Writing a novel is thrilling and daunting all at once. Workshop leader Amin Ahmad is intimately aware of all that goes into creating a novel-length piece. He has published two books thus far—The Caretaker (2013) and The Last Taxi Ride (2014), both suspense novels from St. Martin’s Press, and he is currently working on a literary novel. Fueled by his personal writing experience and inspired by similar courses at other literary centers, Ahmad is taking the lead on a new endeavor at The Writer’s Center—The Novel Year program, which will launch in September.
The program will allow ten participants to workshop their entire novel over the course of a full year. It will meet weekly during fall, winter, and spring, and more sporadically in the summer. During the summer, participants will have the opportunity for one-on-one sessions with Ahmad to address specific issues in their novels. They will be motivated by regular writing deadlines, studying aspects of craft, and creating a supportive community. In addition, they will be introduced to the publishing process and have the chance to meet experts in the industry, including literary agents. Panels of visiting writers will offer their thoughts on craft and their publishing experiences as well. Participants will be able to use the Studio at The Writer’s Center twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
To be admitted into the program, potential candidates will need to submit a cover letter and a twenty-five page writing sample for review between July 1 and August 30. Partial scholarships will be available. Each week, the class will workshop a large portion of a student’s novel, as well as deal with a different craft issue, such as dialogue. Participants will read examples, discuss and dissect them, and then focus on their own related writing exercises. Comparing writing to other crafts, Ahmad said, “There is a big difference between reading as a reader versus reading as a writer. Like a master carpenter, you must learn how to take the writing apart and put it back together.”
“You learn a lot by reading other people’s work in that you can return to your own work with a critical and informed eye,” said Ahmad. Developing an inner editor is the next step. “When I’m looking at my work I’m hearing the voices of my former writing teachers. It’s become part of my self-editing.”Ahmad attended courses at GrubStreet literary center in Boston, New York University, and The New School, all of which influence the way he teaches the intensive twelve-week Master Novel class at The Writer’s Center. That class has been a great success. “Students kept signing up over and over,” he said. “They got to know each other’s work and created a supportive community. They also learned a lot about the publishing industry.” Establishing a year-long workshop was the next logical step.
Ahmad and Stewart Moss, executive director of The Writer’s Center, spent more than two years talking to other writers centers and developing the format for the Novel Year program.The program may be especially appealing to students who want to experience the rigor and structure of an M.F.A. program, but without the financial commitment and two-year time frame. And while M.F.A. programs are modeled around writing and revising short stories, Novel Year will focus exclusively on writing a novel.
Vickie Fang was working toward her M.F.A. when she took Ahmad’s Master Novel class. “Amin shows us all respect as members of a community of writers, and he works to bring in authors and agents to discuss the paths they’ve taken. He gives a sense of having wider possibilities while still preparing us for the often grim realities of publishing.” She found his style of critique to be particularly helpful. “Although I was already attending a very good M.F.A. program that was workshop-based, Amin taught me new, more helpful ways to critique. Through the practice of critiquing other people’s work, I became much better at analyzing and revising my own. As a result, I have the tools to improve my writing when I’m not happy with it.”
This is perhaps the most important lesson writers will learn from the Novel Year. Aspiring novelists will discover how to recognize what “works” and what doesn’t in their writing and be given a set of tools, like an artisan, to fix problematic areas. This program will focus on how to develop an individualized writing process. Some make up their novels as they go along, but others use outlines, plot summaries, index cards, and other methods to structure their novels and stay on track. “It’s no longer scary when you have tools,” Ahmad said.