Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Writing Workshop Week 14: The Wind-up

Last day of class, writerlings. All assignments have been turned in and everyone's ready for the long break.

So a few things before we finish our little virtual workshop. First, thanks to everyone who played the home game. Your contributions were extraordinary. I'm inspired by your energy and your ways with words. Here's my final "lecture."

Learn to love writing. Better, learn to love your own writing. When you find your voice as a writer, you'll find yourself brimming over with ways to use it.

Keep thinking like a writer. Story ideas are everywhere. All you have to do is keep those antennae up and the world will deliver the messages.

Keep living like a writer. That means making time for it every day, no exceptions. Even if it's just 10 minutes.

Don't get stuck. I've never believed in writer's block. But when the muse ain't talking to me, I get creative in other ways (taterquoise jewelry, anyone?). I had an art professor in college who used to say "listen to the clay." If the clay doesn't want to be a flowerpot, then it will crack in the kiln. She'd also say "Clay doesn't want to be square" to anyone trying to make a four-sided baking dish. Words are your clay. Listen to them. If they don't want to be a short story, make them a play. If they aren't working as a poem, make them a song. And if they don't work on the page, paint them in giant letters on a canvas (worked for Ruscha).

Accuracy counts. Your credibility lives in your accuracy. That applies to literature as well as email. Kids, when you email a prof, CHECK THE SPELLING AND GRAMMAR. You'd be surprised how much of an impression your most casual communications can make. (Ditto profs, when you email back to the students. Set an example!) When you submit your work for publication, check it, double-check it and don't count on SpellCheck to do you any favors. If you have to, find a professional proofreader and pay her or him to read your work to catch errors.

Don't be afraid of your audience. Whether you're stepping up at a poetry slam or putting yourself out there on a blog, don't let the "aginners" scare you or discourage you. Remember, the dogs bark as the caravan passes by.

And I'll leave you with these words of advice that I used to tell every class on the final day: Besides becoming good writers, you should learn to do some other things before you get out of college. Here they are.

1. Learn to change a tire.
2. Learn to make cornbread from scratch.
3. Volunteer to help others who need your help.
4. Get to know your grandparents. Very often, by the time you have time to spend with them, they're no longer able to (for whatever reasons). When you're young, they still are, too. So whether it's by phone, email, letter or in person, learn who they are. Get their stories down. Appreciate them. They love you already. Become interested in them and you'll give them the thrill of their lives, I guarantee. When you're their age, you won't regret a minute you spent with your elders.
5. Become transparent. By that, I mean be honest in your writing, in your business and in your personal life. When you love, say it to the person loved. Don't be afraid of speaking your feelings. Or writing them. Open up. Lighten up. The light within you is great. Let it shine.

I hope that over these past few months you've picked up a few tips you can use as writers. Maybe you discovered a new creative channel or felt a tiny spark of inspiration. Maybe you just learned, at last, when to use who and whom.

I'll keep blogging new stories, news and tidbits. But for now, writing class is dismissed, y'all.

I'd love to hear what you're writing right now. Leave some tantalizing examples in comments, if you dare to. Or just write whatever you want. How about your ideas for what everyone should know before they grad-jee-ate?

Write on, my friends! And when you see me in the bookstore, say howdy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


thanks for a great writings course...

i can't wait for more of those ever-intriguing stories about crazy college life!

~an journalism major who ended up taking way too many courses this year, including yours. :)

2:04 PM  
Blogger PerpetualBeginner said...

Seconds on the thanks, Prof. It's been an interesting run. While a lot of your lessons have been geared for the journalist rather than the fiction, I still think I've learned a lot.

Seconds on the writing habit. For ten years I had ideas about novels. Now I have two novels in editing. All because I write some every day, even if it's the last ten minutes before I turn out the lights.

Thanks for the ride!


5:39 PM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

Hey Prof-

Thanks so much for this workshop. Lots of the assignments were meaningful and challenging! I'm saying this because every teacher knows how difficult it is to create work like that on a consistent basis.

Probably the best thing you have done other than give us some neat things to write about is to write well yourself! It is easy to follow your advice or step out into the unknown here.

I love to write and I'm glad I participated in this workshop. Come see me anytime at my blog.


6:12 PM  
Blogger War Bride said...

Thanks so much for these posts and lessons. So helpful!

A question, while I'm here: What's your take on profanity in fiction? To further clarify, do you think that profanity is acceptable if it helps to flesh out a character?

7:05 PM  
Blogger Yvette said...

Thank you very much Professor, it's been grand. :)

7:53 PM  
Anonymous smirktastic said...

I love the writing tips. Would you mind if I shared them with the students in my writing class? We're always looking for ways to keep ourselves writing :)


1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Although I didn't participate in all the workshops, I learned a lot from just following the development of the course.



2:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

This was a brilliant sequence of exercises and I've had a lot of fun. Along with fun, it was informative and I'd like to say thanks.

Like Tapper I was more focused on the fiction sections, but the journalism comments were frequently useful outside of that context, which is possibly the point. Heh.

In terms of learning things from your grandparents, it occurred to me a while back that I'm going to try and write a biography of my maternal grandfather at some point. Fascinating and very brave man. Of all the people from New Zealand who joined the RAF, for one year I think he was one of three to survive and he has some very interesting stories.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Rand said...

Hey Prof,
Thanks for the writing tips. I think I missed the start of the class, but was glad to catch the tail end.
I came across a really interesting character sketch the other day. Would make a great screenplay/story character. You can see the link to the story from my blog here.


10:21 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I'm not a prof, just a mother of 3 females, and here are my ideas for what everyone should know before they grad-jee-ate from kollege.

1. Learn how to read a map and figure out how to get from point A to point B within the city in which you have chosen to live. Nothing makes you look more stupid than having to call your spouse, girlfriend, mother or buddy to get directions to where you were supposed to be 15 minutes ago. And god forbid you should have to call your boss for same.

2. Learn how to make an awesome margarita with fresh limes, tequila, triple sec and a touch of sugar, only. None of those silly, puke-inducing mixes. (We live in Texas -- probably there's an equally iconic drink in other parts of the country that they all should know how to make well.)

3. Learn how to do your own laundry and do it well. No pink underwear allowed, either gender. Unless you bought it in that color.

4. Learn how to hand-write a thank you note for every single gift anyone ever gives you. Do not assume that just because you were in the same room with the gift giver when you opened the gift and said a verbal thank-you, that you are off the hook for sending a thank you note to their name at their snail mail address. Just do it. Extra credit for creativity.

5. Learn how to check all fluid levels and air (i.e., tire) pressures in your car. Know how to add the appropriate fluid or air-burst to each lowered-content-level vesicle whenever necessary.

Note to prof: thanks for such a rockin' good class, offered so freely from the depths of your heart.

We are all enriched by you.

4:38 PM  
Blogger still life said...

This is the first time I can remember being upset when class was dismissed.

And for that I thank you.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I'm incredibly late in the coming, but I enjoyed this class very much.

Thanks for taking the time to share what you've learned.

12:43 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home