Everyone has a story to tell. And we believe that anyone can learn to tell his or her story better.
Some people wonder if writing can be taught. Yes, of course, it can. We see this happening every day in our classes.
Writing is a craft, with time-tested principles such as how to show rather than tell or how to structure a story. When you learn to utilize these craft elements, your writing improves. And you should understand the basic principles of craft, even if you intend to do something unique or revolutionary, just as Picasso learned realism before he discovered a new way of painting.
People don’t normally question if carpentry or playing the piano can be taught. Writing is no different. Yes, there are intangibles involved—such as talent, inspiration, and determination—but these things can also be nurtured in the right environment.
Knowledge of writing craft is not out of reach, only available to those who have been anointed by the gods of Writing. You, too, are free to learn the tricks of the trade.
We aim to demystify the process, by teaching in a way that is clear, practical, and accessible. After each Gotham class session, you will know a few things you didn’t know before and you can immediately apply them to your work (with the understanding that you can spend a lifetime mastering these elements).
We recognize that people come to us for different reasons. They want to see their work published or produced, or stretch themselves creatively, or see where their writing leads, or simply gain the skills to communicate better.
If you have little or no writing experience, we can help get you started—learning the ropes, gaining confidence, developing good habits.
If you’re an experienced writer, we can provide the structure, instruction, and feedback you need to stay on track or lift your work to a higher level.
Everyone has a right to write, and we welcome all kinds of students. And because different students have different desires, we offer courses in a variety of lengths and levels.
True, you need time alone to write, but too much of it and you’re working in a vacuum. You might even go a little crazy. Writers need to be around other writers—for guidance, feedback, and encouragement. Plus, it’s more fun when you mix it up with others; you could even make friends.
Writing and learning, while not easy, should be fun. The act of creation requires some joy to take flight. And we keep our classes entertaining because ideas flow more freely and students feel more comfortable taking risks. When inspiration fades and frustration ensues, these gleams of light can keep you going.
Whatever your writing goal, it’s exciting to start work on a project, and even more so when you manage to finish a first draft. If you power through the highs and lows of several drafts (yes, multiple drafts are needed), then you will know the writer’s thrill of reaching the finish line.
There’s no magic formula to great writing. There’s no shortcut, either. Writing well requires a sound knowledge of craft along with dedication, patience, and hard work.
I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
We follow this maxim from Confucius, who lived in Ancient China and is considered one of the great teachers of all time. In our classes, we don’t just throw information at you and hope for the best. We let you engage with the learning process through hearing, seeing, and doing.
In our lectures, we illustrate the teaching points with examples so you can see the craft in action. And you also get to do, by putting the information you learn into practice through writing—in writing exercises and the projects you will be working on.
Our classes use the following teaching components:
Lectures – This is where information is laid out for you, be it principles of writing craft or explanations of how the business of writing works. The lectures aren’t stuffy or overly academic. Material is presented in a clear, accessible, practical manner—always illustrated with examples that bring the teachings to life. And the lectures are interactive, allowing for student discussion and questions.
Exercises – These are used as extensions of the lectures—writing exercises that let you immediately experiment with the concepts you have learned. They are given as homework assignments, upon which the teacher will offer feedback, (and in NYC classes they are also done as on-the-spot in-class exercises).
Lectures and exercises are used in all courses, with the exception of certain advanced courses. (For example, the Novel II course often does not use exercises, to allow more time for students to write, read, and critique.)
The 10-week Workshops all use workshopping:
Workshopping – Every week, several students submit work, following a schedule made at the outset of class. This is where students present their individual works-in-progress. (It’s fine to start class without knowing what your project is, and the workshopping does not begin until Weeks 3 or 4 in Level I classes.) The teacher offers feedback on your work, but so do the fellow students.
It can be intimidating, for both students new to this process and workshop veterans. But the workshop process is enormously beneficial for these reasons:
Don’t ever feel that you’re supposed to submit perfectly polished work to be critiqued. No, the workshop is where you come to learn how to strengthen your material, whether it’s an early rough draft or something you’ve worked on for a long while. If your writing were flawless, you would be going to a publisher or producer, not a Gotham class.
Nor should you feel insecure about your qualifications for offering feedback. Your instincts will serve you well, and each week you will be learning more and more about the craft of writing. If you were an expert on giving feedback, then you would be teaching for Gotham rather than participating as a student.
All Gotham 10-week Workshops—both in NYC and online—employ the Gotham “Booth" method for critiquing student work. The Booth provides a safe, structured, and supportive environment for the critique of your work, no matter what stage of development you’re at as a writer.
So what is the Gotham Booth? It goes like this. When critiquing student work, students must follow these Booth rules:
Every student must make one positive comment and one suggestion for improvement on the work (two comments apiece for online classes), with the positive comments coming first.
The positive comments point to what you’re doing right and give you the encouragement you need to keep at it. And just as “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," the positive comments make it easier to hear the criticism. The suggestions for improvement point to ways you might strengthen your work in future drafts. The balance of positive and critical comments lets you keep your head held high…and filled with ideas on how to move forward.
(The teacher also provides feedback on student work, but the teacher is allowed to give as many comments as he or she sees fit.)
Students must make new comments, rather than repeating the same comments over and over.
A great variety of comments gives you plenty of ideas to sift through when considering how to improve your work. You will then be the sole arbiter of which comments are helpful and which are not. It’s not possible to please everyone, and that is not your goal. Once you let the comments sink in, it will become clear which ones make the most sense to you. This rule also forces the students to dig deep with their comments, rather than just offering the first thing that comes to mind.
Students must make specific comments, rather than saying something vague such as “I liked it" or “It’s not to my taste." The more the comments relate to the elements of craft being learned, the better.
You can get unhelpfully vague comments from your family and friends at any time. But you need specific comments that will help you zero in on what’s working well, and what is working less well. If someone says, “I laughed, I cried, let’s get some pizza," that doesn’t help much. But if someone points to a passage that is overwritten or where the dialogue could use more subtext, that gives you something useful to work with.
The writer must listen in silence to the comments until the very end, at which time the writer is granted a few questions (but only questions, not statements).
Keeping silent forces you to really hear what’s being said. You don’t have to agree with all the comments, but give them all a respectful listen, letting them sink in, before you decide which ones to disregard. Also, when your work is published or performed, you won’t be hovering right by the reader or audience explaining the things they don’t like or understand. (“No, let me explain, the reason I put that there…") Your work must speak for itself.
If you wish to submit your work for group critique, then you must offer comments on the work of your fellow students.
If you’re getting comments, it’s only fair that you return the favor. And if you take the time to make thoughtful comments, others will be more likely to do the same for you. Also, perhaps the most valuable thing you will get from the workshop process is the development of your critical skills, which will allow you to be an objective and insightful editor of your own work. As we help each other write better, we become better writers ourselves.
The teacher will carefully monitor the Booth, ensuring that all students play by the rules and that the workshop process always stays safe, structured, and supportive.