I don’t know what I think about online classes. There’s a part of me that thinks this is the future for a lot of people and more power to them, but there is also this little, snobby voice in the back of my head that’s like, “That can’t be good or even half as quality.” I don’t even know what to think about legit online universities, but I’m not going to have to go quite that far, today.
WRITING MASTER ACADEMY is the website and company created by Save the Cat! Writes a Novel author Jessica Brody. The site features a vibrant online community and a nice array of classes, which are expanding as we speak. Brody teaches most of these classes, so far, but she has also brought on other authors and experts to teach. Like many websites like it, the writer (me) pays a monthly subscription fee ($15) for access to the website and all of its content. There are no strings attached with this one, though you would have to keep paying for access. You can cancel at any time, and you’d still walk away with whatever knowledge you’d gained and whatever printouts you had printed and files you had saved. It actually seems like a great deal to me, especially if you are going to jump on it and take classes at a good pace. Which I did. I have plans to take more, but I think I can give you a pretty fair review, now.
NOVEL FAST DRAFTING
The first class I took was the one that I signed up for and the reason I forked out my first $15. I was in the middle of the first draft of the first novel of a trilogy, having planned it basically from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. But I was struggling with how to fit drafting into my life with both a residency and Nanowrimo in my rearview mirror. What, life? Laundry? Meals? Kids? How could I do this faster and maybe even have more discipline (reference to Anne of Green Gables, maybe book seven)? The fast-drafting class was taught by Brody and like all the classes, was broken down into a number of videos arranged in sections, with the occasional exercise thrown in. (There were very few exercises in this particular class, but I didn’t mind because I wanted to GET BACK TO WRITING.) It took me less than a week to get through the class but it really took some time. It says there is upwards of six hours of content, but then you have some time in between to actually do what you are being told, including setting up some files and downloading some things and printing off the workbook. And if you haven’t done novel planning yet and begin that during this course, that will take you an additional several days at the very least. I was well beyond that, however.
I really liked the class. I thought it was full of super useful content. There aren’t any real existential debates or even “crafting” tips (which, honestly, you can find in most writing books), but more just step-by-step instructions and encouragement for actually writing a first draft really quickly and dirty (and also some reasons as to why you should write this way). I found Brody to be accessible and friendly. It was all easy to follow and understand and the tech was also very simple to work with. The class keeps your place no matter when you stop working for the day or for the moment. There is a printable workbook and a few worksheets, an online file that you might use, and a certificate of completion at the end.
CRAFTING DYMANIC CHARACTERS
I made a plan, then, for taking something like eight or ten of the other classes, but most of them I want to take at a certain point in the writing process. In between Fast Drafting and Complete Novel Revision (which I am about to start), I took the Crafting Dynamic Characters class, like, on the side (while fast-drafting). It took me a lot longer for two reasons. First, my main goal each day was to get my words in, not take a class. Second, there were many more exercises than in the last course and some of them were… I want to say extensive but considering real life homework, I suppose it isn’t that extensive. And I probably went overboard with some of the “assignments.” Of course, no one is checking this stuff or even checking to see if you’ve done it, so if you don’t want to practice whatever skill is being taught, you really don’t have to.
Jessica Brody was involved in all the exercises (after each one, the teacher(s) reads their “answer” to give you an example of how it might have been done). But the teacher was Mary Kole, a former agent at places I’ve actually heard of and currently a writer of writing help. She blogs at Kidlit.com. (One of the other teachers, at this point, is Scott Reintgen, who lives around here and is a speculative fiction writer who I have attended a seminar to hear speak about how to get published or something. I really enjoyed his seminar, so I’m looking forward to his class(es).) As for Characters, I thought the teaching was pretty good, but maybe I don’t need as much instruction on creating characters. It’s actually kind of my strong suit, so I don’t know if I’m the right person to review this class, specifically. In the end, though, I had a few pages of notes in my notebook and several pages in a computer file of exercises, from which I have culled at least three short story ideas (which, obviously, I don’t have the time to write, right now).
The thing that I really didn’t see coming was my involvement with the Writing Academy Community. I am really not a fan of this sort of (especially online) interaction, but I have been forcing myself into more situations like it since, apparently, a writing career goes hand-in-hand with networking. (I’m squirming in my seat just writing that.) In the Fast Drafting class, Brody encouraged us (me) to get an accountability partner for the fast-drafting process. I already have writing partners, but she meant someone to check in with daily during the actual process of fast-drafting and share a word count and maybe chat for a second about the day. I put an ad up on the community board and, lo and behold, I ended up with three partners and accepted all three. They hail from all around the globe, which is kinda fun, and they are maybe not fast-drafting as by-the-book as I am, but they have been there for me (well, at least two of them) on a daily basis, to check on my word count, give me theirs, talk about the process, ask questions and opinions, and just share the writing life together. Oddly for me, since I go to the community site daily to check in, I have also contributed random comments and responses on the boards and, well, it hasn’t killed me. In fact, sometimes it has been quite interesting and so far everyone is very kind and encouraging.
Which means that Writing Mastery has been worth every penny of my 50 cents per day, as far as I’m concerned. I get the classes (which I could be paying so much more for, even at my local writing “school” owned by three creative writing grads who are like all 22 years old) and I have access to a community which is vibrant and appears to be growing. I can’t join every single thing for writers across the web, but right now Writing Mastery Academy is filling the spaces of continuing education (with some books) and work community for me, and I am likely to stick around for at least long enough to take all the classes that I need (which are most of them). FYI, there are often weekend seminars and sometimes Jessica Brody does a video, but I don’t work on the weekends (right now) and I haven’t had the time to go back and view them later. But that is another perk included in the susbscription.
Maybe it’s not an MFA at Iowa, but I think Writing Mastery is well worth it if a) you are a working writer and b) you are cool with structure as part of the writing process, which includes planning and plenty of discipline and forethought. If you run solely on inspiration and coffee and eschew formula in all its forms, well, maybe not your thing. Personally, I’ve learned a lot about structuring my day and my writing process and have also explored some of the tools in my writer’s tool belt. And I plan to learn a lot more.
2 thoughts on “My Two Cents About One Writing Website”
Great blog post! It’s interesting to hear about your experience with Writing Mastery Academy and how it’s been useful for your writing process. I’ve been considering taking online writing classes, but I also have concerns about the quality. It sounds like the classes are well-structured and provide step-by-step instructions, which is encouraging. My question is, have you noticed a significant improvement in your writing since taking the classes, and have you been able to apply what you’ve learned to your own writing?
I would say that (only two classes in) I have noticed a marked improvement in my writing discipline and writing process. I don’t think it has affected my actual writing, yet, but I don’t think that’s impossible. It seems to me there are more classes about the writing process–from idea-generating to publishing–but not as much about CRAFT. Still there are a couple of those too, so far. For craft, I usually turn to books, especially the writing classics. I have considered an MFA, but something like Writing Mastery Academy is much more in line with what I need right now (and obviously much cheaper, though not at all the same): help in setting up my schedule, my process, my work days, and getting me more quickly from a great idea to something I can send to agents.