That which we learn


I’m in the second week of a writing class, and I am reminded of two things:

-Wow, this is fun!


-Wow, this is a lot of work!

Many of my writing workshops are big online MUCs, with a few hundred students. The format works; I glean a lot of tips and it’s reassuring to see that so many other people need to learn the same info. I’m not alone in my information inadequacy or in the slow, steady building of my skill.

This course is small; more expensive than a lot of the webinars I attend, and less targeted. It’s a general writing course, open to people who write all kinds of work: poetry, essay, creative nonfiction, novel, kidlit, memoir.

It’s an online course, which is the only feasible way to work it into my life, and I wonder how it would be different if I had the chance to take it in person. The class is small, four students and an instructor, but writing being writing, I learn intimate things about the other students so quickly.

I know that part of the appeal is that the other students are semi-anonymous. I know them by name and I know a fair bit about them as I read their work and study their posting habits, but I don’t know them. More importantly, they don’t know me. I can write real, because I don’t have anything to hide. They can build an image of me as raw and weird as my writing is. This course is the perfect intermediate step between not putting down those things and showing them to people who know me. I’m getting to good, new stuff, new places I want to be but have been afraid to try. It’s good for me.

I’m writing more and writing different, being challenged in new ways. Even if I’m not producing brilliant prose with each exercise, it’s a relief to know I’m not stagnating, and that I am capable of writing outside my usual zone of familiarity.

It’s a relief to concentrate on writing this much. My brain has been bored lately, and the extra stress from these new deadlines, the modules and workshops and clicks and loads, the exercises and notebooks and transcribing, has done some good for it.

This is the honeymoon phase; week two of eight. We’ll see how my brain feels on about week seven!

Just the right level of detail

I remember hearing an author tell a story about, when she was a child, writing long, long stories with dozens of characters who started on a grand adventure.

I remember hearing an author tell a story about, when she was a child, writing long, long stories with dozens of characters who started on a grand adventure.

After a few twists and turns, the author couldn’t think of anything else to do with them, so they died in a fiery bus crash.

The author said she did this again and again: develop a few too many characters, start them someplace, and then watch the whole thing fizzle out.

Eventually she learned to hone down the characters, the plot, and the focus, and she became the kind of author who told stories in front of crowds.

Writing science can be like this too. Too molecular (or too expansive) and the only way to wrap up is an atomic explosion. Not molecular (or galactic) enough, and a reader will never understand perspective or purpose.

I’ve had my share of drafts that end in fiery bus crashes. I doubt I’ve had my last.