I suppose it’s pretty arrogant to add even more writing advice to the blogosphere—kind of the writing equivalent of using CFCs. However, after years (I won’t calculate how many) of being able to teach only one creative writing class every now and again, I have to let it out. I suppose it’s karmically no worse than if I had decided to blog about politics, or movies, or any other bloated topic.
Which brings me to my first lesson, one particularly suited to the post-blog era: though the story may have been told a thousand times, it changes every time. To wit: there may be many blogs about writing, but this one is mine.
What can I possibly contribute? The answer is easy: all that I have learned in a lifetime of obsessing about writing, all that I teach in the physical classroom, and more. I’m not much of a writer’s writer. Although I sport an academic pedigree, I’ve pretty much failed to back it up with the lifestyle it’s supposed to bring about. My MFA in creative writing was largely in fiction, and yet I wound up writing primarily poetry. I almost completed a PhD in literature, but specialized in nineteenth-century women’s novels, which had no connection to my creative work. Then I embarked on the glamorous life of adjuncting, which means I’ve spent the bulk of my professorial career teaching the basics of the essay and emergency grammar and punctuation. To make matters even stranger, I’ve somehow become the adjunct of choice when it comes to teaching scientific writing. I’m an expert in APA.
What all this means is that I’ve read, written, and taught haphazardly all my life, drifting from what I like to what I like next. I don’t have the highly specialized knowledge of the single-minded scholar. If you press me, I’ll call myself a poet, but I can’t rattle off a list of movements or styles, or discuss the finer points of scansion, without a trip to Wikipedia. Like Wikipedia, I know a little about everything, but a whole lot about nothing. I have not much to say to other professional writers, who, quite frankly, often intimidate me. They already know everything I have to say, and more.
On the other hand, the beginning writer has always been my audience. I have never taught an advanced creative writing class. My students have ranged from those intent on becoming the next Shakespeare (well, lately more like the next Stephanie Meyer) to those who will never write anything more than an email again, but who, for one semester, had fun writing. What they have always had in common, however, is that they were all beginners. An easy audience to impress, perhaps, but also a very deserving, underappreciated, and receptive one. In particular, I would like to reach the person who can’t make it into a classroom for whatever reason. Isn’t that what the Internet is best for? Maybe you’re reading this in the middle of the night, insomniac and restless. Maybe you can’t afford to go to school. Maybe you’re too sick to leave home (I hope not!). Maybe you work all the freaking time, and you can’t stick to a class or read a thousand how-to books. Maybe you’re really sensitive and can’t bear the thought of an actual human being discussing your writing in person. Who knows? But, if you’ve never or hardly ever had someone teach you how to write creatively, if so far your only audience has been a parent, a spouse, a boyfriend, a pet, or your invisible friend, I have so much to tell you.
I suppose, if you are also a creative writing teacher, you might find an idea or two worth considering in this blog. I warn you, however, that I’ll probably write some things here that may not jive with what others consider accepted pedagogy. My intention is to make this a strictly personal space, where I can feel at liberty to write what I believe to be true even if it is contrary to what I’ve been taught. If it works for you, great. If not, I make no claims here of genius.
Finally, I’ve decided to try to do this for myself. It’s hard to write regularly, and half the year, while I’m teaching first-year composition and scientific writing, it’s very hard to think about creative writing at all. Maybe this will force me to be what I’ve always wanted to be, a more diligent writer. I’ve also never written a blog before, so that’s going to be . . . interesting. I have no idea how the mechanics of it work, but I’m confident I can figure it out. We can call that lesson #2: Approach the task with confidence. That’s not really a writing lesson—it’s more of a life lesson. What’s the difference between writing and living? Writing is no different from other things one does, like asking someone out or deciding what to wear. You decide to do it and then you do it, or not. But that might be the subject of an actual post rather than a post about intentions.
For now, my goal is this: to write about writing. I’m not going to pretend to a sequence of lessons you can follow. While I’m teaching creative writing, as I am this semester, I’ll probably be more practical than philosophical. But I know that I have a tendency to get maniacal, and, if I start out with too many parameters, I’ll give this up before the second post. And that is lesson #3: Know thyself. To grow as a writer, you must develop your own philosophy of writing. It will be bits and pieces of what others have to say about it, but mostly it will be your own experience formulating your personal principles. Some people respond well to carefully thought-out plans. I don’t. I know that, if I make a rigid plan for the content of this blog, my expectations will never be able to meet what I can do here and there in between grading a paper and feeding the dog, and I’ll abandon it. So no rigid plans. I’ll post when I can, about what is motivating me at the moment—poetry, nonfiction, fiction, maybe even some scientific writing.
So there you go: three whole lessons in one post. Number one, write what you want to write about no matter how many other people are writing about it. It will be different because you are writing it, and not someone else. Number two, do it with confidence, just like you do other things in your life infinitely more complicated, like raising children or using a smart phone. Number three, know yourself. There is no one right way to write well, only one right way for you, and likely that will change as your moods change or as you grow and change as a person and a writer. One of my personal goals for this project is to do precisely that—to elaborate my personal philosophy of writing and have a record of it, and how it changes. What’s your philosophy?