Book Country member Kelli Mahoney won the intensive creative writing course offered by Penguin Random House Writers’ Academy in our sweepstakes last November. The Writers’ Academy is offering a new online creative writing class for beginners with Jane Lawson in March. Kelli shares what she’s learned from Michal Shavit, Editorial Director at Harvill Secker, and the best writing advice she’s received from the course. Connect with Kelli on Book Country.
Janet Umenta: What has been your favorite session so far in the course?
Kelli Mahoney: I don’t know if I can choose a favorite. Every week poses a challenge and an opportunity to push me outside my comfort zone. The writing assignments push me to create a more compelling and cleaner story, and the advice provided in the videos and readings are priceless. I do like the progression from character development to plot. Also, the writing prompts have opened up the flood gates of creativity, so sometimes we’ll have a 500 word piece to write that suddenly becomes a 6,000 word chapter of the book I’ve been working on.
JU: What is it like working with writing tutors in the course?
KM: The tutor has been fantastic. She gives wonderful constructive criticism that has significantly improved my writing. It is so hard to evaluate your own writing. When you put words on paper, they are still a part of you. There is a vulnerability in sharing your writing with others, and at no point is that exploited. She spends time getting to know the characters and settings. Ultimately, we’re taking the class so one day our words will be read by others, so it allows us to see how our writing is affecting those outside of ourselves.
JU: How have your views on writing changed since beginning the course?
KM: I’m not sure if my views on writing have changed. I think what this course has done is validated my internal drive to write. I think most writers will say that there are stories dying to get out of their heads and onto paper, and the most difficult thing is to write it down. I’ve always felt like my biggest challenge is not the story itself, but actually writing the whole thing. This course has been wonderful at stopping me from making excuses for not writing because I now have deadlines and set things to write.
JU: What is it like learning from Michal Shavit?
KM: While the tutor gives us feedback on our writing, Michal is gives us advice on what happens when the story is finally on paper and we’re looking to get published. Michal has been fantastic in clarifying misconceptions that are out there in the world of writing and publishing. She’s talked about how important character is in getting a story published and what editors look for in a manuscript.
JU: What’s the best advice you’ve received from the course so far?
KM: Keep writing. It is easy to get stuck on the little things, especially in a first draft. But really, editing comes after the story is done and after you’ve walked away a bit. It’s not the most original piece of advice, but it is a theme repeated over and over. A first draft is just that, a draft. It’s in the edit that everything sharpens into focus. The second best advice? Cut the adverbs. It may seem like a silly piece of advice, but it has stepped up the quality of my writing in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have had to dig heavily into the thesaurus and other word help programs, but not relying on adverbs has created more varied sentences and clearer plot and character development.
About Kelli Mahoney
Kelli Mahoney is an aspiring fantasy fiction writer who has spent most of her life with her nose pressed into her favorite authors’ books. When she isn’t trying to save the mundane world through political work, she is trying to save teens from making the same mistakes she did through her online, very much non-fiction writing. Born with an unquenchable thirst for learning, she has spent an inordinate amount of time in classrooms obtaining several degrees of higher education in the most practical sciences like psychology and public administration. However, her heart belongs to angels, dragons, werewolves…and yes, even vampires and demons. She dreams big in a small world. She lives near the Pacific shoreline with one big bubba of a cat, a tiny princess of a feline, and a poodle that wishes no more than to be attached to her side at all times.