship projects and receiving FAMU Law School’s BLSA 2016 Spirit of Service Award for promoting diversity in the legal profession. Her debut novel, This Red Fire (Launch Pad Competition Top 10 Pick) has been optioned by Stampede Ventures and will be released by Inkshares in late 2019. https://nicolinatorres.com
“Die Regeln Galten Hier Nicht” by S.E. Soldwedel —
Evan Graham is the author of upcoming science fiction thrillers Tantalus Depths and Proteus. He has a bachelor’s degree in Education Studies from Kent State University, where he triple-minored in English, Writing, and Theatre. He currently lives in rural Middlefield, Ohio and is extensively involved in local community theatre, both on the stage and behind the scenes. https://www.facebook.com/AuthorEvanGraham/
Becca Spence Dobias is a mom, author, and ukulele player. She grew up in West Virginia and now lives in Southern California. She is the Project Manager for Writing Bloc. BeccaSpenceDobias.wordpress.com
“Alpha” by Aly Welch —
Aly Welch resides in Western New York with her husband and twin sons. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys acting, karate, and yoga. She also loves exploring the woods, and still hopes to find magic behind every tree and under every rock. www.alywelch.com
David Lee worked for forty years in public and private schools as a teacher and counselor. Now retired, he lives in Reno with his wife, dog and three cats. He spends his time reading, writing, and playing with his grandchildren. His blog (davidrlee.blogspot.com) also keeps him busy. davidrlee.blogspot.com
“Loyalty” by Estelle Rose Wardrip —
Estelle Wardrip is a teacher and writer who lives on a small farm in northern California. This is her first published work, hopefully the first of many.
“New Authority” by Patrick Edwards —
After defeating some inter-dimensional shadow monsters, Patrick returned home in time for the weekly tea party thrown by his toddler-aged daughters. The party got too wild, and the police were forced to shut it down. Two dollies and one action figure were arrested. With nothing else to do, Patrick went back to work on the sequel to his debut novel, Space Tripping. https://twitter.com/ThePatEdwards / ThePatEdwards.com
“Headcase” by Mike Donald —
Mike worked for the BBC as a sound mixer, wrote for comedy sketch shows, and developed up sitcom ideas. He was also a script analyst for a gap finance company and has written many award-winning screenplays. Mike lives in Oxford with his wife, and a power-hungry Terrier named Bonny May Donald. www.louisianablood.com / louisianablog.louisianablood.com
Amongst all of our great goals coming to fruition, we here at Writing Bloc have officially launched a podcast! Our aim is to chat about all things writing, with us discussing everything from successes to struggles, answering any of your questions, and interviewing authors we think you should know. We will be updating our main page with an embedded player for easier listening sometime in the near future, but until then, you can hear our first teaser episode on the following outlets:
We call it a “teaser” episode, as this is mostly a pleasant conversation between four of the authors behind Writing Bloc: Jacqui Castle, Christopher Lee, Cari Dubiel, and Michael Haase. We stay mostly on topic, have plenty of fun, and discuss everything from typos in our anthology to making plans to rewrite Fifty Shades of Gray in the style of Stephen King. You know, usual writer stuff.
We had a lot of fun recording this, and we have plans for many, many more. The next recording session is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29th, and we will let you know as soon as it’s posted. The list of writers to be featured with interviews and discussions is growing, and we plan on taking over the world with this podcast, of course. (Isn’t that everyone’s goal with a podcast?)
There are great things happening around the Writing Bloc. Thank you for being a part of them. Stay tuned for more features, perks, and opportunities.
The child looked at the calendar on the wall, swinging, as if
by some invisible breeze. There could not have been a breeze, though. All of
the room’s windows and doors were closed, and the air smelled musty and stale, like
laundry left too long in the washer.
Still, the calendar flapped like the wing of some great
white bird. Three MasterClasses, she
thought. I’ve managed to learn from three
masters this year.
It was Neil Gaiman, though, the most recent of her teachers,
who imparted the sage wisdom that struck the child so deeply—Give people what
they want, he advised. But do it in a way they do not expect.
This is just some of the fantastic advice in Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass, and the reason, I’m sure, that I wrote and then erased five different openings for this review before deciding I needed to do something different—something more worthy of what I got out of the class. You have to know your genre and its conventions, Gaiman says, before you can play with them. And then play.
But don’t worry! I’m done playing and am here to tell you everything you need to know about the class and to help you decide the answer to the question you undoubtedly came here for: Is it worth it?
There was some Twitter controversy when the class was first
released, as Gaiman retweeted some requests for money to take the course. Some
felt this was self-serving. A world-famous author asking other people to help give
him more money? How dare he! Why didn’t he just pay for them all himself?
I’ll ask folks who felt this way—do artists not deserve to be paid for their art? Should they stop making money for their creative efforts once they’ve reached a certain status? As Gaiman replied to those who criticized him, he has plenty of free advice for authors available online. He’s not withholding his wisdom for the wealthy. This class is a piece of his creative work, he deserves the royalties from it, and if part of promoting that work is helping people connect to access it, I see no problem.
Another of the critiques which arose was of the value of the
class itself, and here is where you may find my experience of the class
Like other MasterClasses, the course consists of several videos
(nineteen, to be exact), covering topics including “Sources of Inspiration,” “Descriptions,”
and “Dealing with Writer’s Block.” I found all of the videos interesting, even
the one on comics, which, though I read, I have not tried to write.
Gaiman is fascinating just to listen to—his voice is low and
conspiratorial and watching him really did feel a bit like sitting at the feet
of a very encouraging master. He also speaks verrrrrry slooooowly. Luckily, MasterClass
gives you the option of increasing video speed, and I found 1.25x to be
Some of the lessons are particularly inspiring. “Truth in
fiction” inspires you to dig deeper into the hard emotions that create good
writing. The lesson on worldbuilding teaches you to anchor your fictional world
in real details and to let characters discover the world’s rules by bumping up
against them or using them to their advantage, a take on the classic “show don’t
tell” rule that made a lot of sense to me.
There are also plenty of practical tidbits—in the lesson on
humor, for example, Gaiman explains that funny words have the most impact at
the end of a sentence. In the video on description he says you should “tell” when you need to, and teaches
how to give your characters need “funny hats”—unique ways for your readers to
tell them apart.
To be fair, there are bits of the videos that feel a bit
self-indulgent. Gaiman, as other MasterClass teachers do, uses several examples
from his own work. These are sometimes relevant to the topic at hand, but other
times feel less so. For example, in the video on overcoming writing block,
Gaiman suggests giving oneself a deadline and then shares an anecdote about a
short story anthology he contributed to. It was the submission deadline, he
says, which inspired him to finally get serious about a story that wasn’t
working and to figure out how to fix it. This specific example is a cool
insight for fans about a bit of his work but does little to actually teach one
how to impose a deadline on oneself. He makes up for this with further advice
about writing the next thing you do know.
Other case studies, including one on The Graveyard Book, are more relevant.
Gaiman also does what feels like a good bit of name dropping
during the course. Sometimes this seems like homage to those who have inspired
him, but other times sounds a bit braggy. Overall, this didn’t bother me
terribly. He’s earned it.
The workbook is what sets this MasterClass apart. In my review of Judy Blume’s course, I said that the exercises seemed either advanced or basic, and that students would likely find themselves drawn to about half of the lessons. This workbook solves this dilemma. For many of the lessons it contains both a “Writing Exercise” and a “For Your Novel” exercise. You can choose whether to do a simple exploration of the topic Gaiman discusses or to apply it directly to a work in progress. I found this incredibly useful, and sometimes ended up doing both.
Some of the exercises are pretty standard, but others have a
unique twist that make all the difference. For example, the exercise for the
Finding Your Voice chapter suggests you write a passage imitating the voice of
an author you know. I’ve done similar practices before. However, the exercise
doesn’t end there. After imitating, it suggests writing the same scene, this time
in your own voice. I had for the first time, after completing this, a clear
picture of what my own voice as a writer sounds like.
So, is the class worth it? If you are a fan of Gaiman’s work,
I say absolutely. You’ll feel like you’re spending time with the author and
digging deeper into his writing. For casual fans, or even just writers looking
to improve their craft, I still say yes. The workbook, especially the voice
exercise, and the lessons on Truth in Fiction, Finding Your Voice, and Worldbuilding
alone would be worth the cost for me, and the rest are an engaging bonus.