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  1. #11
    John Oberon

    Re: Suggested schooling?

    Yeah, I was born with most of my writing ability. Always had a facility for it.

    To me, I think rhetoric and debate classes refined my ability the most. Rhetoric refined my use of language and debate refined my thinking. You know how some authors speak of "becoming" their characters...well, nothing helps you see a scenario from all angles like debate. Debate helped me to view things from a different perspective. Often, I defended positions vigorously with which I disagreed strongly. I didn't know it then, but that kind of training is invaluable to character development in writing because you can more easily identify the motives and reasoning behind a character's actions.

    So my vote is this...a few composition classes to keep you boned up, rhetoric, debate, and tons of literature. That's what I'd take if I had it to do over. Then just keep writing and practicing writing techniques.

    I didn't like my creative writing classes too much. There was about a dozen students in the two classes I attended. More than half of them had some kind of horrible facet of their lives, like alcoholism, abuse, drugs, perversion, or broken relationships, and they suffused their writing with that crap, and the classes turned into more like therapy sessions for these people than writing education. I took the second class in the hopes of it being better, but it wasn't. I'm not saying all creative writing classes are this way, but often, many people who consider themselves creative lead "colorful" lives, particularly during their younger years, and they funnel into the "artsy" classes. I don't harbor much patience for self-inflicted pain...don't want to read it, don't want to be around people who are into it. However, I DID meet two good friends in those classes who, like me, wanted to create good, well-structured works of writing instead of splattering pages with emotional pain. So not a total loss, those classes.

    Anyway, that's my take from my own experience.

  2. #12
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: Suggested schooling?


    Sure, I can answer that question. I agree. Lots of people of talent, but without training (self-taught or otherwise), that talent will only take you so far. You also need to learn the craft.

    A little about my background--

    I graduated in the previous century (we'll leave it at that ) with a B.A. in English and no clear idea of whether I wanted to teach or write or do both. I've always been an avid reader, devouring books, magazines, nonfiction, anything I could get my hands on. Prior to college, my reading was pretty undisciplined. I might pick up a novel by Dickens one week and tackle Danielle Steele the next.

    In any case, I graduated from college in 3.5 years and jumped immediately into grad school, planning to pursue an PhD in English, where I promptly burned out. When I left grad school after my first year, I decided to pursue my writing dreams in earnest. For the next (mumble, mumble) years, I wrote fiction, nonfiction, poetry, cnf, and dabbled in editing and publishing literary magazines and newsletters. I learned about the craft and business by attending writer's conferences, taking workshops, joining critique groups, and...yes, reading. Along the way, I had a little success. I won a few awards, published a lot of short pieces, got hired to edit (for pay) newsletters. But I was still a bridesmaid, not the bride. I never managed to win the big prize or snare the most prestigious publication credits. (I did receive a lot of flattering rejection letters, though.)

    After my kids reached their teen years, I realized that I still didn't have the chops I needed to write a GOOD novel, and I still hadn't broken through the wall of publications to play with the big guys. I knew, in my heart, that all of my writing skills were basically self-taught. If I wanted to move to another level, I needed to find a mentor, someone who could identify my strengths and weaknesses and give me insight into what was holding me back.

    Two years ago, I went back to school for my MFA in Writing. I admit that I had limited expectations. I thought grad school would give me a ready-made audience and teach me some discipline. I was totally unprepared for the leaps I made in my craft. You have to understand that I was a pretty cocky student. I assumed that I was already better than average-- Boy, was I dumb!

    I think the first, and most important, lesson I learned is that process is more valuable than product. The biggest mistake I've made in my writing career is to submit work before it was ready--mostly from my own impatience. I'll be graduating in Jan. with a solid novel under my belt (truly ready to sub to agents this fall), a half dozen or more well-crafted short stories, and a deeper understanding of how to read critically to improve my craft.

    If you want to study writing and you have the time and opportunity, then go for it. My MFA program is what they call a low-residency MFA (one of the top three in the country), designed for people who have full-time jobs. If you don't have a bachelor's yet, then go for an undergrad degree that requires lots and lots of diversified reading. An English degree, general studies, liberal arts, or multi-disciplinary degree are all good choices. Dig deep into literature, reading both the classics and the post modernists.

    Craft comes with study, practice, and perseverance.

    Just my thoughts...

    Jeanne (who's planning on walking down the aisle soon!)

  3. #13
    Devin Stadeker

    Re: Suggested schooling?

    Thanks a bunch for sharing your life experiences with me. At the age of 26, I feel like a complete putz for not having anything higher than a high school education, but you're never to old to learn a few new tricks I suppose. Wish me luck

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