Creative Writing for All: Develop a Regular & Rewarding Writing Practice | Rumaan Alam | Skillshare

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Creative Writing for All: Develop a Regular & Rewarding Writing Practice

teacher avatar Rumaan Alam, Writer & Stay-At-Home Dad

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Writing is for Everyone


    • 3.

      Step 1: Consuming Critically


    • 4.

      Exercise: Rewrite 5 Sentences


    • 5.

      Step 2: Developing Discipline


    • 6.

      Exercise: Write to an Arbitrary Limit


    • 7.

      Step 3: Outlining Your Story


    • 8.

      Exercise: Outline a Favorite Story


    • 9.

      Bonus: Overcoming Writer's Block


    • 10.

      Step 4: Honing Your Craft


    • 11.

      Exercise: Read and Revise Aloud


    • 12.

      Final Thoughts


    • 13.

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About This Class

The title of “writer” isn’t limited to those with their name on the spine of a book. Learn how you can claim the title for yourselfit's easier than you think!

Join writer Rumaan Alam to learn a simple four-step process for developing a regular and rewarding writing practice that fits your life. Whether you’re putting pen to paper for the first time, struggling through writer’s block, or revising the fifth draft of a story, Rumaan’s personal, practical exercises reveal an approachable framework that will help you claim the title of writer with confidence! 

Through step-by-step exercises, you will:

  • Feel productive even when you don’t have time to write
  • Take the pressure off with small tweaks to your daily routine
  • Organize your ideas to create a roadmap for any project
  • Develop your craft in a way that fits your genre and goals

Plus, Rumaan invites you into his Brooklyn home, sharing his current manuscript as a real-life example of this process in action, from outlining through revising. 

Whether you’re looking to level up professionally or find a new outlet for personal expression, this 45-minute class will rekindle your creativity, unlock your confidence and discover the joy of a regular writing practice!

Meet Your Teacher

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Rumaan Alam

Writer & Stay-At-Home Dad


Rumaan Alam is the author of two novels, Rich and Pretty and That Kind of Mother. His short fiction has appeared in Washington Square, Crazyhorse, the Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, Meridian, StoryQuarterly and at Wigleaf. Other writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New York Magazine, the New Republic, Buzzfeed, and elsewhere. Rumaan studied writing at Oberlin College, and now lives in New York with his husband and two kids.

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1. Introduction: If you write, you're a writer. It has nothing to do with publishing, it has nothing to do with having an MFA. It's about your commitment to the practice. That to me is the most magical part of it. I'm Rumaan Alam. I'm a stay at home dad. I am a master Lego builder. I'm a baker of banana bread, but primarily, I'm a writer. Today's class is about helping you create a writing practice of your own. If you're a person who loves writing, you already know that the act of writing can feel so satisfying. But I think a lot of people struggle with being able to say to themselves, "I am a writer" especially if you don't do it professionally. In a long search of years between the time I was an adult and I published my first book which was 15 years, I had to tell myself I was a writer, even if I couldn't prove to anyone out in the world that I was a writer by showing them a book that I have written. That's what I hope this class will provide a way of opening that up and making you feel like you are living as the writer you know you are. This class will provide a four-step writing practice. We'll have exercises and I'll show you examples from my own work of how those exercises have helped me along the path of my career ladder. There's no governing body that says you're officially a writer. That's not how it works. Even if you only come away with one thing, I hope that you understand that you already possess what you need to be a writer. So if you're waiting for a sign from the universe, I hope you consider this as that sign. I'm so excited you've joined the class. Let's get started. 2. Writing is for Everyone: Here we are. You've decided to take the class and I think that's great. It's going to help you become a writer but in my experience and I hope in your experience, that means unlocking something that will make a lot of your life feel better. When you're doing the work that you care most about when you're committing to yourself, my hope is that you'll just feel happier and richer, and more productive both as a writer but as a human being. I studied writing when I was an undergraduate, and that was a great incredible rich education, but it is not necessary to making you a writer. There are other ways to find your way towards that information and I think a lot of it has to do with simply the commitment to the practice. What I learned in the 14 years between the time I finished college and the time I published my first book, was that I needed to commit to a practice. It was in that period of 14 years I think that I really became a writer. When I talk about committing to a practice or I want to use the word practice like that it sounds so lofty, and so like "What are you even talking about." All that means is that you do something you show up. You pick up a pencil and you actually write something. If you're engaged in the act of writing you are a writer and the more you engage in that the better you're going to become, that's as simple as that. Here's how this class is going to work. In our first lesson we're going to talk a lot about reading. Reading is inherently related to writing. If you are not a reader, you are not going to be a writer. I understand time is at a premium, we're going to talk about the ways in which you can make space in your life for more reading, and deeper reading, a deeper more critical understanding of the work other writers in the world are doing. Our next lesson is going to be about developing discipline. Everyone's life is busy. No one has time to tack on a second career which is what we're effectively trying to accomplish here. So we're going to think about ways in which it makes sense to be more disciplined in our reading and writing. You can't go on a trip without a map. We're going to learn about how to outline a story and what that does to help the work that we're undertaking as writers. In our final lesson, we're going to talk about craft, which is a huge huge word for a lot of different moving parts about being a writer but it's really important to try and master. I'm going to give you a lot of strategies. I'm going to give you some exercises but I'm also going to give you some concrete examples of how this work or this way of thinking about writing affects the work that I do. I'll even show you a sneak peek of the manuscript I'm working on right now, and we can talk about the relationship between the lessons I'm trying to give you, and the work that I'm actively engaged as a writer myself. My hope is that the students watching this class are from a range of backgrounds, that there are people who are watching the class who have published stories, that there are people who are watching class who haven't been in school in three decades, that there are people who are watching the class would have never gone to school and are terrified because they think you need some magic fairy dust to become a writer. This is a class for everybody who wants to commit to a practice of writing. Writing describes a huge and broad spectrum of activity. You may be writing a romance novel, you may want to write the true story of your grandmother's life. You may want to write something as simple as a private history of your family that you'll never show to anybody. It doesn't really matter though because all of those different things use the same fundamental skills and strategies that we're going to talk about in this class. My hope is that you'll walk away from this class saying "I'm a writer" and being able to prove it to yourself which is what matters. All right, that's enough from me. So we're going to move on to our first lesson which is about consuming critically. 3. Step 1: Consuming Critically: To me, the first step of becoming a writer is becoming a reader, becoming a critical consumer of the world. It's a little bit like learning how things taste in order to become a chef. It's very, very easy thing two do because we're all out there in the world reading books, watching television shows, watching films. All of those are forms of writing, and they all have a lesson for you as a writer. I realized that what I'm saying right now does not sound like work, and you can make it feel more like work. It's really up to you. But there are many times in my process as a writer that I need to simply step away from my computer and engage with something as a reader. A lot of times what I say about this is there's no output without having intake. If I'm stuck at my desk and nothing is working for me, I'm not producing any words, I just feel like I'm lost in the mud, sometimes what I need to do is do something completely different. I need to leave the house and see a movie. I need to go to a museum and see an exhibition. I need to listen to a piece of music and lose myself in that. These are not always an option for us. Believe me, I know that very well. But I do think that watching television show, as ridiculous as it sounds, is usually an option. At this point, in this culture, we can watch television show on our phones if you're riding the subway home from work. We do things like that to relax. But what I'm talking about is doing something like that to engage in your work as a writer and really, honestly, to make you feel better and productive even when you're not necessarily writing words. It's about using your writer's mind if not using your writer's hand. When I say watch an episode of television, I don't just mean sit on the couch and laugh, although that's great too. Think about how the writer has got all of the characters into a room. Think of how the writer's got a character to surprise you. Think of how the writer has got a character to make you laugh or to subvert what you're about to laugh at by making you feel a different way. All television shows rely on doing this. They do it so well that we rarely think about it. We just respond. We watch an episode of The West Wing, and we feel stirred. We watch an episode of Friends, and we feel silly, or we watch an episode of This is Awesome, and we feel sad. Think about the strategies the writers are deploying to get you to feel that way. Think of the way they are telling a story about these people who are made up. For maybe two years of my life, I was pretty much stuck in this house with two little kids, watching the movie Frozen over and over and over again. It's a great movie. Don't get me wrong. There was a certain point at which I realized the movie was working in a certain way because it was written. I allowed myself to look at how that movie was structured, to look at the way in which the screenwriters tell you the character's backstory in pictures and not in words. You guys probably know what this movie is about. It's about a princess, and her parents are dead. They show you the death of her parents in the sinking of a boat. They show it to you rather than tell it to you. Just thinking about the ways in which writers choose to impart information, it's really helpful to your practice as a writer. Let's say you don't want to sit at home and watch Frozen. I don't blame you. But you want to figure out what's going to inform the work that you most want to do. I think that's totally valid. Think about what it is you're engaged in my name. Do you wan to write a mystery novel? Do you want to write a romance novel. Do you want to write a family story? Do you want to written a memoir of recovering from addiction? Whatever it is, it's already been done, and that is a great thing. You can go to the librarian. You can go to a bookseller and say, "Hey, you known what? I'm really interested in memoirs of young motherhood. What do you have in the store write now? What do you have on the shelves right now?" Those people who are experts in books can say to you, "Oh, you should red this book, and this book, and this book." In fact, you should. You should take that all home and not worry about it corrupting your own idea because your idea is your own. It's about seeing what is possible. Every writer is going to write about addiction, or motherhood, or family, or cooking in his or her own way. Once you've sampled what other writers have done, it will help you decide what it is you want to do. A lot of this process can be internal. You're not necessarily generating something, but you could turn that around and choose to generate something. You could take out your notebook, which we'll talk about in a minute, the necessity, the imperative nature of having a notebook as a writer. You could just break down and say, "Hey, in the movie Frozen, when Anna's parents die, they don't tell you that they died. They show it to you." You've learned something there. Or you could just hold that information in your head. Storytelling is such a fundamental part of the human experience, and we're all walking around with a million stories in our head. If I say to you Hamlet, you might be able to think of the story of Hamlet. If I say to you Cinderella, you can think of the story of Cinderella. If I say to you Aladdin, you can think of the classical tale of Aladdin or you could think of the Disney movie, Aladdin. Your head is a library, and the more that you shelve in there, the richer your work as a writer will be. 4. Exercise: Rewrite 5 Sentences: Go to your bookshelf, choose a book that you love, a book that really got to you, really affected you. Open it up, page through it, you don't have to read it, find five sentences that you think are just wow, I wish I'd written the sentence, and then take that sentence and write it in your notebook, or type it into your computer. Why would you do that? When you look at art history, for example, a lot of the way that artists learn is by painting copies. I think this is a similar instinct. You write that sentence, you copy that sentence, not to pass it off as your own, but to help understand the mind of the person who wrote that sentence that affected you so deeply, and you think about the individual components why it works a certain way when you mention the character's name first versus mention the character's name last. Why a certain comma is in a certain place really it lets you get really small and really microscopic about the individual sentence, and I think that's really helpful as a writer. Let's say you take a book that you don't like, a book that you really didn't like that you'd never even finished. Page through that in five sentences you hate, or look for five sentences you liked, and write those sentences down and figure out why it is a writer whose work you didn't respond to would have that effect on you, and figure out the tension between the sentence that you like and the sentence that you dislike, and think about what it is those two writers are doing and what is instructive for you as a writer. Choose a book you love, choose a book you hate, it really doesn't matter. I've chosen to talk about a book that I absolutely love, Lorrie Moore's Birds of America. I'm not sure I understood until I read this book that work can make you laugh and also make you feel very deeply at the same time. I'm going to start by talking about a story called Dance in America, which is a story I remember reading when it was published in The New Yorker a couple of years before this book came out. The first sentence is, "I tell them dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom." the reason that sentence is so striking to me is that the title is called Dance in America, and that I comes in and you understand immediately that you're hearing from somebody who knows about dance, and it has this feeling of authority and it feels like you're hearing from a teacher. She hasn't said she's the teacher. In fact, the writer has not said about gender this person is, there's no explanation there, it's simply, "I tell them dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom." There's something so confident about that, and also something so perplexing is that where dance really begins. I have no idea where dance begins, but I believe it, and it drives me to want to read the story. When I finish the story, and I read this story so many times in my life, I understand that it perfectly encapsulates what that whole story is about. So I've put all this attention and thinking into reading this one little sentence, but I have to believe that Lorrie Moore is just a careful and smart enough writer that she put just as much attention into writing that sentence. So I can bore your hat off by going through this book and finding sentences that I love because Lorrie Moore writes incredible sentences. But the next thing I'm going to show you is from a story called Real Estate. I'm actually going to read you the whole paragraph because it's so good. "Of course, it had always been in the spring that she discovered her husband's affairs. But the last one was years ago, and what did she care about all that now? There had been a parade of flings, in the end, they'd made her laugh ha, ha, ha." But then, the ha ha's go on for these entire pages of just ha, ha, ha. There's something so incredible to me about that choice. It's so gutsy, it's so confident that this writer knows that she's writing a story about something very real and something very affecting, and that she can take the time to give you two pages of a character just saying ha, ha, over and over and over again. It's something I did not understand a book could do until Lorrie Moore showed me that she could do that. There is no shortage of writing like this out in the world. You already have your favorite book. Go to yourself, take it down, find the five sentences in there that surprise you, that show you what it's possible to do as a writer. Write them down, read them out loud, understand them, take them apart and really look at them closely and feel inspired as a writer. The next thing we're going to talk about is something that's really important for all of us as writers, which is how to develop discipline. 5. Step 2: Developing Discipline: We're going to talk about discipline which is an intimidating and scary word but all that means is committing to yourself. Committing to your practice, committing to producing work. Fundamentally, when I talk about discipline I am talking about time, I'm talking about finding time to commit to being a writer. If you're watching this class, you've already committed to that. You've already exercised some discipline. This lesson is about taking that to its next logical steps of identifying where in your life you have the time to make that commitment and to producing work. Maybe it'll be helpful for you to think about the tension between process and product. I'm going to show you the product of my work. This is my second book. It's called That Kind of Mother. This is how thick it is. I'm going to show you the process that it took for me to get to this book. Sorry it even makes me laugh. I don't know how much paper is on this desk right now, but it takes all of these pages to get to this book which is 291 pages, and there's simply no shortcut to that. This is the product, and this is the process. I can't control the product really. That's in the hands of my publisher, and that's a matter of luck and business. I can control the process. I can show up for this book every day or every other day for the two years that took me to write this book. That's what I have within my power to do, and that's what you have within your power to do. If we're going to talk about discipline, I think the place to begin is by an honest accounting of your time. Again, you're not reporting any of this stuff to a boss. You're not reporting it to anybody but yourself. So just take a good hard look at what your week looks like and figure out where there are pockets of hidden time. Do you watch three hours of television on a Sunday night? A lot of people do, and that's totally fine and really important if you're going to a really stressful job on a Monday morning. But is there a way to carve time out of that to say, okay, maybe on Sundays I don't watch TV at all, or maybe every other Sunday I will watch TV and I'm going to go up to my room and close the door and no one in the family is allowed to bother me for those three hours that I would normally be watching TV. I wrote my first book when my younger son was two years old. So he was a difficult kid. He was not sleeping through the night, but really nights were the best time for me to do this work. So I made a deal with my husband that he would handle bath time and bedtime every night for undetermined period of time while I wrote a draft of this book. So every night at 7:00 PM, I would sit down at my desk in the living room because my office was then the baby's bedroom. My husband would go upstairs and deal with the kids, put them to bed, and he very generously would not talk to me, will not bother me. I would sit at my desk in my living room from 7:00 PM until two or three o'clock in the morning, and then I would go to bed, I would get up at six o'clock when the kids got up, I would take them to daycare, in school, and then I would come home and want to die. But I knew that I needed to actually produce the book before I could understand where I was going as a writer and so I simply committed to this insane schedule and I did it. There are other ways that you can think about discipline without necessarily sitting down to write for half an hour or an hour. I joined a writers group, meet a friend on Facebook or out in the real world who is also a writer who says, I'm going to commit to writing two hours a week and so should you. There's a reason that people go to the gym with a buddy. Having somebody else there helps you confront the difficulty of saying it's something I don't want to sit down and write for two hours, but I told Barbara I was going to so I've got to do it. Carry a notebook with you, and commit yourself to the act of writing whenever you have time whenever you have a passing idea. This is the notebook I'm using currently, and I always have this on-hand whenever I think I might have a spare moment. There are many many days I do not open that. That's fine, but it's there with me, when I have that impulse to write something. I haven't looked at this in a while but I'm just seeing right here is the first lines of the story that I wrote that I called moving but it's actually now called something else and will be published this September. In this notebook, you will find doodles that my children have drawn. Here I am playing a running hard tournament with my older son and this is where we are keeping a score. If you are in this habit of carrying this notebook everywhere, you may find over time that it's unleashed something in you, and that the act of carrying this around actually makes you more productive and more creative because you have a way to jot down the initial idea and then you have the initial idea there. So you may write down one sentence or one idea like I should write a story about a girl who works at a fast-food restaurant. Then six weeks later, you read that and you think, yeah, Kathy work at the fast food restaurant and [inaudible] and you write that sentence down and then another sentence follows and before you know it, you have a story. Then six weeks after that, you may sit down and type those sentences into your computer and rework them and reconfigure them, and then you may find that you are 500, a 1000 words into a story. So you may surprise yourself with what carrying a notebook around might do for you. You may start to find that you have unlocked this thing in yourself, and you may find that you actually enjoy it, that it's producing something. So it doesn't feel like a restriction, but it feels like a liberation that you finally have this physical place to record your thoughts as a writer and take them seriously. I'm not great at math, but sometimes I think it's good to think about the numbers. Let's say you skip watching three hours of television a week. By the end of the year, you're talking about a 150 hours that you have spent doing something else. That's more than a full workweek. That's a lot of time and labor. Showing up for yourself that way is going to make you feel better, but that's a lot of time to actually really accomplish something. Let's say you just arbitrarily say I'm going to write 800 words every week for the rest of the year. Over a calendar year, you're talking about 40,000 words. That's about half the length of both of my novels. That's a big sizeable chunk of words to produce that anyone would feel proud of. 6. Exercise: Write to an Arbitrary Limit: The focus of this lesson is discipline, it's practice, it's practicing doing. Sometimes you just have to reach for cliche, and it's practice that makes perfect, but you can't expect perfect the first time you do something, or even the second time you do something, or frankly, even the 15th time you do something. Sometimes you just have to do the thing to master the ability to do the thing. Speaking of homework, here's an exercise and this is one that I absolutely love and I come back to time and time again. Give yourself an arbitrary number, 60, 400, 321, and write something that is exactly that length of words. I love this exercise because your mind is so focused on meeting a mathematical goal, that you turn off the inner critic that's hampering you creatively. So whatever the story is you're writing, you could be writing a scene about a spy chasing someone to an airport, you could be writing a scene where a mother makes a meal for her family. Whatever it is you're thinking about, stick to that arbitrary words, they're made of 444 words, or choose the number you play at the Lotto. Just choose a number that feels right to you and sit down and write exactly to that word limit. Again, I just think you'll surprise yourself by what you come away with. You're going to want to criticize the work that you're doing. You're going to want to say, "Oh, this sentence wasn't very good, or that idea wasn't really there." That's fine and valid, and that's very useful. We're going to talk about that in another lesson, but focus right now on producing work rather than producing the best work. This is how every writer has to work. You have to go from A to B to C to D. Nobody goes from A to J or L, right off the bat. So pick your arbitrary number, right your arbitrary amount of words, do it again, do it again, do it again, do it every week, do it every two weeks. Come back to it a year from now and say, "Oh yeah. I remember that exercise, where I wrote 631 words and it was so fun." Just do that again, make sure this is part of your practice. This is a lesson that has served me so well, but next, we're going to talk about organizing and outlining, and taking the raw material that you generate here and helping transform it into something real. 7. Step 3: Outlining Your Story: At this point, it's my hope that you have really learned something about creating space in your schedule to write, creating sense of discipline for yourself as a writer. Now the challenge is, where do you go with that? If you've produced 600 words, 1,200 words, maybe 10,000 words you need to have a plan of attack. You can't just be driving aimlessly, you need to have a destination in mind. This is where I find it really helpful and in fact almost imperative to start talking about outlines. An outline is the exact same thing that your teachers taught you in third grade. It's a plan of attack. It's a way of structuring an argument. What you are writing is not an argument necessarily in the same way it was when you were in the third grade but it still benefits from having a sense of structure, a sense of organization. It's something that you provide for yourself, that will make your task as a writer so much easier. I'm not just asking you to do arbitrary busy work. Writing outlines seems like its tangential to the act of actually sitting down and writing your sentences and it is, but it's still really important. Creating this outline frees you, it allows you to be really creative when you're in the moment, when you're saying, okay, this is what I'm doing with this story. Once you've created this outline, you have a task in front of you. So if you've set aside those hours on a Sunday night or whenever it is, you can consult your outline and say, ayes, this is what I'm supposed to be doing right now, this is what I'm writing toward and that can be so much more helpful than just writing around something on the page. Everyone has their own way of doing this. There's no one way that you can accomplish this. My way is very fast and loose. Typically, what I did on the book that I'm writing right now is I wrote half of the book and then I sat down and wrote an outline, because I understood what the story was and I just wanted to commit to it on the page. Some people need a plan of attack in place before they write even one sentence. I have friends who write outlines on different color-coded index cards and pin them up on a cork board in their office. When I was writing my first book, I scribbled something down on a piece of paper and I taped that onto the wall over my desk. It's not a one size fits all thing and that's how all of writing works. You need to figure out what kind of writer you are and what level of engagement you require in the outlining stage. This is an outline that I made for myself after I was doing the third big revision to the book that I'm working on now. At the top, I have these four things that I knew I wanted to add into the book. I'm not going to say what they are because it's meaningless to you because you haven't read the book yet but they are notes to myself that I thought, oh yeah, I want to say Rose is missing. Then I broke down everything that happens in the book and tried to figure out at which point Rose could go missing. You think you understand the work that you've just done but the truth is that if you're writing a book for a few months or a couple of years a lot of times you forget the individual choices that you've made. So it can be really helpful to have an outline and say, right, in chapter 2, I said that Clay leaves the house. So I have to remember in chapter 3 that he can't be there. I have to remember at some point that I have to bring him back into the house. The other thing that I do a lot when I'm working on a project is I send myself emails, an idea comes to your head, an image, a sentence, a line, a character name, a character trait. You might overhear something in a restaurant you write it down in your email and you send it to yourself. I have a whole folder in my email inbox of messages that I've sent to myself of things that I want to remember to include in the work in progress. Between those 100 emails that I've emailed myself and the six outlines I have going in my messy notebook at any given time, that's how I make a book. If you truly feel like I have no idea what you're talking about, I can't make an outline, go on Google Docs and find an outline template and just drop your story into that if you don't remember what your third grade teacher taught you. But if you do, just sit down and write one, two, three, four, and five, here are the five movements of my book or the four movements or the three movements. Maybe you're not writing a book, maybe you're writing a short story. The thing is that those are also structured according to this particular logic. Figure out what the main beats of the story are and then write notes to yourself and the sub-beat. If in the first chapter or the first scene you want to introduce a woman named Caroline, in the bottom there as notes to yourself talk about her past, talk about what she looks like, talk about the time she went to the flower shop in Des Moines in Iowa. Whatever it is that's important to the story. This is a way of keeping yourself organized and on track and helping have a road map for the long journey you are about to undertake. 8. Exercise: Outline a Favorite Story: Here's some more homework that I think you'll find really fun and I really enjoy this exercise. You may not think that every writer works with an outline. But I guarantee you when you look more closely at a work, you'll discover the pattern and the logic in that. So take a book that you love. Take a book that you know really well. You don't even have to have the book physically with you. It could just be a book that you're thinking about or story that you're thinking about and then make an outline for that book. I'm going to start with the kids story. The reason I've chosen the story which is The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is that it's a story I know really well, and it's really a good probably outline without even referring to the source material. But I think it's actually useful to look at how the book works because it's different from what exists in your head. The Lorax opens with a little boy going to see the Once-ler. So it's a story told in flashbacks. So the first bit of the book the number 1 of your outline is this prelude where the Once-ler is telling the story to this kid. Then what happens in a way that Dr. Seuss is telling the story is that the kid you're reading this book to inhabits the space of the kid inside the fiction, which is a very interesting choice. Then you turn the page and it's bright and colorful and you've gone way back in the days when the grass was still green, so you're back in time. The first bit of the story is the Once-ler arriving in this place. So that's one, the Once-ler comes in. Then the second bit is that he discovers these trees that he's never seen. He says, "All my life I've been searching for trees such as these, " which is again just small moment that carries a lot. All his life creates this sense of the Once-ler's backstory. He chops down the tree and he knits a thneed and then we meet the Lorax. He pops out of the stump of the tree and he lectures the Once-ler for cutting it down. Then I would say we move into the second part of the book which is where the Once-ler develops this business empire selling thneeds and he builds this factory and the Once-ler does this wonderful thing where he comes to the factory three times. He comes to defend the bar-ba-loots first. Then he comes to defend the swomee-swans for the birds. Then he comes to defend the fish. It's these three arguments in favor of the Once-ler not polluting. There's something almost biblical about the way that this happens where he comes and he tries to argue for the protection of these animals. Then you have this incredible and very sad climax of the story where the last tree is cut down. Then everybody leaves because there's no more money to be made and then the Lorax leaves. He lifts himself up by the seat of his pants and floats into the sky. So in those three bits, Dr. Seuss is accomplishing so much. Then of course, the book concludes back where we began which is the response to this prelude and ends really hopefully by the Once-ler giving this kid a Trufulla seed and the reader feeling optimistic instead of pessimistic about the chance for this place. Whether you're writing a short story, whether you're writing a memoir, whether you're running a woman's novel, make an attempt to outline it in a way that makes sense for you. Know that you're not marrying that outline that it can change, that it can evolve as the years pass, as the time passes, as your ideas about your work change, but do it because it's a gift that you're giving yourself. In our next lesson we're going to talk about some of the components of craft that I think are most important and that I hope you'll think are more important too. 9. Bonus: Overcoming Writer's Block: So let's say you open your brand new $22 notebook and you think, I can't write anything, I don't have any ideas, I have writer's block. I have to say that this is one of the few things that I feel very, very hard and fast about. I just don't think that there's any such thing as writer's block. Most professions don't get to say, I just can't do it today. If you deliver for UPS, you can't wake up in the morning and say, ''I just don't feel moved to deliver these packages today.'' That's not how it works. You have to commit yourself whether or not you feel it and you have to push through that feeling of, ''I don't have an idea.'' The only way you can do that is to force yourself to write bad sentences, to write bad ideas. To make a list of say, ''I should write a short story about, storks delivering babies. I should write a short story about a girl who works in a library. I should write a short story about a guy killing a spy. You have to force yourself to go through all of those bad ideas. Those are all really bad ideas until you get to the idea that feels right, that feels good. There's just no way to get to that good idea without going through those bad ideas. Earlier, we looked at the huge stack of drafts of my novel. I can guarantee you that if we go back to the first draft, there are going to be terrible sentences and really weak ideas. But I had to put those down on the page in order to get to the book that I feel really proud of today. If you truly feel stuck and many of us feel that way a lot of the time, that's okay. Go back to the lesson that we did before, take down a favorite book, pick apart of sentences, figure out why they work. Do the inverse, take a book you don't like, pick a part of those sentences, figure out why they don't work. If that doesn't get you anywhere, maybe the problem is in input-output situation, and you just need to experience something different. Go see an art exhibition, go do something really different that you've never done. Go to the opera, go to the ballet. Make yourself feel and experience something that's so outside your comfort zone that you don't understand how you're supposed to respond to it and then try to respond to that in words. In your notebook, you don't have to write an essay. You don't have to publish a book about the opera. That may not be your projects. But if you force yourself to tackle something that feels a little bit like homework, you may surprise yourself with what you come up with. 10. Step 4: Honing Your Craft: You're taking this class because you want to write, and hopefully at this point in the process, you are writing, you are producing, but you also want to be a good writer. I think it's worth thinking about how you define what good writing is. The word that we're going to talk about now is craft. You may be thinking, "Oh gosh, this is all new to me, craft? What are you talking about, I'm so overwhelmed." Don't feel overwhelmed. It's new to me too. This is something that I've had to teach myself in the 15 years or so that I've been calling myself a writer, and it's stuff that I've taught myself from reading. So even if it feels new to you, even if it feels slightly outside of your comfort zone, don't feel intimidated and don't feel like you are not allowed to have tough conversations about things like grammar and spelling. I'm going to start there, grammar and spelling. To me, it's like putting on a nice jacket when you have a job interview. It's just a way of showing up for your reader and saying, I take you seriously, I take the mechanics of what I'm doing seriously. Every writer is allowed to break any rule he or she wants. So you may be writing a book that's narrated by a child and you want things to purposefully be misspelled. You may be uninterested in having every sentence contain a verb, but that's fine, rules are made to be broken. That said, run spellcheck and just make sure all the words are spelled correctly. Look at your Google Docs. When it's telling you something is bad grammar, listen to it and look more closely at it, and think, "Oh, is this so bad that I should address it?" These things can feel fussy, they can feel old fashioned, they can feel like they're not interesting parts of being an artist, but I think there's small, but significant ways to make your work better and to show yourself that you're taking your work seriously. Writing is very, very personal for a lot of people including myself, and it can be very difficult to share that work with somebody else, but you write to be read. So push past your anxiety, push past your fear, and try and find a friend who's also a writer, who can read the work, and whose work you can read. I have one very, very dear friend who was also a novelist, we always trade work with each other, and it's a hugely significant part of the process for me. I tell her very honestly what I think of the work that she has done, and I rely on her to tell me really honestly about the work that I have done. That doesn't mean that if she says make this woman's dress blue instead of pink that I'm going to make that woman's dress blue instead of pink, but it does mean that I'm thinking about that particular choice, and hearing that from some other voice can be really validating because the work is so imaginary and exist so much in your head and on the page that something really remarkable happens when you hear another human being talk to you about the fictional world you've created. You may be saying, "Oh, that's not the project I'm doing. I'm writing this private history of my family's life, I don't intend for anybody to ever read it. So I'm not going to think about revision, I'm not going to think about polish." I think that's a mistake because I think you yourself are the reader of that work, and the act of revision as an act of respect to yourself as a reader and to yourself as a writer. All work can be improved upon and you should force yourself to improve upon it. The way that I revise personally is to read aloud, and I'm going to show you what that looks like. I'm not going to read you my new book, but I'm just going to show you a little bit of what I'm doing when I'm reading aloud. When you're reading aloud, you're exercising a really different muscle. This is the third drafts of my new book, and I'm just going to read a couple of sentences from it. It's a family eating outside in their vacation house. Hamburgers the size of hockey pucks inside sugary bread. Rose was particularly susceptible to the charms of vinegary potato chips. See, right there I can hear it that I've called the bread sugary, and then I call the potato chips vinegary, and that echo between those two words is wrong. So when I was revising this the first time, I crossed out sugary and I wrote soft. Your ear is able to do a labor that your brain can't always do, and when you're writing, you should rely on all of your senses. Here's another example. Mouths perfected by orthodontic intervention. I crossed out the word intervention and I just said orthodontics. Orthodontics is a really beautiful noun and I didn't need that intervention. The ocean was too cold, so Amanda to the parking lot rest rooms. I had dropped the word went. Your brain is sometimes working really fast and you're typing, and you're typing, and you're skipping over inadvertently something that's really important, in this case, the verb. All of this stuff is just so much easier to spot for me when I hear it as opposed to when I see it. Focus for now on the page as opposed to the overall plan. Make sure that the individual page has accomplished what it needs to do. Is it telling me a facet of the larger story? Is it a complete scene? Are there complete sentences and complete thoughts? Does the character makes sense, does the action flow? This is where it's really helpful to have made an outline. Weigh the work that you're doing on an individual basis against the promise of your outline as opposed to the overarching book, and make sure that it's always paying off. Think about what you set out to write and then consider whether or not you've accomplished that. That is a big and hard to answer question, but just take it down to the smallest level. I wanted to write an historical romance novel, did you do that? Only you can answer that at this point. I wanted to write historical romance novel with a strong female lead, did you do that? Again, only you can answer that. I wanted to write an historical romance novel with a strong female lead that had moments that made you laugh. Did you do that? Again, only you can answer that. Think about what it was you most wanted for this book, and it may have changed over the process of writing. Again, I keep saying book, but I could just as well be talking about a story, I could be talking about an essay, I could be talking about the 600-word excerpt you want to write as an introduction to your self-published pamphlet of family recipes. All of these things apply no matter what it is you're ultimately writing. You need to be accountable to the rules of language and grammar, and you need to be accountable to your reader, and then you need to be accountable to yourself. 11. Exercise: Read and Revise Aloud: So the exercise that I want you to tackle next is one that might feel really intimidating and really difficult, but it shouldn't be. Print out something that you've been working on, no matter how many times you've gone a bit over it. Print it out, sit down, close the door if you're embarrassed, and read it out loud to yourself at the top of your lungs. I have done this every time I've written a book, at the top of my lungs all the way through usually two or three times, you feel crazy and then you feel great, read it out loud, read it proud, and read it rigorously, and be hard on yourself as you're hearing it. Then once you're feeling really brave, share that work with somebody else. You can share it right here on the project gallery. Every writer, and I include myself in this, benefits from the attention of a reader, and you have the opportunity to share your work in the projects gallery, and I really encourage you to do that. It can feel intimidating, you'll feel very vulnerable, you could just feel a whole lot of conflicting emotions about that, face those and confront those and do it, because that's what all writers do. There's no point in doing the work that you're doing if there are no emotional stakes. So share your work and be proud of what you've done and hold it to really high standard. 12. Final Thoughts: Here's the thing. No one is going to throw you a graduation party for finishing this class, but you should feel really satisfied that you did this. We've talked about several things, and it's my hope that you're able to hold onto those things. Because it is my experience as a writer that I get stuck, that I feel frustrated, that I feel doubtful, that I feel under confident. When I do feel that way, when I do feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, I remind myself that I know how to read, that I know how to watch a film, that I can think about how storytelling works. I remind myself that I can go to my bookshelf, I can go to the library, I can go to the bookstore and pick up a book that I love, and be bowled over by the sentences or somebody who is smarter than me. I remind myself that sometimes just making an outline, making a plan takes a big nebulous goal and makes it really more achievable and concrete. I hope that you feel that you came to this class with a desire to be a writer, and that you stuck with it, and that you are now working, and writing, and able to claim to yourself if not to anyone else, "Hey, I'm writing, I'm a writer." Writing is a solitary business, but that's why we have this project gallery. It's a place for you to share with other writers and remind yourself that you're not alone in this, and I am right there with you. So I wish you the best of luck, I wish all of us the best of luck, and now we should just get to work. 13. Explore More Classes on Skillshare: