Thursday, September 27, 2007

On The Line

As many Grubbies have probably noticed, Grub Street doesn't have online registration. Instead, like some sort of Little House on the Prairie rerun, our registration process forces potential students to trek five miles through waist-high blizzard drifts, their chalkboards slung around their necks and hot potatoes stuck in their muffs to keep their hands from freezing off. Okay, maybe it's not that bad. But it does require them to--gasp!--CALL AN ACTUAL PERSON ON THE PHONE in order to sign up for a course.

You might think that I'm about to launch into a blog about the evils of technology and how in our modern world, isn't it great to be able to make a connection with another human, even if it's just their disembodied voice on the line? Don't worry, I won't do that to you. Frankly, if I didn't work at Grub and wanted to sign up for a Grub Street class, I'm sure I would be SO OVER the inconvenience of having to call during business hours. Get with the program, Grub, I would be thinking, if I can order a Starbucks latte online and then go pick it up in my car at the drive-thru window, I should be able to sign up for Novel in Progress over the internet. But I do work at Grub Street, and here's the sick, sick truth: I think we aren't all that concerned about online services because we LIKE having to talk to people on the phone. Maybe it's a power thing: You want to sign up for a class but you can't do it without my help. Maybe we enjoy the occasional call from someone truly batty, like the guy who called the other day and wanted us to publish his novel, and when we told him we're not a publishing house said (and I quote): "What I want to know is, is Grub Street just another chickenshit operation?" (The answer to that, if you're wondering, is yes. Yes we are.) But more likely, it's that we all love to talk to other writers, find out where they are in their processes, and help them choose the classes that will be the right fits for them. Obviously, we don't always get this right, but we really do enjoy offering advice, and--not to toot our own horns or anything--we know what we're talking about. Since we're such a small organization (only three staff members), by default we HAVE to have our fingers in all the pies. We all help choose the programming, we all meet all (or most) of the instructors, and we take Grub Street workshops ourselves. So call us!

This quarter, for the first time, we've listed on our website which classes are sold out for the fall. We did this because MANY of our classes are already sold out, and we got tired of disappointing people when they called in. But we did it with trepidation, because we're worried that it might stop people from calling and signing up for a different course--a class that might end up being as good (or better) than their initial selection. So, as fall term registration comes to a close (classes begin October 9th), here are some tips , advice, and not-so-secret secrets about choosing a class.

1. The teacher is the most important thing about the class. Level one, level two, ten weeks of stories or six, in the end it doesn't really make that much of a difference if the instructor's good.
2. The other students in the class are the second most important thing. While we can't control who takes our courses, most of the students who take Grub classes are truly dedicated to their work--and their dedication will help to make the class productive and inspiring for everyone.
3. Be sure you're really committed to the six or ten weeks of work before you sign up. Grub classes are demanding, and in most of them you'll find yourself reading anywhere from 30-60 pages of classmates' work, writing critiques, and working on your own stories each week. That's a big time commitment. If you're strapped for time, take a few seminars or a weekend class instead.
4. If you've taken a few Grub classes in the past, try something totally new. This term, for instance, we're offering something called "How to Edit Yourself," taught by an editor at Beacon Press. It might not seem like "fun" to focus on revision for six weeks, but we can guarantee that this class will take your writing to a new level.
5. Please, please do not assume you'll be the best writer in the class. Do not say things like: "Is there a level higher than the master level, because I'm a really, really good writer" or "I'm worried that having to read all the schlock other people turn in is just going to bore me, because I'm a really, really good writer." We're sure you are a good writer. But so are LOTS of other people who take Grub classes, and the point of the class is to learn something (see Michelle Seaton's great blog post from a few weeks ago for more on this).
6. Sign up soon! We've got lots of great classes that still have space in them, but they are filling fast.

In dread and on the phone,
Whitney Scharer

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