I don’t have a master’s degree in creative writing. Having already finished a Ph. D, I know that a degree is not a guarantee of competency or of the quality of instruction received. There is nothing a degree can teach you that cannot be learned on your own. The value in courses is not merely in the material, but in the ability to ask questions and get feedback.
Feedback is important in developing most skills, but even more so in writing. With golf, your score is a measure of your success, and you don’t have to be a genius to know whether your cooking tastes awful. Writing provides an experience to the reader, one that the writer cannot emulate with their own work because—having been the ones to conceive it—their own mental image is tainted. Critique groups are helpful, but can also be destructive or misleading since most in the group won’t know any more than you do. So this was my dilemma. Where could I go to get good instruction, be able to ask questions, and get meaningful feedback?
I’d heard about intensive workshops like Clarion and Odyssey, and some day I might pursue one of those, but with two children and a full time job, I don’t have the time to take several weeks away from my family or work. There is no shortage of online courses or people willing to take your money to make you a better writer, and I am skeptical of almost all of them. However, when I heard both Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells laud David Farland as the most influential professor in their writing degrees, I decided to give some of his online courses a try.
I took two courses with David Farland, The Story Puzzle and Writing Mastery I. It is these experiences that I want to share.
First of all, the promise. My Story Doctor promises three things with each of these courses:
- Video lectures.
- Personal feedback from David.
- Weekly conference calls.
Let’s look at each of these.
The Story Puzzle provided around seven hours of video lectures, while Writing Mastery I provided only one. The content is good even if the production quality is a little dated. I’d read A LOT of writing books before taking these courses as well as watching Brandon Sanderson’s BYU course multiples times (remember Brandon took the same BYU course from Dave when he was a student), so the material didn’t offer any great surprises for me. Even so, it is presented solidly and if you’ve never dug into the details of the writing craft very much, it provides a great foundation. When I signed up, the site also offered a free copy of David Farland’s book, Million Dollar Outlines, which was a good reference for a lot of the stuff covered in the lectures.
Personal Feedback from David
The Story Puzzle had seven assignments and Writing Mastery I had eight. Not all the assignments are actual prose, but together they provided 15 opportunities to get my work and ideas critiqued by someone who really knows what they’re doing. The comments aren’t verbose, but they are pointed, offering both a combination of useful suggestions and encouragement. Overall, I was very happy and heartened by the feedback I received.
Weekly Conference Calls
I think these alone are worse the price of admission. Seriously. I’ve seen twenty minute and half-hour sessions with agents and editors auctioned for hundred of dollars. Here, you get hours of Q&A spread out over months (I actually still get meeting invites in spite of having finished the courses). The calls work through an application like Skype. Questions are submitted by text, and Dave answers each one in order until the time is up. There aren’t a huge number of people on these calls, usually a dozen or so, and you can get in several questions each time. Questions cover both writing and the industry in general.
David Farland has a resume that can’t be questioned. He has successfully published many books and has no shortage of professional writers who both benefited from his teaching and sing his praises. For anyone looking to dip their toes into the waters of online writing courses, I can recommend these ones without reservation.
David Farlands website can be found at: www.mystorydoctor.com