First some business stuff to get out-of-the-way. Hello and welcome to my new blog! My name is Matt and I hope you enjoy my blog. I will try to post regularly, hopefully at least two times maybe three times a week. I don’t know what my blog posts will each be about, but they in general will be about my thoughts, life, and writing. Sound fun? I hope so! I’m excited and I look forward to being able to communicate with you!
Now on to other topics.
I go to a small liberal arts college, and originally I was sure that I wanted to go to this school because of its amazing creative writing program so I could go there and learn to be a great writer so I could sell lots of books. I was in high school then and did not know anything about taking a creative writing class in college. My college is known for having a good creative writing program, but what does that even mean? What does one learn in a good creative writing class? Should one expect to go into a creative writing program with any measure of talent and come out a full-fledged author like some sort of Jedi training program turning everyone who doesn’t turn to the dark side into some sort of incorruptible knight?
The answer is one that I think would surprise many more than it should, but I’ll get to that a bit later. When I was a senior in high school, I was just coming into the world of serious writing for the first time. I took a creative writing class in high school where I wrote a couple of short stories. My classmates and the teacher liked them a lot. Armed with my pride, I thought I would go into the class and get lots of positive feedback, that my material was excellent and my characters were deep. I would certainly excel in the class and produce many more brilliant stories.
Needless to say, this was not the way it happened. We wrote three stories in the class, but most of the work was dedicated to reading our textbook and not writing. I did the reading and I tried my best to write good stories, but in class when we work-shopped my stories I was stunned at how much my classmates ripped me apart. The nitpicking hurt, but I walked away from that class ready to learn how to write much better than what I wrote in high school or for my college level creative writing class. I haven’t taken another creative writing class in college and at this point I don’t plan to. Why you might ask? Was it that I’m just too much of a sissy to take the criticism of readers? No. Was it the pressuring of my parents that I would live a poor and unhappy life if I took another such course? No, I just felt that I had gained from that course what I needed to grow as a writer.
So what did I gain from the class? What do others hope to gain from creative writing programs because at my school creative writing is by far the most common major and minor, especially among freshmen coming in saying what major they want to do? Did I learn some secret technique for pumping out bestselling books once a year? No, but I thought I would when I went into the class. That’s what is so shocking for many people, like me, in a creative writing class. You don’t learn how to write a story in a creative writing class. You can argue that you learn how to write for a deadline, but that’s a relatively less important lesson than learning to write in general. The most important lesson to be learned in a creative writing class is humility. I learned that I was not some big hot-shot writer quickly. The reason people learn humility in a creative writing class is the fact that lots of other people are reading your story for the first time, and they will tear it apart. There are no exceptions. However, in the end it’s a good thing they do this because you learn that you cannot please everyone, what kinds of writing advice you should listen to and what not to listen to, and you learn most importantly that you are not the next J.K. Rowling just because your high school creative writing class liked your work.
It’s an important lesson because rejection is the life of a writer. It’s scary but true. It’s at the same time horribly depressing and motivating. A young writer has to fight to learn, be heard and hopefully be noticed. Lessons on how exactly to write a story though, and by that I mean the proportion of dialogue to narration, the style of narration and other such details, they cannot be easily taught in a class because there aren’t clear-cut right answers because every book is different. Beyond learning vocab, grammar, punctuation, and the basic ways to structure a story, it’s difficult to measure how effectively courses can teach you how to write well. By all means take a creative writing course if you want, but go into it knowing what you should get out of it and what you probably won’t get out of it. That’s why it’s important for any aspiring writers to get out there and do four things.
1) Read – I cannot express how important it is for a writer to be an avid reader. Reading sparks the imagination which is so important for getting started writing and keeping at it. Not only that but the styles of narration and other ways your favorite authors will probably come easier to you than other styles when you’re doing your own writing. So go read! Books are fun! I’ll give you an example of how reading can help you become a better writer from my own personal experience. This summer I’ve been working on the first draft of a novel, but I’ve had lots of trouble getting descriptive narration to fit in and convey emotion. I also have been slowing down considerably in the amount of words per day I’ve been able to produce. Now, I read the Great Gatsby in high school. I hated that book when I first read it. It was so boring to me. Enter John Green. If you don’t know who John Green is or his brother Hank Green then you need to go to their Youtube channel and watch their videos because they are two of the most amazing and funny people in the whole world. Link here: http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers. John Green has a way of making everything sound interesting. I don’t understand how he does it but he made this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehjTS6AhMJ8&feature=channel_video_title. That video, in which John analyzes the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, not only made me wish that he had been my English teacher in high school much less the English teacher of every single human being, monkey and parrot on the planet, but it lit a fire in me. This fire burned inside me to read the Great Gatsby. Keep in mind that I absolutely despised that book before, but John fixed that. I watched his video, found some quotes online from the book since I didn’t have a copy of the book handy, and that sat down to write and banged out page after page of material. I may never use that material in my story and I may go back and throw it out because on later review I fought that the writing was terrible, but the important fact is the quotes, through the words from the video, inspired me to write when I had been in a dry spell.
2) Experience as much as you can – This goes along with reading because it is also about inspiration, but it’s more than just getting inspiration from reading. Go out into the world instead of sitting in your house all day trying to write. This world is beautiful and nature is so vast and powerful. Become like a plant and photosynthesize some of that energy in words on the page. Allow the universe to inspire you. Sit on the ground and look up at the stars at night and contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Then write. Write and write some more! Let nothing escape your notice and thought. It will help. The more you experience, the more you will know and be able to draw on for inspiration.
3) Watch People – I don’t mean stalk people, but observe people as they go about their day. Imagine what they are thinking, who they are, even make up lives for them in your mind. It will help when you try to make characters to know how a real person other than yourself acts.
4) Write until you drop – This is the most important piece of advice that can be given to young writers. Never stop writing no matter how abysmal you think your writing is. Eventually something good will break through the bad. Always keep writing.
I want to end as many blog posts as I can with something fun or thought-provoking, I did switch from a creative writing major to eventually a philosophy major. So today I’ll leave you with a quote that I will address in brief in my next blog post.
Here’s the quote, which is from my Greek nerd brother, Plato: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”
Okay, I’ve been working on this for quite a while and procrastinating on my story, so I really have to get back to writing that. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. Bye until next time!