September 12, 2012

So Much Time and for What?

I'm not one for "How To" books. I can never stick with them. It feels like reading a reference book. The closest I come is to reading Don Maass on Twitter who gives good advice on improving your characters.

So I'm linking to this post by Peter V. Brett not because of the book he's referencing but because of his life experience as a writer. When I first read it, I just shouted, "Yes! This! Exactly this!" While I don't mind trotting out my degrees (one in creative writing and another in playwriting), anyone that knows me knows I think very little of the education I received while pursuing those degrees.

I wrote my first short story in first grade and decided in seventh grade that I wanted to be a novelist, just like one of my favorite teachers, Brother Stephen Chappell. I got to high school and they told me I couldn't take creative writing until my junior or senior year because they found that the underclassmen lacked the maturity to take the writing seriously (despite the fact that I was asking to take the class as an incoming freshman, which I think demonstrates I want to take the damn thing seriously). I got but the one class in high school where the teacher frequently used my work as an example for the rest of the class on how it should be done. Clearly there wasn't anything for me to learn there.

And then I got to college. I had an amazing poetry writers workshop by a Lebanese instructor who proved to be the best writing professor I would have in my entire tenure in higher education. I had a Chinese teacher who announced the first day that writing could not be taught! You simply had to write and you would know how to do it or you would not. I had her repeatedly, which may tell you why I think so little of my creative writing degree. It was just class after class of writing for other students who most likely had the same experiences as me, being the best in their high school classes, but not the same interests. "Writing something other than fantasy" is not good feedback. Nor is "Write something real, not fantasy." Hope you enjoyed seeing Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, motherfucker. They were books first.

Playwriting was better, but marginally so. The classes were smaller, I think, which is what made the difference, but they were still the same format of workshop. I often fantasize about teaching college because writing, to a degree, can most certainly be taught. If you disagree, then why do you read so many blogs where people giving writing advice? That's teaching. More over, a business of writing class would be awesome.

With all these young authors today talking about this teacher or that who had such a huge impact on them and prompted them to achieve their first novel days out of their mothers' wombs, all I can think was, am I only the only one that had a shitty writing education? My best classes were poetry, Chaucer, history of the theatre, and a senior theatre capstone. And it took me 4 1/2 years to get my degrees and I count my valuable writing experiences on four fingers. How disappointing.

But, at least, now I know I'm not alone.


  1. Boy you sure had some lousy teachers. I know writing can be taught, though I also believe in natural talent. A person without natural talent can work really hard and become pretty good. A person with a load of natural talent can be lazy and waste it. But the person with a lot of natural talent who works at it can be one of the best.

    1. I absolutely agree! I phrase it as such:

      Skill < Talent < Skill + Talent

  2. I had an excellent writing class in High School. It was "Science Fiction Writing" -- and yes, this was a public school. I guess most schools don't have this class :x

    Instead of teaching us structure or style, our teacher challenged our imaginations.

    It wasn't just Sci-Fi, either. There were occasional bouts of fantasy. We read A WIZARD OF EARTHEA, and select short stories as well.

    She made us learn to stop thinking in general terms and tropes, and come up with our own creations, as well as learn how to describe things without their generic terms (like say a tree, or a predatory big cat, etc)

    It has been the only creative writing class I've had that actually taught creativity.

  3. Replies
    1. Which is an awesome opportunity, but at the moment, I'm still pursuing agents and I wouldn't want to begin my relationship by saying "So here are the publishers that already turned me down."

  4. 'Which is an awesome opportunity, but at the moment, I'm still pursuing agents and I wouldn't want to begin my relationship by saying "So here are the publishers that already turned me down."'

    Yeah, I agree. I think it's awesome that they have an open call, but really, you should probably be trying to query agents first. If you have something they think can be sold to a publisher, they can often give you input on things they feel need to be changed up in order for an editor to want to take a stab at it.

    I'm also pretty sure I read somewhere that HarperVoyager actually takes unsolicited mss yearlong, but that this was more of a public calling type of thing.