Saturday, June 2, 2012

28 Day Blog Challenge: Education as a Writer

What kinds of classes, programs, or workshops have you taken to hone your skill as a writer? What sorts of exercises did/do you use to improve your craft? Have you ever taught a writing class or workshop?
Yesterday I blogged about my early years as a writer, and it only makes sense to pick up where that left off for this prompt. 

It was never really my intention to be a writer.  I went to college fully under the assumption that I would be going to vet school.  That failed pretty spectacularly, though.  The 30% I got in Chemistry pretty much put the final nail in that coffin.  So I floundered around, looking for something else to major in, and stumbled rather clumsily into the English department. 

I'd already been writing for several years by this point, of course, but it hadn't seemed like something I could actually do for money.  I'd absorbed entirely too much "don't quit your day job" advice to believe I could do much, if anything, with a degree in English.  But I got it anyway, because I loved it, and it made me happier than anything else ever could.

Here's the thing about being an English major.  Yes, you're discussing and writing about literature.  But there's so much more to it than that.  You're analyzing books to learn about the world.  English classes are like a big mix of history, sociology, science, economics, philosophy, psychology...basically the entire human condition.  I firmly believe that majoring in literature will make you a better person. 

Anyway, I graduated in 2007 and had no idea what to do with myself.  I published two short stories ("Monologue" and "Werehouse") in unpaid journals, but wasn't any closer to figuring out what I wanted to do with myself.  There was a lot of pressure to continue my education, so despite some reluctance, I opted for an MFA program in Creative Writing. 

It was....a fiasco. 

I was too nervous to teach (I was 20 when I got to graduate school, and the idea of teaching a bunch of fresh-out-of-high-school 18-year-old freshman was too terrifying for me to attempt) so I had to work a pretty crappy part-time job that didn't really pay the bills.  I racked up a tremendous debt.  And the program was....not good. 

It was very pretentious.  Lots of worrying about "art" and "literary" writing, but rarely any discussion of craft -- as though talking about the nuts and bolts of writing might somehow sully the art.  Some of the stories that came through the workshop were pretty decent.  Most of them were terrible -- pompous, self-centered, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing...oh, wait.  Well, anyway. 

I workshopped "Falling Away" and "Jenny."  My professor pulled me aside and told me that I needed to stop writing "that genre nonsense" if I wanted to stay in the class.  All of my classmates kind of treated me like I was carrying some sort of infectious disease.  It was not a good fit. 

I dropped out of grad school and wandered home.  I published both stories.  "Jenny" earned me my first ever paid publication.  Score a point for genre nonsense. 

For my money, MFA programs are a waste of cash.  I would really love to teach creative writing to kids, though.  I have no idea now I'd land a gig like that, but it's one of (read: only) persistent "teaching" fantasies I've ever had.


  1. Interesting. I enjoyed reading your response this challenge.


  2. There is a very photographer I know who has never learnt anything much to do with photography and she said to me that it was great, because she was never hampered by what she was allegedly supposed to be doing. I think writing is like that....probably any art. Getting hung on what I was 'meant' to do, would stifle me terribly.

    Good point made! Thank you x

  3. Ads in your local paper, perhaps? A journey to the local school for a discussion with their English teachers? Just some thoughts. I hate focusing on the rules of writing. I adhere to most of them without thinking because I read. Thank goodness I never took a class that forced me to tear down sentences. :)

    Excellent post! Looking forward to more.

    WRITE ON!!