“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
If you want to learn which words are the wrong words, take an online class. My online classes were taught by instructors who, themselves, are published writers, still submitting work, so the old adage that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” goes by the wayside. We were introduced to blog sites and online satire publishers that were open for submissions. We also heard from guest lecturers who had been featured in places like The New Yorker, The Onion, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the “Holy Grails” for satire writers.
The best thing about online classes is their accessibility. For the classes I took, lectures were posted online every Saturday. You had the flexibility to read or view the lesson at your convenience, which made it perfect for those who had day jobs or needed long naps. You could go back and review classes at any time. Classes were small, usually around 12 to 15 students, and lasted from four to six weeks. You got to know your fellow classmates, even though you were all working “remotely.” Because many of these classes are “on-demand,” you’re not on webcam: You can wear sweatpants. Or nothing at all. Also, the instructors I had were happy to answer questions; some even offered “office hours” for their students.
The second-best thing is the homework, which was given each week and due by the end of that week. We were expected to upload our completed writing assignments as if we were submitting to real online publications and required to provide feedback on our fellow students’ pieces. In addition, we developed an online resume, brief bio (to attach to our published pieces), and a website where we could showcase our work. We were also asked to develop a list of titles for future pieces, so we would never be at a loss for topics.
This was great: Instead of sitting back listening to someone pontificate while I played Fishdom on my phone, I actually had to write! Needing to have something to submit and having to critique others’ work was a great incentive, and I could have that first (or second) shot of tequila as a reward when I completed my assignment.
The class feedback is invaluable. I wasn’t surprised by the incredible work of my fellow students, but I was thrilled they thought my work was pretty good, too. A note about that: We were all instructed to maintain a safe space and always lead with what we liked about a piece. We were not to be mean or to provide advice that was unsolicited; we were merely to comment on what was working for us, what wasn’t, and what the writer might consider to improve their piece. In all classes, we were encouraged to rewrite our pieces, taking in the feedback from both our fellow classmates as well as from the teachers themselves.
While some classes can be expensive, there’s usually a discount offered, either by applying a code or paying early. In some cases, you can pay over time or apply for scholarships. I found most online classes to be reasonably priced, ranging from $25 for a single seminar to $195 for 4-6 week classes. If a particular class was too expensive, I looked for similar courses online that were cheaper or free. Google what you’re looking for (i.e., “satire writing classes” or “novel writing classes”) and see what comes up.
Emboldened, I branched out. I took more advanced classes from Second City. I signed up for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Story Summit’s Writing for the Hallmark Channel, and a novel writing workshop from Authors Publish. All were virtual. While these were a little more expensive, all offered some sort of discount to all students (by enrolling early or applying a discount code), the ability to review recorded sessions at my leisure, and opportunities to pitch, submit, or connect my work with agents, publishers’ reps, or groups of writers in my genre.
In classes, you start to connect with people who are just as enthusiastic as you are about writing humor and writing it well. Even though we were scattered across the country and from different backgrounds and age groups, we developed a camaraderie that continues all these months later. We follow each other on social media and welcome emails asking us to critique one another’s work. We also let each other know about fun classes to take, calls for content, and new sites open for submission. Being connected is a great way to network and navigate the publishing world.