06/17/2013 04:50 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2013

My First Gotham Writing Class

Being a new member of the real world (I just graduated college last year), I have been trying to find ways to keep my interests alive. I no longer have my school newspaper or club basketball team to meet new people and enjoy my hobbies. So, I decided to take a writing class in NYC. After weeks of researching different programs, I decided to take a Fictional Writing course at Gotham Writing.

I showed up to the class 30 minutes early, as they had instructed. It was being held in a high school classroom, so I eased myself into the small, wooden chair that I had forgotten about many years ago. People started to trickle in, and I was surprised to see all different kinds of people. First, there was an older woman who wouldn't look at me when I said "hello" -- typical New York. Then, a couple of younger Indian girls trickled in, some middle-aged men who looked completely disheveled (who were probably real writers), and one guy that was in a suit. There was also a larger black woman that limped as she walked and made all kinds of noises as she sat down. No one seemed to know each other, or care to meet one another. They came in with their heads down and found the closest open seat.

Just as everyone sat down, our teacher finally came into the room. She wrote her name on the chalk board just like our substitute teachers used to do when we were in grade school. She was an older woman that looked like she had nothing to do with being a creative writer. Immediately, though, she let us know her history -- which was that she had a book published by Penguin a few years ago and has since become a judge on almost every writing contest you can think of. We immediately respected her.

Our teacher first took us through a few basic exercises, where she would say a phrase and we would have to write about it. For example, "I knew I was in trouble when." If we so desired, we could read aloud to the class. If not, we could simply move on to the next exercise. We went over plot, character, description and the art of actually getting published. She had a packet of information to go from, and everything was organized nicely. I couldn't help wondering throughout the whole class, though, "Was this really worth my entire Saturday and $150 of my entry-level salary?"

In the end, I realized that it was my classmates' dialogue that I really got something out of. While everyone walked in seeming as though they had nothing to say, mere minutes into the class showed that everyone came prepared to converse. We were asked to introduce ourselves and where we were at in our writing career. One of the older women told us that she was thinking about retiring to become a writer, and wanted to learn a few more skills. The guy in the suit told us that he was an advertising planner at an agency and just looking to make some quick money with writing (we all quickly led him away from that notion). And the black woman who was making all kinds of noises when she entered told us that she had a serious health scare last year and now has to walk with a limp and remind herself how important every single day is. There were song writers, nurses, novelists, and unemployed people mixed together, and we all seemed to have the same desire to learn the basics.

Here a few notes I walked away with:

The Preferred Length
  • Novel: 300-350 pages
  • Short Story: 15-20 pages
Habits of Highly Successful Writers
  • Create a schedule: make a habit of it. Our teacher told us that she gets up at 5 a.m. every day so that she can write uninterrupted by her day.
  • Write about what's important to you. What do you stay up late at night thinking about?
  • Dream about the potential. If you can't dream it, you can't achieve it.
  • Read, Read, Read. For every hour you spend writing, you should be reading for 30 minutes. You have to learn from those before you.
Exercise to Try at Home:
  • Take a book that you love and appreciate the way it was written -- something that you flew through and could follow easily. Then, dissect that novel by creating a notecard for each chapter of that book. Write what happened so that you could follow the succession of events by flipping through the notecards.
  • Then, when you go to write your own novel, you have an idea of how much should happen in each chapter. "There's no need to recreate the wheel."

Overall, I would highly recommend spending your time in a writing class if it's something you're interested in doing. While the class felt boring at times (and honestly, I wondered why I signed up to be in school on the weekend), I learned more than I realized at the time. Now that I spend my time doing these exercises and reading constantly, I am continually reminded of the information and tips I picked up in that class. I learned new people, cultivated my passion and learned something in the process.