Get That Novel Started: A Two-Week Writing Workshop
with Donna Levin
Do you have an idea for a novel that you have yet to start? In this two-week workshop, across three ninety-minute Zoom meetings, we will take the plunge, putting our ideas to paper (dead tree or virtual). You’ll write and share the opening pages of your novel, and create a summary and a schedule for writing a full first draft.
We will discuss the basics of novel construction: plot, characters, narration vs. scene, point of view, and more. Most of all, we’ll talk about the importance of establishing a regular writing practice.
Come with just an idea. Then be prepared to write during our meetings, and to spend time (ideally daily, if only for short bursts) in between sessions working on background material. You are encouraged to write as much as possible, but we will post a maximum of three thousand words a week to discuss.
At this stage, the feedback is all about empowerment. We are not here to judge the commercial viability of anyone’s idea, let alone to measure talent. I encourage brainstorming, which means that you will likely hear suggestions that are off-base, but will also get inspiring new ideas. We’re all here to help each other.
Learning and Writing Goals
By the end of the course, you will understand the fundamentals of novel construction: character, plot, narration and scene, and point of view.
By the end of the course, you will:
- Have a rough summary of the novel you will write, along with a schedule for completing a first draft.
- Have posted the opening pages of your novel for peer and instructor feedback.
Zoom Session Schedule
We will meet from 7-8:30 P.M. U.S. Eastern Time on February 15, 22, and 29.
- We intro ourselves; I give an overview of the course.
- We’ll spend 10 minutes writing down everything we know about the idea we have. Read what you’ve written on a volunteer basis. Other students (and I) can ask questions, and identify what’s most interesting.
- Now, who is their main character? There may be more than one, but today we start with the most important one.
- Your next in-class assignment is to map out a writing schedule. That schedule starts no later than the following day. Neither doctor’s appointments, nor houseguests, nor bathroom remodels work as excuses.
- I’ll talk about the Inner Critic and ask you to do an in-class exercise in which you identify what that Inner Critic is saying, and compose a defiant answer.
- Next: let’s talk about what your opening scene might be. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t really matter for right now, because it might change.
- Assignments for the week: write a biography for your main character. Choose an interesting name. Expand and refine the basic idea of your novel. Write the first five pages of the opening scene.
- We’ll give and receive feedback. A starting point for that feedback can be what we’d like to hear more about, what we have questions about, and what’s potentially confusing.
- We discuss the week, especially as regards sticking to your writing schedule.
- We’ll discuss plot: how conflict leads to ever-escalating conflict, and finally, to a premise.
- Then we’ll discuss about narration vs. scene, and the challenge of integrating backstory into opening chapters.
- Assignments for the week: biographies for secondary characters (these are just for you, not to post).
- Continue to expand and refine the basic idea, which by now should resemble a summary. It will continue to evolve as you write.
- For next week: post another five pages of your novel. Feel free to write more. More is good.
- We’ll discuss your work.
- In-class brainstorming to address plot problems that have arisen.
- I’ll share a sheet to propose how you can map out a plan to finish your first draft.
- Major focus at this last meeting is how to make sure we keep going, by joining a community of writers, and creating accountability for ourselves.
Student Feedback for Donna Levin:
Donna is a force! She is funny, brilliant, and encouraging. This was such a remarkable experience, it far exceeded my expectations. Michelle Matiyow
I really appreciated the Zoom calls that Donna mediated in this class—we could share ideas and feedback in real time and in a more personal way. Donna was always quick with feedback that was both constructive and encouraging. Having weekly deadlines made all the difference for moving my book forward. Andrea Gust
I had a great experience. Donna is a great listener. The objective of the class was accomplished as I am back to writing consistently. Shari Weefur
Donna Levin is a gifted teacher. As funny as she is smart, she will captivate and keep you going. One of my favorite writing instructors, I credit her with helping me finish my first novel and for encouraging me in those that followed. Take her class! Terry Gamble, author of The Water Dancers, Good Family, and The Eulogist
Donna’s Introduction to Fiction course was excellent, being enjoyable, practical, and educational. She provided valuable and detailed individual feedback as well as helping us all to learn the techniques of evaluating ours and each other’s writing. I was so pleased with the course that I’ve already recommended it to several other new fiction writers, and will continue to do so. Phil Rainey
This was my first online writing course and it exceeded my expectations. Donna was knowledgable and highly responsive. She was very encouraging and my classmates were very engaged. I had a great experience. Lisa Hamidi
Donna’s teaching style is down to earth, personal, and full of humor. She draws you in and makes it easy to submit assignments for feedback. Of course putting your writing “out there” is somewhat nerve-racking, but Donna has a way of making the process easy. I wrote more, was inspired more, and wrote some of my best writing in her course. Participation in her class was a wonderful experience. April Cross
Donna is an experienced and engaging teacher. Her lectures are concise and to the point. Her feedback on assignments are detailed and thoughtful. She goes above and beyond the online platform to organize weekly Zoom meetings to check in, and invites everyone to share their writing practices, their progress and challenges. Dung-Chi Tran
Donna is inspiring and knowledgeable about writing craft. This class will fulfill its promise! Carol Park
I took several classes from Donna while writing my first novel, a book that was ultimately selected for three best of the year lists. She was instrumental in the development of a publishable manuscript, helping me with characterization, plot and pacing. Her critiques are sensitive, insightful—and motivating. If you are high-centered on the rocky road to finishing your novel, you can do no better than to study with Donna. Mark Coggins, award-winning author of the August Riordan series