Friday, September 30, 2011

Supporting Online Workshop Education for Writers - Mark Vanderpool for LitReactor

LitReactor, the new destination literary website/magazine/writers' workshop I've been talking about for the past few weeks launches tomorrow! I've been a little excited about it (does it show?). I've had a sneak peek at the articles written by our amazing contributing staff, read through Chuck Palahniuk's essays on craft and have had a glimpse at what's on tap for the writers' workshop. Overall, I'm thoroughly impressed. While this is not a one-size-fits-all literary community (and being a fan of Palahniuk's work is not a prerequisite to join), those who find a home here will receive a solid education about the craft of writing, the business of publishing and then some. I've been waiting for a site like this for the 10 years I've been in this business.

Today I brought on LitReactor's Director of Education, Mark Vanderpool to share a little about what makes LitReactor's online writers' workshops unique, how they operate, who's lined-up to instruct and more. 

How did you come to LitReactor?

MV: A major impulse behind the launch of LitReactor is to present a dedicated domain for the educational outreach of Since the predecessor site is principally a fan community for a bestselling author, the learning community is mildly eclipsed. Many people don't realize that we've had a strong peer review workshop since 2003 and instructor-led intensive classes since 2005 or very early '06. I've helped organize the peer workshop since it was in knickers--first purely as a volunteer who showed up with the right skill set at the right time. After that, I initiated the launch of our intensive classes with guest instructors and I facilitated most of those. I've gone from volunteer to freelancer to full-time on the basis of knowledge, passion, and caring—plus a willingness to try inspired things, to make mistakes, and to improve. So, I haven't been recruited to LitReactor quite so much as enabled by trusted and long-standing colleagues to fulfill a job description that I wrote for myself.       

What made the writing workshops that originally began on so successful?

MV: A combination of things:  real caring about writers of any age or stature who are pointed toward personal growth or giving back; care about the literature they produce as well as the heartaches and success stories; personal investment and pride in delivering the best possible experience; team members besides myself with genius for needed skills that I don't possess; intrinsic motivation from the whole team to see it go well; a driven artistic community that isn't conventionally corporate; a great set of author contacts who have been gracious enough to teach for us; and a small subset of Chuck Palahniuk's huge fan base who are serious aspiring authors in their own right--not only easy to reach from their presence on the fan site, but hungry for knowledge, armed with rich reading lives, and loads smarter than any hypothetical average consumer of education products.     

What kind of writers are you hoping to attract to your LitReactor workshops?

MV: More people exactly like I was describing at the end of my last answer, except a polytheistic community not heavily filtered through the fan base of any single author. Please note a humorous intent, however failed, in that vaguely religious reference. Our core group is already far more diverse in taste and temperament than an outsider might imagine, but we feel we can reach and benefit a much larger set of aspiring authors, simply from the awareness that's generated with a dedicated domain.

Give us a little background on how LitReactor's online workshops will operate.

MV: While new delivery formats could be on the horizon, our basic tested blueprint is a four- to six-week class, rich enough with lectures and assignments that multiple weeks are necessary, compressed and specialized enough to feel like a full semester in a third the time (but in a good way), private to the registered group, limited in size for focus and feedback, flexible in participation times and global via the Internet, with an expectation of peer review as well as feedback from the instructor, and with a trained facilitator to assist, especially if the instructor is new to teaching in our format. We also like to do optional phone conferences for the closeness, without the pressure of too many, since it’s a real-time interaction and our community occupies every possible time zone.

What authors do you have lined up to teach in the coming months?

MV: To name just a few of our starting lineup:  Holiday Reinhorn, Craig Clevenger, Stephen Graham Jones, and Christopher Bram.

How is this workshop experience different from other online writers workshop offerings?

MV: In addition to what someone might legitimately infer about an indie spirit or a non-corporate vibe, we never strive for generic, one-size-fits-all course offerings, even when a course is designed for beginners.  We teach beginners like we’d teach graduate students. In contrast, the course lecture content in some venues tends to be written by a veteran freelance contributor the student never knows by name, recycled endlessly, with delivery and follow-up falling to one of multiple interchangeable instructors who are qualified in their own right but not integral originators of the teaching content. That gives an online education program tremendous control and leverage and freelance instructors very little. We prefer to take larger risks to deliver something with more personality; we recruit instructors as much for course design as for delivery. And a high proportion of our instructors hold substantial name recognition.  

It's our goal to reach the right set of people and to deliver exceptional value that draws personal testimonials. A good word from our students is more valuable to us than a wider short-term profit margin. I've designed and taught two successful courses through Chuck Palahniuk's domain and will continue on faculty for LitReactor myself. I prefer to have three or more students from even a small class report tangible breakthroughs within weeks. Big breakthroughs, like landing a short story in an enviable magazine for the first time ever. This is more satisfying to me than teaching a larger number of people for higher profits and keeping them just satisfied enough not to withdraw. Conventional business tends to settle toward a numbers-driven lowest common denominator and kid itself that it’s not doing that. We’re wild visionaries in comparison. Looking around and taking a very close look, I've seen that some of the older companies who market writing advice and online instruction keep a superficial appearance of quality control with small class sizes, but are so complacent in an established brand name that blurbs from successful students are completely absent from their web copy.  LitReactor will never be that complacent. We're student centered, and we project not only real publishing success for our students, but the eventual clout and status where a few of them will join us as instructors. That isn’t just something that sounds good. We live it. 

What's on tap for your October writers' workshops?

MV: October includes a beginner's class from me that's successfully road-tested and valued in Chuck's domain, plus tweaked and improved from experience. Then a class with you, Erin Reel, that's geared for people with stuck and stalled first draft novel manuscripts that need to be revisited with new tools and perspective. Finally, a specialized class with the very talented and noteworthy Holiday Reinhorn who will help emerging writers embrace their writing practices by giving them the permission and tools needed to explore a craft style that works for them within a supportive community.

TLC: The three workshops listed above range from $295 for a 4 week course to $495 for Holiday's 6 week course. 

LitReactor launches October 1st, this Saturday, TOMORROW! Writers' Workshop classes begin October 10th but you can sign up as soon as the site is live. Space is very limited and there's already a line at the door, so act fast.

Have a great weekend, writers!


1 comment:

  1. Excellent information! Chuck's approach to writing (and creativity in general) is in a class by itself. Your teaching lineup looks terrific, too. This will rock!


Leave your thoughts! Feel free to share with us your success stories or tips.