Gail Anderson-Dargatz  

Creative Writing Course

About:Journal and Pen

While the course is still available for writers who are already registered, we're retiring this course. But you'll now find the course blogs under 'resources for writers' on the site menu.

Designed by Gail Anderson-Dargatz for new and emerging writers, instruction is offered in simple, straight-forward language and illustrated with (truly goofy) cartoons drawn by Gail and animated by Mitch Krupp.

Why cartoons? Doodling is part of the writing process as we use mind-mapping (or "spider drawings") to brainstorm. The process of writing itself is a kind of doodling or noodling, as we improvise and play to discover what our story is about.

The focus of the course blogs is on process, from finding your big idea, to developing your characters and conflicts, to structuring your project and revising.

You'll also explore the publishing world and how you might get your work out there. Along the way, you’ll get a real-world view of what it means to be a writer.


What the course looks like:

Again, we're retiring this course. But you'll now find the course blogs under 'resources for writers' on the site menu.

Each unit contains two lessons, three craft exercises, a journal exercise and a project submission assignment. Each exercise starts off with tips on the topic and, for those who want to know more, is followed by a link to an outside webpage. Lessons and exercises are short and to the point and can be fit into the busiest schedules.

One unit builds on the next, so you’ll construct your project in stages as you work along.

You’ll also keep a writer's journal on what you’ve learned from the lessons and exercises, and through study of your “mentor” story or novel. By the end of this course, you’ll have a good start to your project, and a clear idea of how to develop it further and find an audience.


You'll now find the course blogs, for free, under 'resources for writers' on the site menu.

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Course Units

Course Unit Descriptions ...

The Building Blocks of Fiction

We’ve all heard that phrase: “Show, don’t tell.” But what does that really mean? In this unit, we’ll look at the basic modes of storytelling and how to write vivid scene that allows the reader to experience events right along with the characters.

Finding Your Big Idea

We spend so much time and energy on a story or novel project. How do we know when an idea is worth pursuing? We’ll look at ways to find that “big idea”: the main idea behind your fiction project, one that offers you the emotional energy to see your project through to the end. You’ll also learn how to find the material you’ll use to feed your muse and construct your story or novel. See a sample assignment from this unit below...

Getting to Know Your Characters

We get to know fictional characters the same way we get to know real people: through what they say and do, and how they interact with others in a given situation. In this unit, we’ll look at ways you can make your characters come alive on the page for both you and your reader.

Deciding on Point of View

Writers are smart to settle on point of view at the start of a project, as changing point of view changes everything. What is the best perspective from which to tell your story? Here, you’ll experiment with point of view options to decide which suits your project.

Midterm Assignment

Your midterm assignment is a 2,000 word rough draft.

Choosing Your Situation and Setting

Situation is the hot mess you throw your protagonist into, so it’s a useful place to start talking about story and plot. Have you chosen a situation that offers enough opportunity for your protagonist’s conflict? In this unit we’ll look at how to use both situation and setting to build story and convey emotion.

Developing Conflict and Structure

Developing conflict and structure is the writer’s most difficult task. Fortunately, most of the heavy lifting has been done for us by the writers of the past. In this unit we’ll look at existing story structures that will offer inspiration for your story or novel project.


Writing is rewriting, a process of layering. Here we’ll explore some of the ways you can gain distance from your work in order to see it more clearly, most importantly from peer critique. As well, we’ll cover approaches to revising that will bring your writing up to the next level.


Planning to make big money from your writing? Well, probably not. But there are many ways to find a home for your project, and publishing can offer opportunities you might not have considered, like travel. In this unit we’ll look at the realities of publishing, how to ready your work for submission and check out some of the many opportunities available to writers.

Final Project

Your final project is a polished 4,000 word story or chapter.

Sample Assignment

Finding Your Big Idea

As you can tell from the design of this course, I'm all about doodling, as many writers are. In fact, I spend a good portion of my writing day doodling. But it's doodling with a purpose, what others call mind-mapping and I call spider drawings. It's doodling as a brainstorming tool. Brainstorming, of course, is any activitiy (tossing things around with a friend, say, or in this case mind-mapping) that aims to generate ideas.

Here’s an example of a spider drawing that maps out that middle school novel I wrote called Iggy’s World:

Iggy Spider Diagram

You can see why I call this method of brainstorming a “spider drawing.” And it's a highly effective way of generating ideas. In fact, once you get the hang of it, you can map out a whole story or even a whole novel in an afternoon. Try it out! We'll be using mind-mapping throughout this course.

The assignment:

This exercise is two-fold: mind-map your project and then write a couple of paragraphs on what you come up with.

You're welcome to do your spider drawing in your journal. I do small spider drawings or mind-mapping in my project journals all the time. But I suggest you use the biggest blank piece of paper you can find for this exercise. Allow your imagination room to do its thing! And coloured pencils really help. You can use different colours for different story elements.

SpiderNow, take all that research, interview and experience from this unit's exercises and brainstorm on how it all comes together for your project. Start by drawing a circle in the middle, with, say, your character's name jotted there, as I did with Iggy above. Who would be the best character to tell this story? What point of view should you use? What is the protagonist like? Who are their friends or family? What’s the best situation to throw them into, as you explore the subject you've chosen? Are they entering an art or sporting competition? Getting their first job? Going on a trip alone? What's the setting? A new school? On vacation in another country? Another planet? What does the protagonist want? What's stopping that character from reaching their goals? What do you think happens in the story? We’ll look deeper into these questions in the following units. But for now, just let your imagination go crazy and see what ends up on the mind-map.


Now write a couple of paragraphs of about 500 words total in your journal about what new ideas you came up with for your project as you brainstormed.

But don't stop there! If your brainstorming inspired you to write a scene for your project, go for it!

What to know more? Check out How to Mind Map a Novel



About Gail

Gail's novels have been national and international bestsellers and two have been short-listed for the Giller Prize, among other awards. She works with writers from around the world on her online teaching forums.