Welcome to the second in a four-post series on the writing lessons garnered from student success. Today’s lesson:
Writing Is a Craft. Commit to Learning it.
You know when an ex wants to communicate with you, but they don’t really want to commit to the vulnerability of actually communicating and so they send you a meme? Maybe this hasn’t happened to you. I hope it hasn’t. One of the dumbest memes I’ve been sent by an ex said something to the effect of, “Writing is easy. Just sit at the typewriter and bleed.”
The intent of the sender I’ll never know as he ONLY SENT THE MEME and no original language construction, but the message received was: Your area of success requires no skill. The only criterion for excellence in your chosen field is being ultra confessional and having no personal boundaries, dignity, or shame. (I do realize that there IS more than one way to interpret this quote and the sending of this quote, but I’d already endured memoir-shaming comments from this ex including an enthusiastic recounting of a Toni Morrison interview in which she said something like I’d never write memoir as I want to write the truth).
Admittedly, writing memoir does require vulnerability (some bleeding, if you must), but it also requires skill, skill that comes from years of writing and reading. Yes, folks, READING. If you want to master or even just halfway master a genre, you’ll need to READ THAT GENRE.
It is also important to read outside of our own awareness bubble as that’s how we, in fact, learn and grow. Following the book recommendations on social media from writers I admire has led me to a lot of books I might not have found on my own. Roxane Gay seems to read 24/7 and posts reviews on Twitter regularly. (Find a list of some of her favorite books here). One of the best books I read in 2018, Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not an Apology, crossed my path as I aimlessly wandered the aisles of the Elliott Bay Book Company. (You can see some of the other books I read this year here and find me on GoodReads here). (You can find a list of some of my favorite books here).
Breaking out of our bubble can be one of the gifts of education. And, many of the writers I’ve seen succeed are ones who’ve committed to taking classes. Coaching can give you what you want to learn, but an education should offer you what you need to learn.
Almost ten years ago author Natalie Singer took my UWPCE memoir class. In that class she started to write the stories she tells in her memoir California Calling. After she left my class, she continued to take writing classes and eventually decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing & Poetics at UW Bothell, an interdisciplinary writing program with an emphasis on language and experimental forms.
In that program she read theory, poetry, and all sorts of writers she normally would not have been exposed to. It was partway through that program that she discovered the structure of the interrogation and started to crack open her California stories; her narrative evolved into a more complex and layered story, a self-interrogation, as the book is subtitled. Her commitment to learning the craft–to educating herself about literature, theory, and storytelling–cost her time, energy, effort, and U.S. dollars, but in the words of the great B.B.King, “Education is the one thing that no one can take from you.”
I know not everyone can do an MFA program, but we can all push ourselves to learn what we don’t know and even what we don’t even know that we don’t know. To read. To put in the time. To take a class here and there*.To approach writing as a craft. To be willing to apprentice in that craft.
Because we know sitting at the typewriter and bleeding is not enough.
And if you want to communicate with an ex, maybe send a letter or even a handmade card.
Looking for a writing coach? I’m relaunching my coaching business in the new year and have appointments available on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Learn more or book an appointment here.
*Places that teach writing classes IRL and online: Hugo House, Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal Writing, WritingxWriters, Grub Street, Creative Nonfiction,The Loft, the continuing ed program at your local university or community college.