This story is part of a MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off,” about presents that have an impact long after the holiday season has passed.
Writing lessons are a helpful gift for the potential author in your life, and it practically guarantees a well-written Christmas card next year.
There are writing classes for all genres — fiction, children’s books, memoirs, instructional guides — as well as the basics, including grammar and punctuation or even developing a writing style. Classes are available online, one-on-one or as group sessions.
Some aspiring authors may just want to improve their writing, while others might have a book idea they’re looking to develop or, given record-low unemployment, they may want to craft a résumé for a new job. Gifting a class or time with a coach could help a loved one’s idea blossom into a soon-to-be published novel, or spark the beginning of a lucrative blog.
Sometimes, writers need a push, said Lisa Tener, a book-writing coach. “It just opens up a world for them,” she said. “It was this door they had been keeping closed for whatever reason.”
Those reasons could be so buried deep inside the person that they are barely aware of them, such as remembering a teacher’s criticisms at a young age, or too much time juggling work and family and life, leaving not enough time to write that book you always dreamed of writing.
Classes, or even coaching, provide writers a community to lean on, where they can share their written passages, hear constructive criticism — which, yes, might be difficult to hear at first — and brainstorm ideas and strategies for managing time. It could be as simple as two hours, or even two pages, ever morning.
Tener’s expertise does not come cheap. Her workshops, such as the eight-week “Bring Your Book to Life,” cost about $6,000, but she also provides a less-expensive self-starter option with audio and a workbook for $97.
Universities and institutions also offer classes in specific genres. New York-based Gotham Writers, started by a fiction writer and script writer in 1993, have classes on writing fiction and non-fiction, comedy and poetry, scripts and essays, as well as courses on professional development and writing essentials.
There are online classes and 10-week workshops in New York City. An in-person Fiction Level 1 10-week course costs $435, compared to $409 for an online version. One-on-one tuition is $1,745. University of California, Los Angeles has a writing program, which includes certificates, mentorships and master classes in writing for young readers, editing and television or film writing. Catapult, another New York-based writing organization, also offers in-person and online classes, including seminars in personal essay idea generation ($50) and character and place development ($495).
Writing classes benefit more than aspiring book authors. A majority of employers — more than 73% — look for candidates with strong writing skills, because they can communicate messages clearly and make complex concepts easy to understand, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Employers in a wide range of industries make this a requirement, including in engineering, health care and finance, according to Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. What’s more, when deals fall through or contracts get cancelled or colleagues have problems, the cause is often (but not always) traced back to a lack of clear communication.
But writing is also therapeutic, said Dana Miller, dean of students and director of one-on-one services at Gotham Writers. “The wellness space is broad,” Miller said. “There’s not only wellness to the body, but wellness to the mind, wellness to the soul.” In other words, people can feel free and escape their troubles when they start to write.
For the person who needs complete focus to start (or finish) her book, writing retreats can help. Writers and their families can take a trip to Costa Rica with Centauri Arts, a West Toronto-based academy for creatives, to attend creative writing workshops. The 2019 retreat is fully booked already, but prices for the seven-night retreat in 2020 are $1,499 plus $375 for the writing course (to include a child on the trip is an additional $400).
Under the Volcano is a 10-day program of writing master classes an hour outside of Mexico City, and costs $1,995 for tuition, lunches and group dinners). Lisa Jakub, a former child actress known for her roles in “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Independence Day,” hosts workshops for writing and yoga, called “Prose & Pose,” in Lenox, Mass. and Buckingham, Va.
For the writer who isn’t yet ready to take classes, work with a coach or go on a retreat, there are simpler gift options: Books. Reading is probably the most organic and original way of improving one’s vocabulary and style, and opening one up to new worlds and ideas.
Authors have written about writing for decades, with classics including “On Writing Well,” by William Zinsser, and “On Writing,” by Stephen King. New York-based publisher Penguin Random House also offers a list of books for writers, from authors Margaret Atwood, Gay Talese, Alice Mattison and Wallace Stegner.
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