When I said I was prepared to leave my comfort zone, I had not anticipated Dallas traffic. I headed there last Sunday for a week-long class on Writing Enchanting Prose with David Farland. The long drive was uneventful until that last hour, and then I thought I might die. Though I personally almost caused two accidents, nobody honked, so I guess that’s a plus? Exciting times.
Two things I’m relatively good at are setting goals and solving problems. My goal is to write a novel, and at least one problem is my prose. This course was an excellent start on the solution. We started Monday morning bright and early with everyone wearing clean clothes, energetic, and on their best behavior. The clean clothes probably repeated until the end of the week.
Monday morning was difficult. One of the first exercises involved comparing a sample of our work with the start of one of our favorite books. I selected Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I love the prologue and I thought it was a safe bet with other fantasy writers. It was not surprising to find he can write better than me, but I was surprised I could not pronounce the word “obligator” when we also read the first two pages of our selection out loud.
It went downhill from there, at least internally. My classmates all use much prettier language than I do, which isn’t hard considering my idea of poetry at the day job consists of using correlation and causation in the same sentence. (They aren’t the same thing FYI.)
Our next exercise involved writing at least three paragraphs, moving from kinetic to audio to visual descriptions. This should not have been difficult. I rewrote an existing scene so the hour could have been filled with frantic typing. Instead, there was a lot of frantic staring at a blinking cursor and blank screen before finally banging out 185 words. Then, just for fun, we read those out loud.
Two summers ago, I went on a guided backpacking trip in the Rocky Mountains. The rest of my small group was very fit, and we set a blistering pace the first day. I fell down, ran out of breath while walking, and thought I was going to freeze to death when I went to sleep that night. If it hadn’t been six miles back down with nowhere to go once there, I might have quit. Monday felt a lot like that first day of the backpacking trip.
Here’s the awesome thing about heading outside your comfort zone though – I knew what was happening. The friends I sent frantic texts to knew what was happening. We knew what came next. Change the goal to a less aggressive timeline if you must, but put one foot in front of the other until the end. There’s no turning around so sometimes you just drop your head and charge forward, figuring if you fall down some more it’ll at least make for an epic story.
The shift in perspective made the homework slightly more manageable, and by Tuesday I was cruising along with almost 600 words in our in-class exercise. They were a significant improvement over the words in a similar scene I’d written in my second draft.
My classmates and instructor were amazing and supportive in addition to being excellent, making the rest of the week far less stressful than that first day. It was fantastic to find like-minded people, full of ideas and resources I’d never considered.
Reading out loud remained stressful. I’ve been on a stage in front of dozens of members of the executive leadership in my company, and I was not half as terrified as I was reading my work aloud in class. After reading on Thursday, I was so cold I shivered like I was sitting under an air conditioning vent. We took a break right after, and I chatted with another student in the (also too cold) bathroom. I couldn’t recall if she’d read, or what she’d read, that morning. I didn’t know who had read at all. My mind was empty. The adrenaline dump was real.
The week chugged along with lecture, one or two exercises each day, and homework each night. We learned about hooks, setting, dialogue, and narrative along with unexpected topics like hypnosis. If you’re on the fence about attending one of David’s classes, consider this a strong recommendation to attend. You’ll get over reading out loud and learn a lot in the process.
We put all we learned into our final homework exercise last night, a combination of all of the earlier lessons. We headed to dinner early so we’d have the whole night to write. I returned to my room, settled in, and then had to leave. Bugs had made it through the window during the day and while it wasn’t that big of a deal and the hotel staff was fantastic, they still gave me a new room. An hour later, I settled down again. And stared at the blinking cursor and blank page for several hours before giving up and heading to bed.
Writers will tell you inspiration strikes at the oddest times, like when you’re drifting off and suddenly decide to add a dragon to a story you’re not even working on yet. I emailed myself the plan and then woke early to try again. I even had time to eat breakfast.
Friday was another outstanding day, and I can’t wait to read my classmates’ finished products. They were all truly excellent and enjoyable to hear. I’ve linked to one of the authors below as she has some work published. Go give her books a look!
Exhausted, I spent the evening staring at YouTube videos and then ate all the food with friends on Saturday. Revisions for my third draft/revision start this week, so I need to make sure I’m well fueled. It is time.
This is an experience I’d repeat in a heartbeat. Consider taking a writing class with David if you’ve also forgotten what a classroom looks like. But perhaps avoid driving in Dallas. They have a lot of people!