Back in February I was playing around on Facebook and one of those targeted ads showed up in my news feed. We’ve all seen them; the ads might look like they match up with something we may have read online, seen in one of the groups we belong to, or maybe it matched something we accidentally clicked on. If you’re like me, you usually ignore them. This is the story of the one I didn’t ignore, and how completely overhauled my life, and my writing process.

A Novel IdeaThe ad was for The Plotting Workshop ran by author Shaunta Grimes. A course that teaches a person to develop a plot, and have it ready to write, all in eight weeks. The best news of all … it was free! I’m not usually one to push people towards something like specific classes for writing because I believe each writer is unique and there are “no one size fits all” classes for everyone. I still believe it, but this class changed my writing and set me on the path to completing the rough draft of my first novel by June of this year.

That’s right fellow writers, I completed a novel from start to finish in four months. Okay not really start to finish, I still had to revise, rewrite, edit, hire an editor, and get beta readers, but the hard part, the plotting and the initial writing we all sweat over was done in FOUR MONTHS! This is not the first class I’ve taken. I’ve taken creative writing classes in college and I’ve taken free online classes which weren’t worth the time it took to open an email. I’ve paid for abysmal pyramid scheme classes designed to leave you always needing one more class to find the hidden secret they only share with the select few authors. Those who have unlimited funds and their special decoder rings. I don’t believe I’m alone in this. If I were, there wouldn’t be a thousands of these classes online at various price points.

Let me explain a little about the brain child of Shaunta Grimes. Shaunta is the author of the Young Adult Science Fiction Novels Viral Nation and Rebel Nation. She’s also a firm believer in teaching everyone who wants to write, how to write from the ground up. No, she isn’t going to teach you the basic mechanics of language and grammar, but she is going to teach you about character development, plotting, pacing, and more. To start Shaunta offers a five-day course (also free) on How to Develop and Test a Story Idea (H2DSI). It’s a great step for getting the initial basic idea out of your head and on paper (or in a computer). Then she offers the eight-week Plotting Workshop. This step uses a textbook, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers [3rd Edition]. It teaches how to develop characters and write a three act, eight sequence with sixty to ninety scenes plot from beginning to end.

I think it’s only fair to warn you the eight-week course is actually the beginning of Shaunta’s year-long course.The course is designed to take you through the entire process of writing a book from beginning to end in twelve months. I’m going to say it again for emphasis … AN ENTIRE NOVEL IN TWELVE MONTHS! From plotting to editing, and ready to query all within a year. It is not free. In fact, it costs $750 dollars (or $62.50 per month if you’d prefer) for the year. Yes, I know it’s a lot of money for most struggling authors. Between the cost of the class, the three books you will use as textbooks, and various supplies it’s over $800 by the time it’s all done. However, if you can’t afford it, it’s okay. There are other ways to make this work for you. She has a Facebook group, Ninja Writers, and everyone can join. The other people in this group are amazing. Actually, most are amazing, but there’s this one old broad, she is annoying as H – E – double hockey sticks. She’ll welcome you and probably annoy you with her lame attempts to answer questions if you have any. Have you ever heard someone say “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”? They lied. This woman asks the STUPIDEST questions known to man. I should know … I’m her.

Shaunta also offers writing prompts every week via her website. Plus, she has a binder club which is also free and part of the Ninja Writers Academy. She tries to post each Saturday, but life sometimes gets in the way for her; like it does for all of us. She is active in all her groups, and tries to hold office hours every week. If you’re serious about improving your story development skills, be sure to check out her website and become one of the Ninja Writers, you might make some great friends. Heck, you might even manage to get your novel ready for publication, and let’s be honest, that is the ultimate goal.

V. L. Cooke

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