Sunday, November 16, 2008

Forget the Degree in Creative Writing: Just Sit Down and Write

With the economy failing, finding the $27,600 to $108,900 a year to finance a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is even more challenging for aspiring writers. With a view towards a better return on investment, a new generation of writing experts advocates that instead of paying to learn how to write at a university, aspiring writers should just sit down and write. In fact, more than 100,000 people are doing it right now.

This November, notable writing coaches and authors Chris Baty of National Novel Writing Month ("NaNoWriMo") and Ivory Madison of Red Room ( have joined forces to get thousands of established and aspiring writers to write an entire novel in the month of November as part of the largest writing contest in the world. More than 100,000 writers from over 80 countries are working to prove the hypothesis that all it really takes to produce a novel is a deadline--a very, very tight deadline of 50,000 words in just 30 days--and a whole lot of coffee.

"Aspiring novelists don't need an MFA in creative writing, a book agent, an airtight plot, or a winsome cast of characters to get a novel written--they don't even need to know what they're doing," noted Baty in his book, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. "When most people give themselves two years to write the first draft of a novel, what they're really doing is giving themselves a year and a half to procrastinate and feel guilty about not working more on their novels."

"Writers should have a voice of their own," said Madison, who founded the Red Room Writers Society in 2002 and in 2008. "I don't see that from many of the writers coming out of even the most prestigious MFA programs." Madison personally helped hundreds of aspiring and professional writers complete their books, and, as a result, was named "Best Writing Coach" by San Francisco magazine.

"Many of the world's most respected authors were self-taught, including Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf," said Madison. Dubbed "a literary MySpace" by the San Francisco Chronicle, Red Room is the only social network to feature celebrity authors including Dr. Maya Angelou, Khaled Hosseini, James Patterson, Dorothy Allison, and Amy Tan (none of whom attended MFA programs).

"I'm a great believer in the seat-of-the-pants rule: apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair," said Sara Gruen, whose NaNoWriMo novel Water for Elephants was a #1 New York Times bestseller. "I think my advice would be to set aside, say, two hours on Saturday and/or Sunday, announce that this is your writing time, and insist that everyone—including yourself—respect it." Gruen is one of many NaNoWriMo authors whose manuscripts resulted in book deals and critical acclaim. Approximately 18 percent of NaNoWriMo participants "win" every year by validating that they've written more than 50,000 words in 30 days.

Bestselling author Terry McMillan is also using NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to finish her next novel, Getting to Happy, which revisits the characters from Waiting to Exhale fifteen years later. "I'm a fast writer. My drafts usually come quickly, in a rush," she said. "Mama took about a month; Disappearing Acts, two weeks; Exhale, a few months. These are just rough drafts, the version you don't dare show a soul."

Madison said a cornerstone of the "Red Room Method" is to separate your writing from your editing from your marketing. "For the entire month of November, be in writing mode only," she said. "I've seen hundreds of people without writing training become great writers through the process of writing and finishing their first novels."

ABOUT RED ROOM – Red Room is the online home of many of the world's greatest writers and the only social network to feature celebrity authors including Khaled Hosseini, Dr. Maya Angelou, Salman Rushdie, Amy Tan, Candace Bushnell, Tobias Wolff, Alice Hoffman, and James Patterson. Red Room provides authors and readers with free, easy-to-use, elegant online homes. It's a place where aspiring writers can promote their work, express themselves, and connect with their favorite authors. Find out more at

ABOUT NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH – NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999 by freelance writer Chris Baty, when it had just 21 participants. In 2007, over 100,000 people took part in the free challenge, making it the largest writing contest in the world. Find out more at


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