Today I am very lucky to have the chance of a twosome Tuesday, because I have at least two topics to write about. It is November, so everybody guessed it already: NaNoWriMo and NovPAD would be my two things. Quite right, yet, not quite.
The first thing I plan to discuss is my participation in the F2K free writing course, held at the WWU. That course was suggested to the Wordsmith Studio community by Rebecca Barray, who had already taken part in it and highly recommended it. As it was free and demanded nothing in return, I decided to give it a try. Of course, such a decision is never a simple thing with me. I rarely step down from the course of action I have decided upon, so making a decision is very similar to concluding a binding contract for me. A contract between me and who know whom, binding to me mainly.
The F2K course takes part several times a year and lasts for 7 weeks. In this particular session, the schedule started on Sept. 19th. Each Wednesday a Lesson is posted comprising theory on a particular aspect of the art of writing, together with a writing exercise to be accomplished as part of the Lesson. Each attendant then reads and studies the Lesson very carefully and writes a text in answer to the exercise. Attendants are divided into different Classrooms, have a mentor and an intern to guide them and answer their question and some extracurricular activities offered as part of the programme.
At first I had to find my way round the site and spent some time to make friends. There is a Wall, similar to the one on Facebook, there are Groups, Friends, Direct Messages and the option to “expose” yourself by posting pictures and videos. You can chat to friends of yours who are online and see others’ activities on the Wall. You may “like” and/or comment. Everybody involved gets notifications about all related activities. That happens in the Play section.
In the Work section, the attendants take part in the Forums. There is a Caf?, where I went only once due to lack of time, a Support Forum to address all issues technical, and a Creative Lounge, where additional prompts are posted, in case writers have spare time and strength to practice more after they have posted their Lessons. I visited the place a couple of times, all before the end of Week 3, but never really got down to writing to the prompts.
Initially, I was worried I won’t be able to follow. Then, I learned that once a Lesson is posted by the Headmaster on Wednesday, we have all the week till next Tuesday to write our own Lesson. Only that. There were some additional activities, such as optional Warm-up exercises based on a book we could buy and the Global Chats, which were scheduled way beyond my time zone, so I never bothered.
The hub of activity is feedback. The entire course is held on it. The classroom mentor only gives feedback in Weeks 1 and 2, and that not to all participants. After that, if you want your mentor’s feedback, you have to pay a small fee. It is really a small amount, so were I in the States, I’d most probably have paid it and enjoyed the benefit of our mentor. As it was, I mainly practiced after consciously reading and learning some theory on the art of writing. As a first time, that was enough.
At first, we all needed to write an introductory post and then give feedback to each and every one of our classmates. That is the rule. During that first session I managed to count 25 participants in our classroom. I was overwhelmed with the perspective to have to give feedback to so many people, after actually having read what they’ve written. That seemed time-consuming. Besides, after receiving some feedback for Prompt 1, I started feeling that the course was useless. Most people would just say: “Oh, great. Good job. You’ve done a perfect job with this one.” I received a couple of neutral ones, like: “It could flow better, but overall it’s OK.” What I craved for was feedback from our mentor for the first prompt and for Lesson 1. When I saw her giving feedback to each participant in the turn of their posting, I was sure that would be the case for those first weeks. Sadly, she never chose to comment on my texts. So, when Lesson 2 came and promised to be very time-consuming, I was halfway out of the course. I was so disappointed and angry that I couldn’t help sharing my resignation. My wall-posts got immediate answers, most certainly kindled by the general policy of this place to try and appease all rebels, variance of opinions, etc. After all, that is a friendly and supportive community, and not a fighting ground.
All of a sudden, time passed and my classmates who would post their Lessons became fewer and fewer. It was becoming easier to give feedback. Another all of a sudden, it turned out that the rule of “proper giving feedback” in our classroom was not giving feedback to each and every one Lesson assignment posted there. Somewhere along the way, our mentor said we need to give feedback “to at least three Lesson assignments”, which I easily accomplished. There was a participant who would receive many comments, and I was always looking for less-commented posts, so I would spend my time on not popular posts, and sometimes couldn’t fined the time to get to his posts. And, to be honest, he wrote very interesting texts.
Another routine is that one Lesson per classroom is selected for the F2K Ezine. I never made it there. I really hoped to appear in the Ezine and made sincere efforts in Lesson 1, which I loved most of all, because it was all about me.
The only thing I wrote from scratch was my first Optional Prompt and Lesson 1 and 2 assignments. For all the rest, I happened to have ready texts. I must admit that, the first short fiction I wrote was after the April Platform-building Challenge, when I decided to develop an Editorial Calendar. When I did that, I had some idea what topic I would write to on particular days, so for some time I would write flash fiction, instead of blog posts. The very first one I wrote, Twisted Minds for the #TwistedTuesday stream, was the one I chose for Lesson 3 when we had to re-write a paragraph from a different POV. Then I would use another, and then another of my pieces which I edited and polished in order to fit the assignment. Some classmates chose to follow a certain theme or to use the same characters throughout, usually the character who did the initial introduction. I chose to follow a different path and use different stories, in order to show what I am able of and receive feedback to the various aspects of my writing. Week by week, the feedback became more useful and to the point. That was mainly a result from the Headmaster’s instructions, as he included specific questions to consider for each task.
Overall, I found the exercise useful. I didn’t write anything new, but I managed to take a new angle viewing my fiction. For example, I found it was not so dull and uninteresting, as I thought it was. I actually intended to edit and work on some of it further and see what happens.
The main problem with this particular course was the partial uselessness of feedback. I say partial, because from time to time a classmate would post really helpful opinion of my texts. Yet, the tendency is different. Normally, your classmates would only tell you what they liked in your piece, but very rarely what they don’t. I did no different, of course. Being aware of my own poor quality as a writer, I never dared to express the real issues I would see. Several times I read awfully written stories, and yet kept a neutral to positive tone. That problem is best overcome when you pay for Mentor’s Support, so you are sure to receive line-by-line feedback from at least one person. A couple of times I ran into misunderstandings because of feedback and it was really awkward.
I am still unsure what to think of the course and the perspective of taking it again. Most probably, I’ll try it again. Maybe next time I’ll join a session at another time of the year. The final week of F2K free writing course starting in September coincided with the first week of November, so it got somewhat assimilated in the new challenges. The possibility of joining the WWU is also very attractive, as it holds creative writing courses which have amazing annotations.
Now, briefly of NovPAD
This is my third time. That is the first event I joined in my early months on Twitter, which led me to become part of a supportive and friendly poetry community. Gradually, I made friends, we started visiting our blogs, participating in other prompt-challenges and got involved in a group to share and comment each others’ celebrations and lamentations. The NovPAD holds a special charm for me, as it coincides with my other great challenge, that really helped me start writing and fully realize my not-all-conscious desire to develop as a writer. I have been building myself as an author for two steady years now and looking back, I can see the long way I have come and a larger portion of the whole picture. My greatest acknowledgment came as my prompt was selected by Robert Lee Brewer to kick off the NovPAD challenge. I was overwhelmed by all the positive reactions and the “thank yous” I received for an excellent prompt. Considering that it came just a day after my first short story, “Diamonds Below the Agulhas Negras”, was published in the Snake-Oil Cure, I had almost a week of praise and hails on FB, Twitter and on my blog. In that way, NovPAD is still a very special event for me and I am really attached to it. I’m not sure how it will end, but I have liked the month of November very well so far.