With Writing 201 wrapping up, take this week to reflect, bookmark tips and takeaways, and connect with others interested in workshopping further.
Congratulations to the participants who recently completed Writing 201: Finding Your Story! Over the past four weeks, we loved reading and being part of conversations about writing in the Commons, and seeing you offer feedback to fellow writers.
Writing 201 Workshops
With four workshop-style lessons published over a month — and no official assignments — this latest Blogging U. offering was loose and self-directed, and we encouraged you to absorb the material at your own pace, rewrite on your own time, and share your work throughout the week.
We wanted Writing 201 to be practical and relevant. With a focus on angles, hooks, moments, and scenes — rather than traditional craft topics like point of view and character development — we wanted to help you improve posts you’re writing right now, no matter your topic or genre. We also wanted you to think critically about your work: to view your writing up close and from afar — and to figure out what makes you you, or what makes your subject unique.
A final week in the Commons
This week, the Commons will remain open so you can finish up your discussions, bookmark and follow the blogs of fellow writers, and connect with others who might be interested in creating workshop groups.
Some ideas to consider:
- Form a small workshop group and create a collaborative blog (which you can make private) to share drafts, before publishing on your own sites.
- If you don’t want to create or join a workshop group but still want to engage with Daily Post readers, dip into the Community Pool, which we host each Sunday.
- If you want to branch out into a different community, consider an online writing group like Scribophile.
Other ways you can gather feedback:
- Contributor user role: if you know and trust the bloggers you’re working with, add them to your blog as contributors so they can preview your drafts before you publish them (note that the contributor role is restricted — contributors can’t edit or publish posts, nor upload media).
- Request Feedback tool: Send a feedback request and secret link to a draft to anyone using the Request Feedback tool, and compile comments right in your dashboard.
- Skype: With this communication tool, chat in real time — one-on-one or in groups — via voice or text. Forward a draft to others, and then schedule a virtual workshop time.
Apply Writing 201 on your own
The best thing about this course? You can revisit these workshops again and again. Each lesson is packed with ideas and tips, which you can apply to any piece you work on in the future. If you’re stuck on a personal essay, return to Krista’s thoughts on finding your unique angle. If you need help with your opening, revisit Michelle’s words of wisdom on intros and hooks.
We ordered the four workshops in a certain way, but can use the material as you see fit. Perhaps you don’t need help on your introduction, but hope to tease out a key moment. Or maybe you’re experimenting with your first short story and want to jump directly to Ben’s tips on setting a scene. Dip in however you like — you’ll always be able to revisit Writing 201 in the Blogging U. section of The Daily Post.
Angle, hook, moment, scene: tips at a glance
While we recommend diving into each workshop individually when looking for inspiration, here’s a cheat sheet of questions and takeaways from each week:
What’s your take on a topic? How do you differentiate your story from every other comedy, tragedy, memoir, or quest? The answer is in the specific angle you use to tell your tale.
- What makes you you?
- What’s your take on a common topic?
- What original details do you see in your story?
- Mine your own personal history: find fodder in childhood experiences, dreams, fleeting encounters, and interests.
- Identify new details and angles by looking closely at familiar items.
- Use objects as a way “in” to your stories.
Your opening lines are your first chance to hook readers — or to lose them. How do you command a reader’s attention from the beginning?
- Craft a compelling opening: what is the key question your readers can’t refuse, asked in a way only you can?
- Think about your favorite movies for inspiration. How do they begin? What’s the opening shot?
- Pick up one of your favorite books. Read the first paragraphs, and translate the authors’ lines into a question or two.
- Consider different formats: simple, shocking statements. Paragraphs rich with detail, but without giving away too much. Descriptions of mood. An introduction to a character’s voice.
- Don’t start from the very beginning; don’t bury the lede.
- Length means nothing: a great opening can have more than sixty words. Or just six.
Sometimes the meat and heart of a post is misplaced. How do you pinpoint your story’s “aha!” moment? What are things to think about when considering the structure of your piece?
- View all of your writing — from drafts to published work — as eternal works-in-progress. “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
- Present a big idea by zooming in and thinking small.
- Consider universal themes: personal and emotional takes on topics like loss, death, friendship, family, and love always garner responses because readers can relate.
- Take cues from the art of filmmaking and consider plot points of your favorite films: does your own piece have a cinematic moment?
- Tear your work apart (literally): print your piece, cut it up into paragraphs, and move parts around. Split up your story to see what you have — and what’s missing.
- Consider the best structure for your piece: chronological or thematic?
- Follow in the footsteps of master writers: use notes, outlines, charts, diagrams, and other tools to sketch out your story.
Take a step back to look at the big picture: how do you transform a meaningful moment into a scene that can anchor your entire post?
- Scene-building isn’t a step restricted to fiction. The best nonfiction is rich with scenes.
- Drama is at the heart of a scene: human drama requires a minimum of one person — preferably someone your readers care about.
- Make sure your characters are rooted in space — somewhere with a specific set of spatial features.
- Something always happens in a scene — some discrete unit of narrative energy must be spent.
- How much do you show? How much do you tell? It’s a balance, and we recommend “writing with a spoon in your hand” — keep tasting, correcting, and adjusting.
- Inserting a scene: where does it go in your post? Play around with the position (and always re-read a post in its entirety after making structural edits like this).
Again, thanks to all Writing 201 participants — your enthusiasm for writing is contagious. We look forward to running our next Blogging U. courses in September!