Writer’s Toolbox

Ask The Writer

Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

I have a lot of creative writing classes under my belt, but I feel compelled to take more. At what point are classes no longer useful?

If you’re still challenged by the classes and you find you’re growing as a writer, why not continue? Generally speaking, good classes are a community of writers. They give you an opportunity to discuss writing with like-minded individuals who are thinking seriously about literature and the craft of writing. As a result, no two classes are exactly the same, even if lead by the same instructor. Different participants bring unique insights and individual concerns. Of course, different instructors can offer diversity in approach and share individual knowledge gained from experience. If the class includes a significant workshop component—and most writing classes do—you receive feedback on new work and consider other writers’ current works-in-progress. It’s a wholly unique experience each time. Discussion and feedback doesn’t have an expiration date. Many writers find them useful—in the classroom or in a more casual setting of their own design—for their entire career.

However, if you drag yourself to classes out of an obligation to your writerly self, but find they’re not doing much for your development, you might reassess. Consider what you’re hoping to get out of a class and what is missing in your recent experiences. You may crave a set of classes with a different philosophy. You may find you don’t need lectures on the craft, so much as opportunities to participate in guided discussions about great literature. If you’re looking for a more individualized learning experience, you might hire a manuscript editor or a private instructor. Or you may be at a point where you’re more deliberate about when and how you invite feedback. In that case, forming your own critique group with trusted writers might be useful and you can reach out to former classmates to start one.

The writer’s education can seem mysterious. There are so many choices. Some writers work toward a degree. Others take night classes from writing schools that don’t offer college credit. Still others travel to conferences and workshops, attending to the more formal learning process in weekend or week-long stints. But it’s important to remember that you’re learning every time you read thoughtfully, write, revise, give feedback, and consider feedback on your own work with an open mind. Careful guidance in these areas is valuable. Consider your current needs in order to make the decision that’s right for you.