Little Book Grows Up

The creative writing text I wrote this summer started as a little project, something to keep me happily involved in teaching. Then I got bigger ambitions for it, and with those increased ambitions, came doubts about the content. I barely articulated those doubts, even to myself. I simply set the project aside and concentrated on other things. But now that I’m ready to dive into the manuscript again, it’s time to solve the problems.

The most significant problem is too much content. I’m trying to cram in every kind of creative writing there is–even stuff like screenwriting, which I have absolutely no experience in. This happened because my college students were so varied in their interests. Many college students dream of writing screenplays. I tried to help them–after all, I’ve read McKee and Seger. But since I don’t have direct experience writing screenplays, I really don’t want to include this chapter in the book.

Another kind of writing popular with the typical college-aged kid is SFF. Until Octoberland, I’d never written any SFF. I’m not sure how to classify Octoberland. It has elements of fantasy, but one of those elements is based on science. So, while the Octoberland project helped me feel more confident about writing SFF, I’m no expert.

The other problem is that so much of the book is stuff I learned from other books. 25 books on writing are on my primary shelf, and I’ve many more scattered around the house. I’m not afraid of plagiarizing exact phrasing–my memory is not that good, and when I write my lectures, I do so from memory, not from copying stuff out of other texts.

In the rare cases where I do have a text at hand while developing a lecture, the research instructor in me always put quotation marks around the material and cites the source. Still, I worry about failing to give credit where it is due. Most of the time, I remember exactly where I learned certain things. Most of the time, I acknowledge the source right in my lecture. But I’ve been a student of writing for 25 years, and a teacher for 20. Over time I’ve changed methods, exercises and examples to fit my personal style. And then I think of it as “mine.”

So obviously, with all that going on, there’s room for error. Those are my biggest concerns as I go back to revise the Little Book–which I gave a name a while ago:

Your Words, Your Story.

Which brings me to the third area of concern. Intuition tells me this is the angle that will work in the real world. People mostly want to tell their stories in their own way, with their own words. The focus at core of my text is fiction, how to advance structure and execution, how to become a professional writer who knows literary traditions and conventions, how to use them in fresh ways, how to get published.

Even college students are more interested in telling their real-life stories than in creating fiction. For every student who burns to write straight contemporary fiction, there are five who want to write creative non-fiction, memoir, SFF. So I need to make the book more balanced.

It occurs to me now that when I set the ms. aside, my subconscious was pushing me to get more experience myself in these areas–from Octoberland, to the magazine features, to the personal essays I’ve been writing. And now that I have done more of this type of writing, I’m ready to make the necessary revisions. Opportunity, in the form of the online teaching course, meets experience at just the right time. I love when that happens!

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