So, you want to write a novel? I can help.

So, you want to write a novel? I can help.


Less than a quarter of the people who start NaNoWriMo actually finish the challenge and write 50,000 words. Your chances of finishing a crappy first draft of a novel in November are greatly improved if you prepare in October.

That’s what my class for Midwest Writers Workshop, “It’s Time to Start Your Novel,” is all about. 

Registration is now available!

Starts October 1.


A few years ago, I offered a version of this course via my blog, and I’m so pleased that my friend Gail Werner challenged herself to dive in. I think it really changed her life.

Here’s her story of how it happened.

Course Description

This course is for everyone who ever thought, “I think I might have a novel inside me.” Understand though: you will not “write a novel” in this course–you will prepare yourself to start (or re-start) one. Think of it as a cooking course in which you spend the first class cleaning the kitchen and prepping the ingredients. Think of it as a marathon-running course in which you spend the first class buying a good pair of shoes.

Your chances of drafting an entire novel increase exponentially when you spend some time preparing yourself for the journey ahead.

You’ll learn a great deal about your process without having to fret about the quality of your work. You’ll generate a lot of writing about the novel you want to write, get to know your characters, learn to think in terms of scenes not sentences, and make some crucial early decisions about point of view and structure that will save you a lot of time down the road.

At the end of the course, you’ll be ready and excited and poised to start writing your novel. 

Learning Goals

  • intense focus on the writing process and on developing a writing regimenwriting assignments which will help you gather material, develop your plot, and get to know your characters
  • practice creating an outline or storyboard of your book
  • analysis of a novel that will serve as a model

The course is broken down into four big-picture units. Each unit offers a series of mini-lessons (about 10 minutes each) that build on each other. It will take you about five full hours to go through all of the instruction. You can pause to write when inspired and review the material on your own. Lessons are presented as audio-visual lectures that you can watch on any device (video/screencast).

What the Course Includes

  • Four hours of instructional lectures that you can listen to or watch on your own time, at your own convenience
  • Weekly assignments for completion at your own pace—designed to help you put what you learn into action.
  • Connection and community with others—including me.


Week 1: Preparing Yourself

First, you’ll develop a writing regimen and come up with a concrete plan about how to fit writing time into your life. Second, you’ll figure out how to hold yourself accountable by sharing your writing goals with others. Third, you’ll assess your writing process (everyone’s different) and what circumstances make you more likely to get the writing done. And last, you’ll read the short novel Election by Tom Perrotta, paying special attention to how novels are structured and what keeps us turning pages.

Week 2: Characters

Eudora Welty said that in order to enter into your characters, you have to love them. In this unit, we’ll begin that process by getting to know our characters. They drive the plot—not you. Otherwise, a novel reads like a puppet show in which the reader sees you pulling the strings. You’ll complete a series of writing exercises to flesh out and get inside your characters.

Week 3: Through-lines

A novel isn’t just one story. It’s the skillful weaving together of multiple stories, what I call “through-lines.” Other names include character arcs, plot layers, and subplots. A through-line is the rope that the audience uses to pull itself through your novel. How you decide to structure them determines the form of your novel. You’ll identify the possible through-lines of your novel, assign each one a different color, and create a storyboard of your novel.

Week 4: Scene

The scene is the building block of all novels, and a good one enriches the characters, provides necessary information, and moves the plot forward. A scene paints a picture and brings us into what John Gardner called “the vivid, continuous fictional dream.” What novel readers want is to be so caught up in a novel that they forget they’re reading. You’ll learn how to sketch and then flesh out memorable scenes.

I’d love to work with you (or someone you know) through this online class.

It’s time to start that novel…

My Next Big Thing: Literary Citizenship

My Next Big Thing: Literary Citizenship

Literary Citizenship Teaching

For the last few years, I’ve ended my classes with a presentation/pep talk on Literary Citizenship (basically this post as a Power Point). But next semester, I’m going to teach a whole class on Literary Citizenship.

Course descriptions are due this week, so I just wrote this up:

A literary citizen is an aspiring writer who understands that you have to contribute to, not just expect things from, the publishing world. This course will teach you how to take advantage of the opportunities offered by your campus, regional and national literary communities and how you can contribute to those communities given your particular talents and interests. It will also help you begin to professionalize yourself as a writer. You will learn how to 1.) create your own professional blog or website, 2.) use social media to build your writing community, 3.) interview writers and publish those interviews, 4.) review books and publish those reviews, 5.) submit poems, stories, and essays to literary magazines, 6.) query agents and editors regarding book manuscripts, 7.) apply to graduate programs and write an effective statement of purpose, 8.) deliver an effective public reading of your work, 9.) pitch to an agent, 10.) craft a professional résumé. Students who complete the course in an exemplary fashion will be eligible to apply for internship positions as Social Media Tutors at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie July 25-27, 2013. 

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10 Things You Should Know about the Midwest Writers Workshop

10 Things You Should Know about the Midwest Writers Workshop


1.  The Midwest Writers Workshop, or MWW for short, happens in my town! A few miles from my house! Muncie, Indiana, July 26-28, 2012.

2.  MWW’s faculty this year includes a Pulitzer finalist, a paranormal romance YA author, four literary agents, a best-selling author of cozy mysteries, a poet/memoirist/indie publisher, and quite a few long-time editors and publishing professionals. Including Jane Friedman, who I’ve been following for three years (long before I moved to Muncie) and who I credit with saving my writerly butt from literary oblivion.

3.  MWW has been around for a long time: 39 years! Last year, I was on the faculty. This year, I’m the newest member of the Planning Committee. Some of the committee members have been working to make this conference happen for over 35 years. You can read more about the history here.

The Ball State Alumni Center.

4.  MWW is the only writers conference I know of that offers on-site, totally free “social media consulting”—a drop-in tutoring center where you can get your Facebook/Twitter/blogging act together.

5.  Veronica Roth, author of the best-selling, dystopian YA novel Divergent (which is really, really good) got her start at MWW. My fellow committee member Kelsey Timmerman also got his start at MWW. He attended a few years ago, pitched his idea to an agent, and thus his book became a reality: Where Am I Wearing: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes. There are many other success stories.  

6.  Remember when I wrote about how anxiety-inducing AWP is? Anxiety + Community = AWP. MWW, on the other hand, is small, intimate, encouraging—nothing at all like AWP. It’s open to anyone. You don’t have to apply to get in or secure a letter of recommendation.

7.  Remember when I wrote this post about how much I hate it when people ask me “How do I get published?” Well, here is your answer: Expand your circles! Get thyself to a writers’ conference! Here are a few other good reasons to go to a writer’s conference.

Jane Friedman, middle, and MWW director Jama Bigger, right

8.  If you read this blog because you teach creative writing, listen up. If you have strong students, don’t think that sending them to an MFA program is the only way to help them pursue their dream. Send them to MWW. Remember a few months ago, I asked, Should we make it our business to teach the business of creative writing? The response to that post was a resounding, Yes. Writers conferences are one way we can teach our students about the “biz.”

9.  If you read this blog because you’re an aspiring writer, listen up: I know you write and read and edit alone. You go online to find community and advice about what comes next. But you need to find community IRL. You need to stop Googling “How do I publish a book?” You need to fork out some dollars, because believe me, there’s nothing like spending some money to help you start taking yourself a little more seriously. You need to actually show up to an actual brick and mortar building where others like yourself have also shown up.

10.  I know I said this already, but this conference is in Indiana. Not in Boston or New York or even the bucolic Florida Keys. It’s in Muncie, Indiana. One reason why I left Indiana 20 years ago is that I believed you HAD to leave Indiana in order to be a writer (or an artist of any kind), but I came back two years ago because I wanted to help the next generation of Hoosier artists realize their dreams and become the people they want to be. When you’re poor or working class or live in a place where there isn’t a lot of literary activity, it’s not that easy to imagine yourself “becoming a writer.” That’s why bringing the publishing world to Indiana matters. A lot.

Will I see you there? This summer? Next summer for the 40th anniversary? I hope so. And do you know someone in the Midwest who wants to be a writer? Send them this link. Thank you.