Lessons from the Workshop: GrubStreet or Bust

After taking a Jumpstart Your Novel course with us last term, Nicole Boudreau was inspired to share what she learned in class, how it changed her perspective as a writer, and why she'll be back at Grub soon. She kindly let us re-post it on GrubWrites. Thanks, Nicole! We're still blushing.This essay was originally posted on Nicole Boudreau's blog, Novel Excuses.

 

Sarcasm and Snark are the peanut butter and jelly that gum together this blog. And also my life. But let’s get (sort of) serious for a second. I actually did something productive for my writing this summer: I took my first workshop at GrubStreet.

For a while after the class ended, I was so high on the thrill of positive momentum that on two occasions in one weekend I blurted out to a couple creative acquaintances of mine that I’m working on a book, and I didn’t (immediately) shame spiral.

GrubStreet is a little literary oasis on the 5th floor of an historical building overlooking the Boston Common (where Smash Mouth played a public concert during one of my classes – good or bad sign? Time will tell.) Students pass through a stately entrance adjoining a piano store and wait for the old, tiny elevator, which is the only way to get up to the 5th floor organization. Limited access via closet-like transportation: yes, GrubStreet is Narnia. The elevator doors open, and straight ahead is bulletin board of class locations posted above a cheerful cherry-colored typewriter on a stand.

The environment has a perfect hush – it’s not a muted library, but not a buzzing college hall. The floors creak pleasantly; in my opinion, any creative space worth its salt should have creaky floors. Lining the walls are poster-sized portraits of local writers, which I was thrilled to see were taken by the photographer wife of an old colleague of mine. Among them are shelves of books – some written by GrubStreet alumni – available to borrow or thumb through. The vibe is somehow both professional and casual, serious and welcoming. It is both classroom and clubhouse.

I immediately felt at home there. And by that I mean I’m planning to pull a Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler soon to finish my novel.

While I love being a student, I haven’t taken a fiction writing class since college, and I’ve never taken a class specifically geared toward novel writing. I chose GrubStreet’s Jumpstart Your Novel workshop, and as promised it applied a couple of clips to my dead writing battery and juiced it right up. The instructor, Alison Murphy, was helpful, supportive, and a wealth of information, and most importantly, she laughed at my jokes. For six weeks we received instruction and worked on writing exercises in class. We studied a published novel: Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, which I loved. We read our own scenes out loud and gave each other feedback. I felt like a real novelist.

Among many takeaways:

  1. I write so I am a writer. Period. (Even though typing this flooded me with self-doubt.)
  2. I am probably not as bad at writing as I (and my judgmental cat seems to) occasionally believe I am.
  3. A notebook and pen can help combat writer’s block better than an expectantly blinking cursor on a blank white computer screen. But when ready to be in front of a screen,
  4. Scrivener is awesome. I need to figure out how to utilize it better.
  5. Having a group of smart, impartial, sympathetic, tactful fellow writers to bounce ideas and pages off of is immensely helpful.
  6. Writing is work. I’ve always considered it a pastime, and so no wonder I only do it when I feel like it. Writing is a job, and a job is something you need to show up for regularly and do whether you feel like it or not. And on a related note,
  7. In order to be productive I need deadlines, and I need to be held accountable for them. If left to my own devices I will watch television until eventually my body and the couch fuse and you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Per this last learning, I’ll admit that in the weeks since class ended, my productivity has dropped off a bit. I won’t be renaming this blog “Novel Successes” any time soon. But I do feel much more equipped to take on my writing challenges since the class. And my classmates and I have formed a writing group to continue assisting with each others’ drafts. (Yes, I’m taking another stab at writing group.)

And I will return to GrubStreet before long.

Until (and probably still) then, plenty of excuses to come. Recommencing full-tilt Sarcasm and Snark in 5, 4, 3, 2…

 

Nicole Boudreau is the author of Morgan Summer and Curtains, both novellas she self-published in the ‘90s by “binding” them in report covers and handing them to friends and family to read. Now she’s a thirty-*muffled*-year-old living in Boston, holding a master’s degree in literature and an unrelated day job, sharing her efforts to finally write a real book (and everything she’s doing instead) at novelexcuses.com.

About the Author

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