What our previous A Novel Approach participants say:
Susan Philpott (one of our 2010 A Novel Approach authors) was thrilled to announce in December, 2011 that she has just been signed on by Anne McDermid of the Anne McDermid agency in Toronto. Later she signed a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster.
When Susan emailed us with the good news she also described how important being in A Novel Approach had been to her success. We asked her if we could share it with everyone and she agreed. Here it is word for word:
Dear James and Sue:
I had just completed the brilliant level one creative writing course with Dorothea Helms and the equally brilliant level two with Sue and James when the opportunity arose to enroll in A Novel Approach. No way, I thought to myself. The most I’ve written in one go is 500 words. I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this, not when so many better, more experienced writers will be showing me on a bi-weekly basis how ill-prepared and hopeless I am.
My tentative email to Sue and James asking if they thought it appropriate that I enroll in the course was met with unequivocal support. Go for it, they said. Don’t compare yourself to others. If you have a story to tell then set it free and tell it the best you can.
As a direct result of this confidence boost, I signed up and never looked back. I had an idea that had been kicking around in my head for some time and with the guidance of Sue and James I learned how to take that scattered concept and mold it into a story that people would want to read. All the basics of plot, POV, setting, dialogue and character development I picked up from the the academic lesson that began each session. Over arching dramatic question? Inciting incident? Theme? Huh? I am certain that without the guiding lights in this course I would have been hopelessly lost and my neat little idea would never have coalesced into a full length novel.
The bi-weekly meetings were essential. Not only for accountability purposes but also because they provided a supportive atmosphere where you could share your latest writing and be relatively certain you weren’t going to be booed off the stage! Feedback was given and received in a spirit of friendly encouragement and best of all, it was wonderful to hear the other members share their concerns and struggles and know that you weren’t alone. I’ve discovered that writing is a solitary endeavor and it is essential to have a supportive writing community to prop you up during the difficult times and hail your successes when things go well.
The ongoing support I received from several class members as we posted and critiqued our latest submissions online was also invaluable. Their feedback on my work was amazing to be sure, but I learned so much from their writing, as well. I had many ‘Ah Ha’ moments reading the exquisite descriptions, brilliant dialogue and fabulous story lines of the other writers, thinking to myself, “So that is how it is done!”
At the end of the course I had completed my novel. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed letting if fall onto the table in front of Sue and James with a satisfying thunk. Their comments after their final review gave me direction on how to proceed with the second draft and before long I had completed a polished final draft.
I can say, unequivocally, this was the best course I’ve taken. I enjoyed every minute and best of all, felt supported and confident enough to let my creative genie run wild.
Separate entirely from the writing itself, I made an important discovery about myself. That irritating little voice that kept insisting I wasn’t good enough, that I wouldn’t measure up to the ‘real’ writers, that I probably wouldn’t even finish – almost stopped me from trying. However, by the end, I had come to believe in a very tangible way that those misgivings were just thoughts. I didn’t have to listen to, or believe in them and all of a sudden they lost their power.
Now when I introduce myself to someone new, I hold out my hand with confidence and say, “Hi, my name is Susan Philpott and I’m a Writer.” What could be better than that?
Thanks very much to ‘A Novel Approach’ for making my dream a reality.
Susan Philpott author of Blown Red
Signing up for “A Novel Approach” is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years … maybe ever.
I have been trying, off and on, to write a novel for twenty-five years. More off than on most of the time. I started my current project about four years ago, but have had a great deal of difficulty staying focused. I promised myself that 2009 would be the year I finally finished a novel – I only needed support from other writers. No sooner had I made that promise than an ad for “A Novel Approach” appeared in my inbox. I signed up within days. If I hadn’t, my novel would still be in the ‘someday’ phase.
Having a deadline every two weeks kept me working consistently. The feedback from other participants, and from Sue and James, was always very encouraging. When I was working in complete isolation, I was never sure whether or not my concept, or my implementation of it, would work. I have also enjoyed the opportunity to read the work of all the other participants. It has been a true privilege to read all of these bestsellers-in-progress.
If you ever thought you wanted to write a novel, the best thing you can do is sign up for “A Novel Approach.” I enjoyed it so much that I am registering again in 2010 to finish a second novel.
– Lisa Adams, author of “Lifetimes“
A Novel Approach was my one luxury time away from my new baby. That’s how important it was to me.
I simply could not have written my manuscript this past year without the encouragement, advice and support of the workshop leaders. The workshop was lifeline in the perilous sea of novel writing.
Anna-Liza Kozma, Producer, CBC Radio One
I wasn’t sure what to think about taking A Novel Approach — it looked like a great opportunity to write with two excellent and innovative workshop presenters who would be facilitating the group. But at the same time, it was a long-term commitment and I wasn’t sure I could fit it all in — “write to schedule” so to speak. I’m an ‘organic writer’ (a.k.a. disorganized) and fitting into a schedule of writing seems counter-intuitive to what I knew about me and my process.
I am so glad that I signed up. The directed and yet supportive atmosphere created by Sue and James snowballed so that soon enough, we participants soon found ways to encourage and creatively challenge one another. This course allowed me to envision aspects of my developing manuscript that I would not naturally gravitate to. For example, I am a character-driven writer and plot for me evolves from that process. And yet when presented with ways to consider plot in expanding the bare bones of the early drafts, I discovered new layers and textures to the whole thing. It was exciting and a bit scary. And that, creatively, is a really good thing to have happen.
The exercises were intriguing and as the wide range of participants’ needs became apparent, Sue and James responded with challenges and ideas that moved us forward. I’ll admit to being a backsliding writer — my writing life slid off the rails a bit during the summer. But rather than feeling the wagging finger of guilt in the Novel Approach workshop, I was encouraged to sit back and think about what brought me to that ‘state of wait’. Sometimes things just have to compost.
The online aspect doesn’t work especially well with my creative approach but I certainly used the regularly posted prompts in the early stages and enjoyed reading the beginnings of my workshop colleagues’ writing (which is posted voluntarily — not a requisite).
This is a writing course like none other — creative and disciplined. Innovative and familiar. Safe and challenging. Structured and intuitive. Once every two weeks, I get to devote several hours to concentrating on my manuscript in a great space. And we have a wide range of fabulous snacks to keep fuelled — especially helpful at the end of a regular work day.
No matter how this manuscript ends up, I have learned things about me and my writing that I will take into all my future projects. This is not a course for the ‘hobbyist’. If you are serious about taking your writing to deeper and richer places, A Novel Approach is more than just an opportunity to put your butt into the chair and get words on the page. It is an excellent forum in which to find the heart of your story.
Ruth Walker, award-winning writer, fiction, non-fiction & poetry
You get out of anything what you put into it. If you are willing to commit to the course requirements, you can have a solid novel draft within the year. The course has grounded me in a place where I now know what I need to do to finish the draft and has brought me much farther along than I had been in 10 years of fiddling around with ideas, beginnings, endings, characters, etc.
It has also provided me with surprisingly positive feedback from others (some of whom I barely knew at the beginning of the year). I have received solid feedback from the instructors on where the manuscript is strong, and where it needs work. In particular, Sue made a comment that brought a minor character of mine to the forefront and changed the dynamics of the main plot.
In addition to learning more about writing in general, you will have invaluable chunks of writing time to experiment, polish scenes, work on your outline or timeline, etc.
– Dorothea Helms, novelist
When I first entertained the wild idea of penning a novel, it was like walking into a dark room, I had no idea how to go about it. Sue and James’ A Novel Approach offered me a beacon, a direction and most importantly a deadline, or a series of deadlines designed to keep my butt in the chair instead of watching TV.
The course gave me the tools and the confidence to proceed. It let me feel my own way while guiding me and supporting me through the moments of doubt. The free form of its structure allowed me to write in my own style. While I don’t think anyone’s inner critic can truely be silenced, this course, and more specifically Sue and James, helped me tame mine to the point I could hear over it.
If anyone has an idea, a feeling or even a picture that is stuck in their heads and haunts their waking moments demanding to be released onto paper, in my opinion, there is no other option but to take this course.
– Dale Long, author of Echoes
I’ve already given your info to a friend of mine for next year. This course (as bad as I was at attending it!) gave me the focus and the commitment to get things written. When I was able to attend class, I always learned new elements that have helped me grow in this journey of mine.
When you give someone money and agree to meet deadlines, I find that very motivating indeed!
– Diane Tait, author of “Letters from Italy”
If I knew someone who was considering taking “A Novel Approach” I would tell them to go for it. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Before A Novel Approach I had enrolled in another school – I was so disappointed. They lost the first section of my manuscript. Over a period of six months I sent several inquiries by registered mail requesting they locate it. By the time they found it and sent it back to me I had lost faith in their ability to handle the whole project.
With Sue’s and James’ approach – on our own website, everything is confidential and secure. No pages lost, no working with unknown faces. You get to converse, ask multitude of questions, and there’s always someone to answer and help you. The feedback from the other writers is tremendous.
This course has pushed me to get the words down, to write beyond what I ever thought I could do. It’s kept me going until the very end. It’s helped me with the weak points – to adjust them, and to make my manuscript richer.
– Rose Moncada, author of Inheritance.
What would you tell someone who was thinking of taking the course?
If I knew someone who was considering taking A Novel Approach I’d say, “Do it!” It is a confidence booster. It helped me believe I am capable of writing more than short stories.
The course has given me the tools to help me succeed. I am less daunted by the volume of a manuscript. My memoir is stronger due to learning about the importance of backstory, which fleshes out the characters. I learned so much about the process behind writing.
— Kathleen Martin, memoirist
Without A Novel Approach I would still be dreaming about writing a novel instead of actually doing it. Through the biweekly lessons, the writing prompts, and the inspirational classroom writing sessions I was able to develop characters and a plot from my ‘one line idea’. That ‘one line’ was all I had at the beginning of the course.
I loved the class, the opportunity to meet every two weeks with other writers and discuss the good and bad that arose within the novel writing experience. There really is nothing like the energy of writing surrounded by other committed writers.
The biweekly classes and submission deadlines kept me focused on getting the work done while still giving me enough time to deal with my day job. The feedback was an invaluable aid guiding me through the stages of my novel writing. And the camaraderie and encouragement of my fellow novelists provided inspiration and confidence when the writing got tough.
– Theresa Dekker, author of Dark Changes
I had always pictured myself being a novelist. I could visualize myself writing my fingers to the bone, going on book tour, and signing my name with pride inside the cover of my very own novel. I had dreams…but as they say – a dream without a plan is just a wish. When I saw the advertisement for “A Novel Approach” I had a silent duel inside my head. I knew I wanted to be part of something that would get me going, and keep me moving forward. The thought of having the first draft of my novel completed was motivating, but…would I be able to dedicate the time? Would I be able to make it work financially? Could I get a sitter? Would a “Novel Approach” work for me? I decided that excuses were not going to hold me back this time. I decided to give myself a chance to do something I had dreamed about for so long. Facilitators Sue and James have been a constant source of inspiration. What a gift it has been to have two writers – who have become mentors to me – give me faith in my own writing. They encourage, lead, inspire and have believed in me…which has in turn helped me believe in myself.
If you are asking yourself if you have the time; the resources, the skill level or the “write stuff” to move forward with your dream…I say – do it! Give yourself the opportunity to do what your heart desires. Trust that by committing your time and yourself to “A Novel Approach”, you will be working your way to fulfilling a want, a desire, even a dream. How can anyone deny themselves that?
During this past year I have seen my idea sprout into a stream of thought that has worked its way into a story that I love. Sue and James help explain what any good novel needs to keep the reader engaged. Just when you think you are running out of stream, or have gotten lost in what should happen next – you go back to class and low and behold – you find yourself right back on track. The feedback I receive from my facilitators and my class peers is a source of encouragement I never would have expected. What a wonderful cheering squad this yearlong workshop has developed. I feel assured in my writing and feel pride for my passion when a peer reads my work and gets it! I love hearing someone feels anger, sadness, hopefulness, or compelled by something that has gone from my imagination to pen to paper. I am moving forward in my dream and am grateful that I have mentors to lead the way and classmates to cheer me on. A “Novel Approach” has been just that for me…it has been more than I could have hoped for, and an experience I won’t soon forget. It has made me into a writer…something I had always dreamed of being.
– Noelle Bickle – Author of Debris
Got a story in your head driving you crazy? Like fizz bursting in a pop can? I had one like that.
Sue Reynolds and James Dewar helped me open that canful of pressure without exploding!
My story is memoir… more like a war story… but so much to tell… too much. I needed structure and a map and road signs. With wisdom, skill and insight, Sue and James guided and gently redirected my writing to the point where the end and success are in sight.
Thank you, thank you. The Novel Approach has been an answer to deep prayer.
– Adele Simmons, author of the memoir The Cabin: No Ordinary Miracle
What would you tell someone who was thinking of taking the course?
I did tell someone, who has a story she needs to write, that she would receive the structure and guidance she needs to work through the project in a safe and supportive setting.
What has this course contributed to your novel writing process?
I dreamed up, planned out, sweated over, and finished the friggin’ book!! All in a year. And I never, ever, ever would have done it without the course!
– Phyllis Stewart, author of “Isla”
The truth is that my first draft would not be completed had there been no Novel Approach. Helpful in every way, from conception to birth. Ideas, concepts, lessons in the basics and the subtleties of crafting a novel-length manuscript have fuelled a remarkable process. It has been a journey of self-revelation as well as the production of a pile of words that comprise a story.
You are leaders and cheerleaders, offering support, encouragement, inspiration, and when necessary, a shoulder on which to cry.
In the beginning, I thought that accountability was the most important aspect of this course. I would HAVE to write. No more jumping up from my seat to sweep the floor, check my emails, take a bath or pluck my eyebrows – those words had to be written. Then it became evident that once that fire was lit, it wasn’t easily doused, and the accountability piece became secondary to learning the craft. Once the fire was burning steadily, I could focus on the lessons with new understanding and apply what I learned instantly. Because of this, it would seem, the writing got tighter and clearer, and gosh darn it, better.
That I had the opportunity to submit my work twice was/is invaluable. When I came to a crossroads and couldn’t see clearly, I was able to meet with Sue and be guided, without interference, to continue on the path that would work best for this book. Throughout the whole process, I often bumped up against things I did not know or could not see. Being able to discuss these things with Sue kept me writing, whereas without this help, I would have likely abandoned the project.
What would I tell people who were thinking about writing a novel? Take this course. No, don’t just take it: commit to it. Give it everything you’ve got and it will give you everything you need to complete the first draft of your novel.
– Deepam Susan Wadds, author of “Weather Vane”
This course is a big commitment, but one where there is gentle support and many different ways of approaching it. My way was to let most of the information wash over so I was not overwhelmed. I made a commitment to do freefall and post faithfully my work every 2 weeks, and I did that. I did not allow myself to get bogged down in too much self criticism, and unhealthy comparisons. There are ups and downs and it was really important for me to focus on the goal. to post, to attend class and to freefall. Knowing that I could ask for support when I needed it helped me when I felt like quitting.
This course let me begin my book…which is huge. It helped me experience, with support, how it feels to begin writing a memoir and to see the structure start to evolve from nothing.
– Anna Gersman, memoirist