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A Student’s Review of Gotham Writers Workshops

Are online writing classes through Gotham right for you?

By RosePublished 2 years ago 5 min read
A Student’s Review of Gotham Writers Workshops
Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

On December 8th, 2020, I signed on to my first class with Gotham Writers Workshop. Fiction Writing I, taught by Benjamin Obler, met over Zoom for three hours every Monday night. As the ten week course progressed, I learned new ways to hone my description, dialogue, and plotting abilities. I also received feedback from the instructor and the other ten students in my class.

I’ve been a prolific writer since middle school. However, I can’t pretend that my writing has ever been something I’ve taken seriously. I’m the kind of person who sneezes out novel length fan fiction by accident, most of it messy and rife with typos. The allure of taking an online writing class had more to do with the need to find a pleasurable way to pass some time in the midst of the first flush of the Covid-19 pandemic than any real desire to cultivate my craft. Even so, I’ve found the Gotham Writing classes to be addictive. So far, I’ve taken eight different classes, ranging from Romance Writing to Memoir. I’ve grown as a writer and met some great people along the way.

What is Gotham Writers?

Gotham Writers is a writing school that offers classes in New York and over the internet. The classes encompass a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. The school was established in 1993. Its mission, as stated on its website, is to:

“Demystify the writing process and give students a safe and structured environment that encourages them to keep writing and keep expanding their ability.”

The ten week workshop classes are taught by professional teachers who are also published authors. Each week covers a different aspect of the writing process, with the final week usually cumulating with advice on how to find opportunities to publish the pieces written over the course of the class. Each student turns in a weekly writing assignment and receives written feedback from the instructor. Additionally, students are given two opportunities to submit a longer piece to be critiqued and discussed by their classmates. Students can choose to take classes live over zoom or to take classes consisting of text based “lectures” and communication over Blackboard.

There are also shorter intensives that take place over one or two weekends.

My Favorite and Least Favorite Gotham Classes

Out of the Gotham classes I’ve taken, the ones that I got the most out of were Memoir Writing I with Stacy Pershall and Essay and Opinion Writing with Janine Annett.

Writing a Memoir was something I’d never considered doing before Stacy’s class. She was good at giving simple and actionable suggestions for how to make our writing better. Her most infuriating and most useful piece of advice was that we stick to “one time, one place, one story” in our writing. She had us write our lives in scenes with vivid dialogue and sensory details rather than in vague montages of things that had happened to us over the years. She was also good at facilitating an intimate and empathetic class atmosphere. More so than with any other class, I left feeling as though I’d formed a connection with my classmates. Their stories continue to resonate with me.

As for Janine’s class, I can’t say that writing essays was new to me before taking it. I was an English lit major in college, after all. However, she gave us enough freedom to make the essays we wrote feel anything but stale and academic. We were pushed to try out essay forms that we never had before. Janine’s feedback on all of our essays was extensive and did a good job of balancing critique and praise. There’s nothing better, as a writer, than receiving multiple paragraphs of attentive and constructive feedback on something you’ve written.

My least favorite class was Travel Writing with Michael Dunphy. To be fair to the instructor, he clearly went above and beyond in his role. Although the class was a text based one that didn’t include a zoom component, he arranged additional zoom meetings for the students. He was also diligent about sending out e-mails with supplemental resources. He was clearly professional and enthusiastic. However, I found his feedback to be overly critical. He told me my first piece didn’t fulfill the assignment without explaining why, and in general I found the class discouraging. That said, I think the problem was that I was only taking it for fun, with no genuine aspirations of becoming a travel writer. Michael’s tough feedback wasn’t for me, but it might be just the thing to take a serious travel writer to the next level.

What have I gotten out of it?

Since I started taking Gotham Writers classes, I’ve produced a lot of writing that I never would have otherwise. The weekly writing assignments have pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’m proud of the results. Many of my pieces here on Vocal were originally written as Gotham assignments.

The memoir class that I took helped me learn that every person’s story is worth telling, even my own. It also taught me that whether or not one’s lived experiences have the ability to captivate others had as much to do with the telling of them as the experiences themselves.

The essay class taught me what a lyric essay was, and how much fun they could be to write.

The fiction classes taught me that I actually prefer writing non-fiction. That’s not to throw any shade at them. Realizing that I don’t want to write fiction outside of fan fic has been liberating. Also, I feel like the descriptions in my fan fic are stronger now, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

A Few Suggestions For Taking Gotham Classes

With so many classes under my belt, I guess I can call myself a Gotham veteran. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your Gotham classes, should you choose to take one:

1. Set aside plenty of time for the class. You’ll be reading the works of other students, writing your own works, and possibly doing other homework assignments. In addition to class time, I found that I usually needed five or six hours a week to stay on top of everything.

2. Don’t take multiple classes at once! With so many offerings, it can be tempting to just take everything in one fell swoop, but that makes it difficult to keep on top of the classes and get the most out of them.

3. Take classes in genres you like to read as well as write. You’ll be reading the works of other students. This can be tough if you’re not interested in the subject matter.

4. A completed assignment is better than a perfect one. Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of getting your writing out.

5. Don’t be afraid to communicate to your instructor exactly what it is you hope to get out of the class.

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Comments (1)

  • June Kirri2 years ago

    Great review. Thinking to take their feature writing class. Thanks!

RoseWritten by Rose

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