Back to (Writing) School!

For several years, now, as I’ve pursued my love of fiction—as a writer rather than a reader—I’ve taken lots of classes, most of them at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in Iowa City, a production of the University of Iowa, and I’ve learned a lot. Some were a weekend in duration, others a full week.

Now, I am embarking on a yearlong course of study called, “Novel in a Year,” offered through StoryStudioChicago, a writing center in Chicago (natch). To apply, hopefuls submitted ten pages. I sent the first ten of the novel I am currently drafting, working title: WINTERSET.

My teacher is Rebecca Makkai, author of the 2018 hit novel, THE GREAT BELIEVERS. Rebecca has been teaching the Novel in a Year class for around ten years, from back when she was not the literary sensation she is now, when she had only a single book of short stories (MUSIC FOR WAR TIME) in print. (Her stories, by the way, are some of the best I’ve ever read.)

I was over the moon when I learned I made the cut. The class was to be limited to twelve persons, but the welcoming email from Rebecca said she had made an exception and expanded to thirteen. Our “cohort” of thirteen meets once a month in person with our teacher in Chicago, but there will be online assignments and interactions all along the way.

Last week at our first get together, we learned there were fifty-five applicants, the most that have ever applied. Rebecca said the selection process was the most challenging ever in her years of conducting the class. She said that she had to pass on several writers that in any other year would have made it. She said if any of us have any doubts about ourselves as writers to throw those doubts out the window—we all belong. Our lesson for the evening was on the beginnings of a novel, the concept of orientation, how much we ground the story in its early paragraphs, how to decide what to reveal, or conceal while (hopefully) hooking the reader in. The first paragraph of each cohort member’s novel was read and analyzed. What a blast!

And so, for the next eleven months, I’ll be traveling to Chicago—by car, train, bus, or plane—for the in-person sessions, and in between those times spending my early morning hours writing, writing, writing. In February, my turn for “workshopping” will come. Everyone will read the first twenty pages of WINTERSET prior to class, and I’ll be subject to a full hour of input and critique. The motivation I feel to hold up my end, to give as good as I get, is huge.

Writing a full length novel is a years-long exercise in concentrated effort. I know, because I’ve done it before. It’s a voyage of discovery—discovery of what the story is truly about, discovery of the characters and their motivations, discovery of the self.

Bon voyage to me!

22 Responses

  1. Brian Downes
    | Reply

    What a wonderful reason to make regular trips to Chicago. Best dining opportunities within 500 miles of here.

  2. Linda Duff
    | Reply

    Marianne, I have NO doubt that this will be a big success for you! Can’t wait to hear more about your year-long trek of discovery through your upcoming posts. And if you need anyone to help critique your work before your ‘workshopping’ session in February, I’m certain you could find some willing folks here in Winterset!
    I wish you the BEST!
    Linda Duff

  3. Deb
    | Reply

    WOW! You inspire me. I just finished The Great Believers. It was fantastic! I’m starting a book called The Happenings. My goal is to go to U I next summer, too.

  4. Erick
    | Reply

    Why am I already seeing this as Winterset’s next big movie? 🙂

  5. Janie
    | Reply

    Wow! Congratulations on being selected. And what a great opportunity! Enjoy every moment and write it all, Marianne! Looking forward to seeing it published.

  6. Judy Dayhoff
    | Reply

    Marianne, what a super opportunity. I have no doubt that you will do Winterset proud. (and you too). If you get the chance, read “Old School” by Tobias Wolff. I thought of you and your new found writing experience most of the time reading it myself. You will not notice the parallels for numerous reasons but you will figure them out by the end. I’m not suggesting the bad parts.

    • Carole
      | Reply

      That sounds wonderful! Hope you enjoy every minute of it!

  7. marianne
    | Reply

    Congratulations! This is such a great achievement.
    Take care,
    Elliott (the other Marianne)

  8. Gail Coridan
    | Reply

    Congratulations, Marianne!! Your thrill of becoming further educated in an area of communication in which you already excel is a wonderful testimony. Keep going, growing, glowing!! We will all be looking so forward to reading “Winterset.” Blessings as you embark on this special journey. Bon voyage, indeed!

  9. James Lee Graham
    | Reply

    Sounds like something just right for my sister! Where did we get the desire for challenges? Does that come from mother’s side or dad’s?

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Hey Jim,
      Both our parents loved a challenge!

  10. Rita Parrish
    | Reply

    Congratulations! Enjoy the trips, but really enjoy this special trip – the opportunity to really grow, expand, learn, and grow some more! What a challenge, but what an opportunity you have in front of you!

  11. Kathy Groth
    | Reply

    Have a wonderful, creative, inspiring year. Congratulations on making the cut! How exciting. 👏👍

  12. Rosie Werner
    | Reply

    Congratulations, Marianne. What an opportunity for you to learn and grow.

  13. Glenda johnstone
    | Reply

    Dear Marianne, so happy for you! I will be sending you good thoughts and prayers from Wheaton IL. Just 45 minutes west of Chicago.🙂

  14. Pamela W Weeks
    | Reply

    Congratulations! If I ever finish the quilt history books I want to write, there’s this memoir bubbling in the back of my head. You are a great example to follow. “Write, write, write!” Thank you.

  15. Bev Sheeley
    | Reply

    Best of luck in this ongoing writing adventure!

  16. elizabeth a hinze
    | Reply

    Congrats : )

  17. Marty Farlow Knapp
    | Reply

    Absolutely looking forward to your creation . . . wishing you a successful journey!

  18. Billie Wade
    | Reply

    Wow, Marianne, what an exhilarating opportunity to be selected for the year-long class. Congratulations! I look forward to hearing more from you.

  19. Betty Westercamp
    | Reply

    Congrats, Marianne sounds like a super undertaking. Good luck!

  20. Sally Wilke
    | Reply

    Not really a comment on post.
    Please do not make this public. Just sent Chris a flyer to use for promoting our book festival. It seems like we need to reschedule. I’m thinking Jan or Feb. You are on the schedule to sell and/or sign books and to give a lecture or workshop on finding an agent, Saturday, 12:30 to 2:00. We can use any. additional Ideas you have.

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