Friday, July 26, 2013

Four Reasons Gotham Works

by Marilyn Patterson

Marilyn Patterson
Motivation, guidance, critique: these were the things I was seeking when I signed up for the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Mystery Writing I course. It still took me several months after reading about Sisters in Crime’s special enrollment offer to actually sign up for it. As a long-time writer, I wondered if an entry-level course would serve me.

What finally made me leap was my desire to get back to work on my stalled novel. Believing that some action was better than doing nothing, I joined Sisters in Crime and the Guppies, and then signed up for the Gotham course.

Now that the course is over, here are the four things I valued most.

The assignments: A writing exercise linked to that week’s lesson topic was assigned most weeks of the ten-week course. Topics covered included plot, dialogue, point of view, and character. Assignment submissions were limited to no more than 750 words, a doable goal for an assignment due by the end of the week.

The booth: Each student had two opportunities to enter the booth and share a writing excerpt for critique by our teacher and fellow students. Each week, two to three submissions were scheduled, and critiques were due by the end of that week, giving us the benefit of a writers group while reading and critiquing submissions within our own schedules.

The teacher: Our teacher was a published author with a wicked sense of humor. She responded promptly to discussion posts and gave thorough and insightful feedback on homework assignments and booth submissions.

The students: Twelve people signed up for my course session. Of those twelve, several dropped out along the way. Those of us remaining were active in class, submitting critiques and participating in the weekly lesson discussions.

And here are four things that didn’t work as well for me.

The lessons: While the weekly lessons may have been useful to someone new to writing mysteries, they didn’t provide me much new information.

The lounge: Each week students could enter the lounge and chat with each other about anything on their minds. This wasn’t a successful aspect of our class, and students only used the lounge three times. Our lounge was open Monday nights at 10 p.m. EST, which may not have been a convenient time to chat. Finding a set time that works for everyone would likely be impossible.

Some of the assignments: A few of the assignments, especially those toward the end of the course, weren’t as stimulating or beneficial as those nearer the beginning. The last week’s assignment was to research markets for our work. While this is important, I would have appreciated another opportunity to share my writing with the teacher for feedback.

Some of the critiques: Gotham provided clear critique instructions, but not everyone in my course followed them. In a few instances, I felt the critiques given to other students were harsh. As far as I could tell, this wasn’t addressed, although student contact may have been made outside the course. A writer with experience in a writers group might be able to weather a harsh critique. In an entry-level course, a harsh critique could shut down a new writer.

I am grateful to Sisters in Crime for making this opportunity possible for me. This course got my novel back on track, and the teacher and students gave me the encouragement to keep going. If this sounds like the jumpstart you need, I hope you, too, will take the leap.