Sometimes I have the pleasure of being one of the professional writers teaching a writers’ workshop at a science fiction/fantasy convention such as ArmadilloCon (Austin) or ApolloCon (Houston). If you aspire to write science fiction, fantasy or horror, this kind of workshop is a good idea for you. Not every writing class or workshop welcomes speculative fiction!
Teaching creative writing through the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The participants in my classes have taught me so much about writing fiction and creative nonfiction. Speculative fiction is definitely welcome in my writing classes! So are other types of genre fiction, and so is inspirational writing. I’ve been teaching at the Glasscock School for Continuing Studies, with an emphasis on speculative fiction, since (appropriately enough!) 2001.
In 2016 I created and taught a class I called Publishing Your Story: Pathways and Pitfalls. It addressed the reality that aspiring authors today face a confoundingly complex situation. There are many paths to publication—traditional New York publishing; independent presses and co-ops, some of which are keeping up with the digital times better than the New York publishers; partner publishing with companies which profit from author services, not book sales; and self-publishing, in which some authors are finding great success. But each of these pathways holds pitfalls for the unwary new writer. The class was designed to help participants with books they hoped to have published decide which publishing pathway to pursue. This class was also a good fit for anyone interested in the dramatic evolution of publishing and the potential it holds for current and aspiring writers.
- The History of Publishing
- Traditional Publishing: Pros(e) and Cons—the professional gatekeepers of traditional publishing (editors, agents, and reviewers); conferences and contracts; and the ongoing importance of books being well-written and professionally edited.
- New Paths in Publishing: micro-presses, co-ops, partner publishing, help for hire, do-it-yourself publishing—and predatory publishers too.
- Do-It-Yourself and the Digital Workshop—e-books and e-readers; the incredible digital tool kit for writers and independent publishers; the joy of self-publishing; and the downsides and dead ends of DIY.
- Failure to Promote is Not an Option—traditional, self-published, or anywhere in between, authors must get the word out about their books; and the writing world is full of good, bad, and badly outdated advice about that.
- Picking a Path—how to decide which way to go with your own book, how to know if it’s working, when to change course, and what the future may hold.
Some of the previous classes I’ve taught at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies and which were especially rewarding are listed below.
In Fall 2007 I taught Introduction to Short Story Writing. This was unexpected; the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies needed an instructor when the writer who taught that course in past years took a university teaching position elsewhere. It turned out to be a very rewarding course to teach, with wonderful participants having a whole range of interests in fiction. We covered beginnings; character and point of view; plot and pace; scene and setting; prose, tone and style; and revising. And as is so often the case with teaching any topic whatsoever, I learned as much as my students did.
In Spring 2007, I created a course on The Essential Art of Editing. For writers, knowing how to self-edit is a matter of professional life and death. Editing also happens to be a window into the marvelous and sometimes maddening world of publishing. This course was for aspiring writers and anyone else interested in how books and stories progress from writer’s draft to publisher’s polished product. It was a fun course, with a varied and impressive group of participants.
If you want to be a writer, you must learn to edit. Gone are the days when editors routinely shaped the inspired but ragged stories of writers who then became famous. Editors and agents now expect to see work that is almost ready to publish. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, books or short pieces and whether your ambition is to sell your work or write for personal satisfaction, this course will help you craft better prose and understand the intriguing process by which novels, books, short stories and articles come into the world.
- Why you don’t have to be a brilliant writer if you’re a good enough writer and editor
- Techniques, tips and tricks for editing
- How editing can fix a multitude of problems. How a good story heals from deep cuts.
- The editing end of the writing business: From queries and proposals to working with editors and copy editors
- Mutual editing: When writers critique each other. How writers become editors of their own publications.
- Better writing through technology: How word processors, e-mail and the Web are highly helpful – and potentially hazardous.
In Fall 2002 I inaugurated a writing course called Shaping your Story for the Rice University’s Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies. I was grateful to have this opportunity to engage the art and craft of writing stories. As above, if you want to learn, teach!
Whether you write fiction or creative nonfiction, articles or books, short stories or novels, certain rules of form apply. Following the rules of storytelling gives your story internal structure and external form so that it can truly come alive.
Many aspiring writers have a story that has been hard to write, impossible to finish, or just doesn’t seem to work. Class sessions included discussion and brief exercises. Objectives for participants included understanding the craft that makes a story enjoyable; writing a short story or article or planning a book that tells its story well; or fixing one that already exists but has proven to be unduly difficult to tame.
- Shaping a Storyline
- Shaping Scenes
- Shaping Character and Viewpoint
- Writing Prose With Color, Substance, and Texture
- Shaping It Up: Editing Your Story
- The Shape of Things to Come: Queries, Synopses, and Outlines
Introduction to Writing Science Fiction
In 2001 the School of Continuing Studies at Rice University asked me to teach a course on writing science fiction. I covered both how to write in this genre and its illustrious history. The bibliography ran to five pages. It gave me great pleasure to take a fresh and critical look at the classics that shaped the field.