Master Class

by Pari

For the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling with how to write about my experience in the writing master class I took in Oregon.

Short version:
Grueling, exhausting. Life changing, transformative.

Medium version:
Other than childbirth, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. And I know my writing and writing career changed forever the minute I committed to the process.

Long version:

This is where I get stumped. Where to start? Do I try to describe the schedule? It was basically boot-camp style – I kid you not. Daily classes from 10 am – 1:30 or 2 pm. Go work on assignments. Eat. Classes from 7 pm to 11 or later. Go work on assignments. To bed between 1:30 (really, really early) and 4 am. Get up by 8:30. Shower, shake the cobwebs off. Have breakfast and start all over again. Fourteen days solid. 

Do I talk about the technique and style & content exercises we did to improve craft and to study writing genius on a daily basis? Do I talk about the short stories we wrote that stretched every single one of us so far and hard that we can never look at ourselves in the same way again? Have you ever written a 10,000+-word story in less than 72 hours while going to at least 8 hours of classes daily and having other assignments as well? What about the anthology we had to create with stories we – and former class participants – wrote? We were given a word count, budget and payment guidelines and three days to go through more than 100 stories to create a table of contents and then be able to defend the decisions we made. Boy, does that give a person perspective on an editor’s life.

Do I discuss the overwhelming amount of information we got on business – how to read contracts, copyright; the history of the publishing industry; the game we “played” that simulates the life of a writer over the course of 8 years—complete with bad and good life events, books and short stories sold; the lectures on strategies to really earn a living; the cautions about shooting yourself in the foot? Do I talk about the pitches and proposals we wrote for new novels (I hadn’t gone to the class with any ideas and came back with many viable ones)—sometimes several a day?

Do I try to recount all the myths about craft and business that we writers live with and promote . . . and the way the instructors blasted so many I can’t even begin to remember them all?

Do I spend hours pouring over the two full notebooks of notes I took to try to give a hint of everything that we did and learned during those fourteen days?

The problem is, I’m still stunned. Really.


The instructors told us it would take months before we realized some of what we learned, that years later we’d be surprised with the insights we’d acquired without realizing.

So . . .

Here I stand. Altered. And unsure just how deep those lessons went in.

Before I stop this lengthy host, please indulge me. I want to give a shout out to the Kip, Misty, Amy and the others at the Anchor Inn in Lincoln City. If you want a writer-friendly place to stay, go there. Just go.

Now for the main instructors: Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Rusch, Loren L. Coleman, Phaedra Weldon, Christina York, Shelly McArthur (Yes! Shelly from the Mystery Bookstore in LA; he’s landed in Lincoln City and has a wonderful bookstore there: North by Northwest), Ginjer Buchanan, John Douglas (there were also several local writers who helped with the class and served as acquiring editors for our pitches in the game; I’m sorry I don’t know all of their names.)

And watch for books and short stories from my fellow classmates who are among the most dedicated and talented writers I know: Mike Jasper, Susan Wingate, Darren Eggett, Kamila Miller, Bob Sojka, Carolyn Nicita, Jane Killick, Ryan Williams, Thea Hutcheson, Paul Tseng, Michael Bellomo, Mario Milosevic, Brenda Carre.

Today my question to you is simple: Have you ever attended an intensive class or workshop that left you altered for life?


35 thoughts on “Master Class

  1. Chris Hamilton

    I’m doing my first writers workshop this winter. It’s east of Orlando and I’m in Tampa. Every other Tuesday evening. I tend not to sleep all that well so I’m sacrificing some of that to the caffeine that will keep me from being sleepy on the drive back. Four to five hours of driving time every other Tuesday. On I-4, the place reasonable commutes go to die. It’s really an answer to the question of "How much do you want it?"

    Oh, and there’s the j-o-b and the kids and the wife and all the other things that constitute life. But I did one brief session with this woman the second day of the Florida Writers Conference, and it was the best thing I ever wrote, opening up a new approach I’d never considered.

    I really, really want it.

    Glad for your good experience. Maybe after I start generating a little income, I can do something a little more intense like that.

  2. Simon Larter

    Well, the first fiction writing course I took after 15 years away from the craft lit the fire in me and resulted in my first sale, so I’d classify that as life-altering. Not nearly as grueling as that master class, though. Whoa!

  3. Chris Hamilton

    Pari, in a future blog post, could you go through in a little details how you happened to pick this particular workshop. Workshops aren’t cheap and your insights on separating the good from the bad would be really useful.

  4. pari noskin taichert

    Not everyone needs this kind of kick in the pants . . .

    Wow. That’s a lot of driving. I’m glad you’ve found a teacher you believe in, one who’ll inspire you.
    And, yes, I’ll write about how I decided on this workshop; that’s a good topic for my next blog. Thank you!

  5. pari noskin taichert

    This was one of those "if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger" classes. Almost killed me.

    I’ve never done another writing class anything close to this . . . didn’t take creative writing in college, didn’t attend writing conferences (to speak of) etc.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    I’ve heard that about Book Passage. Your work there also lead to some really meaningful contacts.
    The class I took was different in a couple of ways, mainly it wasn’t mystery focused and we hardly had any time to socialize or even get to know our teachers since we were working pretty much every minute we were awake. Oooph.

    Yeah. That sounds pretty darn life changing to me.
    And I don’t think there ARE any other classes out there that would be as intense as what I did. AND the boot camp/super packed approach absolutely wouldn’t suit many other people.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I sooo want to do this workshop! I’ve never done anything like it, but I want my life to be filled with such experiences. Thank you for introducing us to this, Pari.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    If you’re serious, let me know off list and I’ll send you the info. I’m not sure they’re going to do another class; it takes a lot out of the instructors too. If they do, it’ll probably be in 2011. For now and 2010, they’re doing shorter classes.

    I’ve met people who’ve taken some of those other, shorter/smaller classes, and overall they’ve felt they were useful. However, the biggie was the only one that appealed to me because of my life situation with family etc. I wanted as much as I could possibly get — filled to the gills — in as little time as possible . . .

  9. Allison Brennan

    Wow. That sounds amazing. I haven’t taken any specific writing classes since I was a junior in high school and took Creative Writing. But two weeks? OMG, I think my head would explode. Shorter classes would fit in far better. But I know I have a lot to learn, and I particularly want to learn more about short stories so if you hear of a short story class, pass it along!

  10. Louise Ure

    Judy Greber’s "Eight Weeks to Stronger Fiction" was my epiphany. But geez, Pari, I don’t think I could have kept up with your manic schedule here. It’s for young bones, methinks.

  11. billie

    Pari, the interesting thing to me is that on Dean Wesley Smith’s blog, his description of what you just lived through sounds like he is as stunned as you – which makes me think it must be REALLY good if the instructors put that much of themselves into it with the participants.

    I haven’t done anything remotely similar but would love to if I could make the travel work. I keep going back and looking at his schedule for 2010. I’m definitely intrigued and will hope for more from you about it.

  12. Merc

    Wow, that sounds intense but worth it. Thanks for sharing–will you have more insights on things in later blog posts as it all sinks in?

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah, two weeks is just this side of insanity. But there’s power in the cumulative experience. Today I spoke at a book club and someone asked me if I’d do the class again. Without a pause, I said, "NO!"

    I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity AND am incredibly grateful that it’s over. <g>.

  14. pari noskin taichert

    Believe me, my bones aren’t that young! But the oldest participant there was in his mid 60s, I think, and he didn’t have to be carted away on a gurney or anything.

    I would’ve loved to do Judy’s workshop. I bet she’s a stupendous teacher. To be located close to her would be such a boon.

  15. pari noskin taichert

    Everyone was looking pretty darn ragged by the end of the class.

    The funny thing was the "party" on the last night. It started at 5:30 with dinner. By seven, several of the class participants were asleep on the couches. I closed down the festivities at, what?, 10 pm. Heh heh. Talk about a wild bunch.

    Contact me off list about the classes, if you’re interested. I can give you more details– as I understand them — and insights.

  16. Marianne

    HI Pari,
    The ‘holy hell, am I up for that creatively and physically?’ factor has stopped me short of applying for the Clarion Writers Workshops that happen in both hemispheres annually. If I could put EVERYTHING on hold for a month and gear myself up with extra sleep and some of my ideas notebooks, I might be ready for something like that. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Ginger and Kris Rusch are friends of ours. I keep Ginger in koala things and we see Kris every so often at conventions and writerly do’s.

    Glad you had a great time…it will continue to affect for some time to come. 😀

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I am so happy that you had such a great experience, Parii! One (just one) miraculous thing about this job is that we have the opportunity for life-changing writing intensives all the time. I am at the moment in a mansion on the beach in an island off Charleston, teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop in a week-long retreat,

    It is life-altering whether you teach or take. It opens the door to the whole universal unconscious. I am always changed, during and after. Friends for life. Ideas for life.

    We are so lucky to do what we do.

  18. JT Ellison

    Pari, I’m so glad you have such a transformative time.

    I personally shy away from taking classes or doing workshops, simply because I don’t want to mess up my voice. It took me too long to get here after my college debacle. But a writer’s retreat, up in the mountains, with breakfast and lunch delivered to my door and evening conviviality – that would be spectacular.

  19. Nancy Laughlin

    Donald Maass and Free-Expression’s Writing the Breakout Novel Intensive changed my life. I kept hearing that my novels were episodic and not "new" without really understanding what that meant. Then I heard about Donald.
    I have now attended three of the week long intensives, and I learn/absorb more everytime I go. I no longer hear that my novels are episodic and I feel I now have a strong chance of getting published (with luck this next year).
    These intensives are also full days, though not quite as grueling as the master class. We have class in the mornings, exercises and one-on-one meetings in the afternoon and more classes or critique sessions in the evenings usually ending around 10 to 10:30.
    Another benefit, we do have time for socializing, and I’ve made some life long friends this way!


  20. pari noskin taichert

    I think it would an extraordinary experience to take a week-long class from you. And what you say about learning from your students is very true. That’s one of the joys of teaching.

    And you’re right about how incredibly fortunate we are!

  21. pari noskin taichert

    I took only one writing class in college and that was enough. This workshop didn’t touch my "voice" — if anything it helped me find it more truly. Working on craft so that you’re even more capable of writing what you want to write, is, to me, quite different than what you probably went through in college.

    But, I have to say, the image of having others feed me and me just get to write all day for a couple of weeks sounds about as close to heaven as it’s possible to find on this earth.

    And JD . . . I’m so sorry . . .

  22. pari noskin taichert

    Those workshops sound like just the bill for you. How wonderful.

    As to socializing . . .
    we didn’t have much time for it, that’s true, but when you’ve been through something like we went through you can’t help but bond on a profound level. I’m in touch with everyone of my classmates through an active listserv and we’re continuing to encourage each other, to share publishing information and opportunities and to keep the flame of change burning bright.

  23. BCB

    There have been a small handful of workshops/lectures that have drastically altered my writing. Or more accurately, my understanding of the writing process. Major lightbulb moments, if you will. (Alex’s online class was one of them.) But something that left "me" altered for life? No.

    Pari, you’re a far braver and stronger woman than I. Glad you survived to tell about it. I’d like to hear more, once you’ve digested things a bit.

  24. pari noskin taichert

    I think I’ll be struggling with how to describe the experience for quite some time. I hope to be able to examine pieces of it when things settle down.


    Maybe not so much as quietly, desperately, bonkers.


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