Need recommendations for artistic non-fiction writing classes.
June 28, 2008 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for low cost (e.g. community college) writing classes to improve the artistic aspects of my non-fiction (essay, blog entry, resume, website content, etc.) writing.

I want to take a class to spice up my writing. I'm not interested in writing fiction. I want to be the type of writer where people think "I love HOW she writes!" when they read a blog entry, or my photographer's statement, or a comment posted to someone else's blog, etc.

I'd love to take a class at a local community college (De Anza/Foothill, Canada/San Mateo, CCSF, etc.). I've looked at the online catalogs but can't figure out if any of the classes cover the type of writing skills I want to learn. I would also consider similarly priced (e.g. $100 per semester) online course. I'm not interested in private "coaching" - I don't have the budget to pay $100 per session! I'm also not interested in "workshops" - I need an ongoing class where I work on this every week so I get regular practice and can put the newly learned ideas into use on an ongoing basis until it becomes second nature in my writing.

For an example of the type of writing I admire and want to emulate, see Mark Morford's column.

I'd also LOVE links to similar "creative" columns, essays, and blog entries. Mark only writes a new column twice a week. I'd love to read a daily blog from a similar writer. (Similar in writing style, not concerned so much about the subject matter.)

Thanks!
posted by jcdill to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
A lot of four-year schools with writing programs have a course or two in "creative non-fiction." There are even some MFA programs out there which focus on the same.

A typical composition course at a community college is probably not going to suit what I think you're after here. The goal of most freshman writing programs is to teach you to write the sort of research-based, thoroughly documented (e.g. MLA, APA, Chicago) prose that's necessary in academic environments. A typical freshman composition (first semester) course will focus on reading a bunch of non-fiction and writing argumentative essays about it. Comp II (i.e. second-semester) freshman writing classes tend to focus on reading literature and writing literary analyses of the same.

I've taught both of these. While being forced to write these sorts of essays certainly won't hurt you (or your writing), I don't think either one is very much in line with your goals, which are more general. Here's an open secret about good writing: it comes from practice and from exposure to good writing (i.e. from reading). If you want to write well, read voraciously and write as much as possible. Study the prose of writers you like, figure out what makes it work, and imitate that. Writing really is a skill that you learn by practice.

Actually, a writing workshop might be just the thing you need. But by "workshop," I don't mean some day-long seminar for lawyers who want to learn how to tidy up their grammar. I mean an ongoing project where you and other like-minded people get together on a regular basis to read each other's work and comment on it. If you can find some good people, these can be very useful. Unfortunately for you, most focus on creative writing. But maybe even that sort of group would be helpful, if they were willing to consider non-fiction as well.

Hell, why not email Mark and ask him his advice on the subject? There's a Wikipedia article on him, but it doesn't mention any formal training. Maybe he's self-taught?
posted by wheat at 12:34 PM on June 28, 2008


As far as low-cost, don't forget that some profs will let you sit on on a class without paying. If you don't want college credit and there's a class you're interested in, contact the professor and see how they feel about you sitting in.

"I want to be the type of writer where people think "I love HOW she writes!" when they read a blog entry, or my photographer's statement, or a comment posted to someone else's blog, etc."

In my opinion you describe something that can't be taught. I'm from the born-not-made school of writing. That said, I believe that a smart person who wants to write in a more readable, enjoyable and original style can learn and improve by writing a lot (blogs are great training grounds for developing style and interests), finding experienced writing mentors and taking writing classes.

I agree that coaching and workshops are not going to help you, and neither will freshman comp classes. I recommend starting with a basic college newswriting class, which will teach you lean, readable nonfiction writing, and also REALLY help with your blog writing, as the newswriting style lends itself EXTREMELY well to blogging. You might also look into classes on magazine writing, (film) criticism and essay writing.

Morford rocks. The only writer I can think of that compares with him stylistically is Cintra Wilson.

I'm not aware of her writing appearing anywhere regularly, but she has some great Salon.com articles.

For a daily read, you might try John Scalzi's blog, the Whatever.
posted by Jennifer S. at 1:33 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


As to Jennifer S. suggestion that you ask a prof to teach you for free, you might want to consider this previous discussion.
posted by wheat at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2008


Wheat, that thread is certainly worth checking out. I envisioned sitting in on the class and not submitting homework, which is unpaid extra work for that professor.

While not submitting homework entails missing out on a lot of feedback, it's also free learning fairly taken for someone with no interest in formal credit for the class. Twice I've asked for and received permission from professors for this kind of arrangement when I was in a similar situation to the questioner's.
posted by Jennifer S. at 5:52 PM on June 28, 2008


Jennifer, based on that thread, I doubt most instructors would have a problem with sitting in so long as there was no expectation of evaluation (formal or informal). Sitting in is a good way to pick up some free knowledge. And most profs are totally down with sharing what they know.
posted by wheat at 6:16 PM on June 28, 2008


I'm really looking for the structure of a class. I have a very hard time sitting down to write. I've learned that I write best when I have a question I need to answer, and a deadline. Having the structure of lectures, examples, assignments, and deadlines will help me in my progress. For this reason, just "sitting in" on a class won't accomplish the same objective.

I'll look into news writing classes.
posted by jcdill at 11:09 PM on June 28, 2008


Oh, I wanted to add that one of the reasons I don't enjoy writing is because my writing isn't very enjoyable to read. Forcing myself to do more "bad writing" isn't going to help! I want the structure of a class so I can have clear assignments and hopefully see improvement week to week, month to month, so that writing becomes something I enjoy doing rather than something I dread doing.
posted by jcdill at 11:12 PM on June 28, 2008


In that case, freshman comp and/or an intro to journalistic writing class might be just the thing for you. Best of luck.
posted by wheat at 2:37 PM on June 29, 2008


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