Bestsellers share writing advice (for free!)

John Updike just told me that the key to finding a writer’s true voice is to go into an empty room and hum. Speaking voices can be shy or squeaky but a nice solid hum is the essence or your voice. Since I was alone at the time, I paused Updike’s presentation and did just that. I’m not sure if I’m any closer to finding that ephemeral piece of writing style, but I do feel inspired.

Updike is one of many authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Ephron, Michael Crichton, Toni Morrison, and John Irving, who contributes to a new course on iTunes U: Creative Writing: A Master Class. Universities have been teaming up with iTunes since 2007 to create multimedia courses for their students and for the public. The courses that are available to the public are completely free for you to download in piecemeal seminars or to subscribe to a full course of lessons. This particular course is a symposium series of distinguished authors talking about their writing experience in 10-15 minute segments.

I found it instructional, but also encouraging. Arthur Golden spoke about how he knew he had great material for a book, but couldn’t seem to write about it in a way that his first guinea pig readers enjoyed. He tossed the first manuscript of what would eventually become Memoirs of a Geisha when his friends said it was too dry, and began again from scratch. He scrapped the second manuscript when he realized that he needed to write it from the perspective of a younger woman’s experiences. Hearing an author talk about his struggles on the way to success is something invaluable to writers.

This course and others like it — several MFA programs offer courses through iTunes U — are great opportunities for writers. It can be dangerous to write alone or write into a void, but it’s sometimes difficult (or simply intimidating) to find a writing community in your area for encouragement and feedback. MFA programs are great, but they’re expensive and require significant commitment. iTunes U offers you a chance to hear from other writers, to find advice on how someone else learned how to plot a scene, write dialogue, or blend real experiences with fiction.

All of this is available at the iTunes Store under the iTunes U heading. I can’t link directly there since it operates out of iTunes, but you can find their course category listing here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/itunes-u/id40000000.

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