The Course That Helped Me Write My First Novel

by Gail Werner

gail-werner-photoThree years ago this month, I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw a post from my friend Cathy Day, an English professor at Ball State. It detailed her decision to offer her novel writing class online to anyone wanting to follow along.

Reading this news, I felt my pulse quicken. This is it, Gail, I told myself. This is your sign.

Except, it couldn’t be. Not when I had a 11-month-old son at home, a job at Ball State keeping me busy, and a photography business that was going strong.

I didn’t have time for signs, and yet something in my gut re-enforced what I knew was true: If I let the moment pass, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.

With shaking fingers, I signed up, not knowing it was a move that would forever tilt my creative compass true north.

Over the weeks that followed, I read through the half-dozen books Cathy assigned on her syllabus. I dove into each with a zeal I hadn’t experienced since journalism school. It was intoxicating learning something new again, especially something I was so passionate about—learning how to write a book!

Using the skills I picked up that semester, I went on to finish my first novel. Ever since, I’ve kept going: reading more, writing more, learning more. Today I’ve reached the point where I’ve completed my second novel and am now querying agents, hoping one of them wants to help me publish my work.

Often times when I tell people I’ve written a book, they get a dreamy look in their eyes and admit they want to write one, too. What I always want to say (but haven’t until now) is writing a novel is almost impossible without learning a bit of craft first.

Which is why I’m elated to announce, in partnership with Midwest Writers Workshop and its new MWW Ongoing online courses and webinars, Cathy is offering another introductory novel-writing class this fall!

“It’s Time to Start Your Novel” will span four weeks beginning October 1 and is meant for anyone who’s ever thought, “I think I have a novel inside me.” (Newsflash: If you’re thinking this, it probably means you do.)

The cost is $150 and I promise (from the very bottom of my heart), it’s worth every penny.

What you’re about to learn from Cathy is what’s true of any goal worth pursuing—you’re gonna need time and preparation to tackle it. Consider this class your first step.

Or, as Cathy describes it:

“Think of ‘It’s Time to Start Your Novel’ as a cooking course in which you spend the first class cleaning the kitchen and prepping the ingredients. Think of it as a marathon-running course in which you spend the first class buying a good pair of shoes. Your chances of drafting an entire novel (maybe for National Novel Writing Month?) increase exponentially when you spend some time preparing yourself for the journey ahead.”

All of that makes sense, right? So I’m wrapping up this post hoping this opportunity finds a few brave souls yearning for the same creative challenge I was that afternoon I found Cathy’s Facebook post. I had no idea what I was getting myself into or how all of the work and second-guessing would be worth it to chase the creative high I’d experience as a result.

If you have specific questions about the course—which will cover topics like how to develop a writing regimen, along with how to create characters and scenes for your future novel—send them my way. You can also ask about signing up for Midwest Writers Workshop 2017 or, better yet, find out how to become a member of our new MWW Plus to get a 10-percent discount on Cathy’s class along with future webinars and workshops MWW has to offer!

So come on then … take this chance on yourself.

Learn how to fit writing into your life.

If you do, then someday (2017 resolution, anyone?) you can know the joy of holding your first finished novel in your hands the same way I did.


Interview with Literary Agent Elise Capron

Midwest Writers committee member Gail Werner interviewed Elise Capron with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Elise will be taking pitches alongside 5 other agents at this summer’s conference. 

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MWW: What made you want to become an agent? What kinds of stories do you rep?

EC: What initially appealed to me about agenting, and what continue to be some of my favorite aspects of this job, are that it’s all about being creative and about compelling problem-solving. Working on books I love, by authors I greatly respect, devising a strategy to find the best publisher, staying involved with the publication process and all the challenges and successes that come along the way keep me energized and excited. Every book’s life is different, and so, in a way, I take part in creating the rules for that journey. It’s very rewarding!

I have repped many types of books over the almost-12-years I’ve been at SDLA, though these days I am most interested in serious adult literary fiction and narrative non-fiction, particularly cultural history.

MWW: Tell us about something you’ve sold that was recently released.
EC: I’m excited about a book of mine that came out in April called Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, by Cynthia Barnett. This is my second book with Cynthia, who is an amazing journalist and story-teller, and it will change your ideas about  our relationship with the world’s water. It also represents the mix of serious non-fiction and great storytelling that I find especially compelling right now.

MWW: What do you enjoy best about meeting writers at conferences versus discovering their work in your inbox?

EC: I LOVE going to conferences and meeting writers in person! Email can get exhausting, and staring at a computer screen will never be the same as having the chance to meet face-to-face. It changes the dynamic and allows me to learn a lot more about each writer, their passions, why their project is important to them, and more.

MWW: Any words of advice for the writers pitching you at MWW this year?

EC: Every writer at the conference will have different priorities. Some specifically want to get an agent, others want to practice pitching and talk with other writers and industry professionals, others might be at an early stage and just want to get a taste of it all. My advice would be that no matter what stage you’re at, don’t lose sight of the conference as a learning process full of opportunities. For example, if getting an agent to request your material is your only priority in the pitch session, remember to take a step back and use the pitch for much more than that: Whether or not the agent is interested, it is a chance to get feedback on how you’re pitching, or to talk about your idea, your struggles, and more. Build relationships and connections, since that is what publishing is built on.