Hey, writers…

This is a quick post. A sort of poll question, if you will…

What service or resource have you tried to find to help you with your writing, but have been unable to find, either on-line or in person? Or, another way to ask: What is something you’ve said, “If only I could find _x_ it would help me be a better writer!” but have been unable to find?

If something comes to mind, feel free to post it below, or send me an email. Ask other writer friends to chime in. I’m curious to hear…

There are no wrong answers. 🙂

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I Give Up.

“I thought you’d already given up blogging,” some of you might say. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been actively engaged in maintaining this blog, so your reaction is justified.

No, what I mean is, I’m giving up teaching writing.

This is a tough decision, because in the last few years, I’ve seen some really amazing things with my writing students and private instruction clients.

There have been people in my Legacy of Words classes that swore to me they couldn’t write a thing, and yet they hand me these pages full of lovely words that make me laugh or cry or sigh with contentment. I’ve had fiction writers whose eyes flare wide with that moment of recognition and epiphany, then come to me and tell me they finally figured out the ending to that story that’s been bothering them, or that they started a new novel and wrote seven chapters in one week.

So, I thought I was doing a good job. I thought my words, my encouragement, my excitement for the written word was spilling forth in ways that brought people along to their “next level.”

But I found out today: I’ve been doing it all wrong.

How do I know? I stumbled across a video titled, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.”

I’ve been ripping these students and clients off, apparently. I’m a charlatan. A scam artist. Because, I was working under the wrong set of assumptions. Here’s what I believed about writing fiction, which is contradictory to this new method:

1) Writing fiction is hard. The idea of “effortlessly” writing anything is foreign to me. Drafting is hard. Revision is hard. Getting feedback is hard, and knowing just what to do with the feedback is even harder. I don’t even make a shopping list effortlessly. Practice and evaluate and revise. Repeat. Repeat. That’s what it takes. If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

2) There is no perfect story, or novel. Naeem Murr is a great writer, and one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the joy of knowing. He told me, and I believed him, that there is no perfect work. That there is always something that could be done better. That even the best story will seem, to the writer, deficient a few years later, when he or she looks back at the piece and sees how the problems of the story would be tackled differently now. Which leads to…

3) Learning the craft of fiction is an ongoing, never-ending process. The best story you can write today is not the best story you can write. Next month, next year, in twenty years, this “best thing I’ve ever written” will seem a little stale, full of holes, naive, and clumsy. That’s because the more we write, the better we get, and the more we are capable of.

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But all three of these assumptions are destroyed with a title like, “How to Effortlessly Write the Perfect Short Story in One Hour.” There is no effort needed. There is no growth in craft, because you can’t improve on perfection. You don’t need years of practice and learning and synthesizing knowledge: it only takes an hour to be set.

I hope this guy is charging at least $30,000 for this information. If he’s able to do in one hour what an MFA program only PREPARED me to do, then he deserves it.

My apologies to those of you from whom I’ve bilked money. I’m chopping my snake-oil wagon up for fire wood and shaving off my handlebar mustache and cutting my plaid-striped carnival barker’s suit into strips to be used as prayer flags for the yurt where I am planning to retire and write, effortlessly, one perfect story every day for the rest of my life. I may take the day off, occasionally, for holidays and such. There is no reason to over-burden the world with perfect stories.

Why Teaching is Good for Writers

Recently, I received word that I would be teaching two writing classes for the local (Sarasota/Manatee County, Florida) Adult and Continuing Education program. I proposed a Fiction Writing Basics class (self-explanatory) and a class called, Leaving a Legacy of Words, which focuses on writing a personal or family history to be shared with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and so on.

I put together a brief outline of the classes before I met with the folks in charge of the program, so I knew what the classes would cover in the broadest sense of the word. Then, last week, I started planning out the actual course content and trying to figure out how much (or, in this case, how little) I can fit into six weeks of classes on creative writing. I started looking at the high points and trying to decide how I would add meat to the bones.

And, it hit me, as it has so many times in my life as an educator, how important teaching is to solidify learning.

Just as writing helps me work out what I’m thinking and feeling, what I know and what I suspect about life, teaching helps me work out additional levels of knowledge and understanding about those things I’m most passionate about. I have tons of notes and handouts and examples of writing strategies and bits of inspiration that I accumulated during the MFA years, and at some point all of those things become either artifacts of a time past, or they are integrated into a deeper, richer whole.

If I’m teaching, and reaching back into those notes to find those bits of inspiration to share, it is much less likely that all of those things will become just useless hieroglyphs of a long-forgotten epoch of this life.

This isn’t news to me, but it does still catch me unaware, every time I’m able to share something that is important to me, just how much more ingrained into my own thoughts and actions and philosophy those “important” things become. They become important not just in word, but in deed.

I hope you are having a good spring, even as some of you were reminded this past weekend of the chilly realities of winter.

If you would like to know more about the Fiction Writing Basics and the Legacy Writing classes I’ll be teaching here in the Bradenton and Sarasota area, please feel free to contact me. The classes will be daytime classes, at the USF campus. If you aren’t local, or can’t make those classes, I do offer both on-line and in-person creative writing classes for individuals and small groups. You can check out my web-site for more information (www.WordsMatterESW.com) or drop me a line.