As I mentioned when I signed off for the summer, I spent May, June and July taking Emma Walton Hamilton’s online/home study course Just Write for Middle Grade. Back in 2010 I took Emma’s Just Write for Kids, which is a course in writing picture books. I’ve been eager for a similar course dealing with middle grade novels ever since. Just Write for Middle Grade was all I had hoped for, and more.
I’ve been working at honing my skills in middle grade writing for quite some time. I have read about the art and craft of the middle grade novel, I have read many novels, and I have written — and re-written — a few, I’ve taken a class from Kate McMullan at the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference. I’ve had insightful manuscript evaluations from Emma that have prompted me to dig deeper into my characters and plots, and to take my manuscripts further than I could have imagined possible. So I wondered — did I really need to take this course?
The answer is a resounding YES! I learned an amazing amount over the 14 weeks I was actively taking the course, and I know I will continue to learn as I put everything to use with each book I write in the future.
One of the amazing (amazing to me, at least) results of this course was that Emma taught me how to outline my novel, and actually made me excited about doing so. Emma — a confirmed outliner — suggested several different ways of approaching an outline, and one of them really resonated with me. It gave me a new way of looking at plot, and therefore a new way of looking at outline. I learned that I didn’t need to feel bound by the outline, that it could be fluid as my thinking about the story developed. That was freeing.
There was, of course, much more to Just Write for Middle Grade beyond the insights it gave me into outlining. Emma is a thorough teacher, and explains the basics of writing a middle grade novel in step-by-step lessons — all while the student is putting the steps into practice by writing a novel. In the course she covers creating characters that kids will care about, crafting plots that will keep kids turning the page, the use of style, tone, and language, theme, voice, settings, and much more — the course is so rich.
The lessons arrive once a week, in the student’s email inbox. A couple of the lessons could really do with a couple of weeks of concentration — but that’s okay. One of the beauties of the course is that you can proceed at your own pace. If you want to spend more time on a lesson, you can do so.
With Emma’s courses, there has always been the opportunity to ask questions on the lesson website, and Emma answers with wisdom, insight and grace. A new feature now that the MG and YA courses are available is a dedicated Facebook group for anyone who is taking or has taken one or more of the courses. This provides a lot more give and take between students, and I’ve found it a great add-on.
Unlike a class one might take in real life, where the lesson is given once, and that may be the last time you hear that particular material, with Emma’s courses you have lifetime access to the lesson material once you’ve taken the course. I know I will be refreshing my understanding of the various elements of the course as time goes by, and I also know I will be using the material with each novel I write, whether middle grade or adult, from now on.
It does take a time commitment to do the readings and assignments each week, as well as working on the novel you write as you go through the course, but it is time well spent. And of course, it costs a bit to take the course — but it is worth every penny. I believe it helped me greatly in moving toward the goal that all writers have — seeing readers enjoying our books. Thanks, Emma! (Come back next Monday for an interview with Emma about JWFMG and Editor-in-a-Box!)