I Suck At Academia

notes-514998_1280What feels like a long time ago, I was a 17-year old college freshman who didn’t want to get a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing. I wanted writing classes, tips, tricks, and the know-how, but I didn’t want my stories anywhere near academia. I didn’t want them to be tainted or changed or turned into creative pieces that weren’t me. I didn’t want to write for the man, as the saying goes.

But after my disastrous novel-publishing experience (with a company that will remain unnamed), I caved and went to a writing class. I loved it and took more and more until I realized that I needed to major in English if I wanted to keep writing. So I did. I rocketed on to get honors, make the Dean’s list every year, get published in 3 college magazines, and get some scholarships. Now here I am in grad school, pulling B-s on my 25-page academic papers and failing miserably. All because I didn’t go for creative writing.

I understand with this academic and scholarly, pedagogy-centered writing I am a fish out of water (or a reverse centaur, which is very awkward for me to think of). I need to realize this and conform to the writing style if I want to succeed. Ew, there’s that word I hate. Conform. It means taking your spark out; that spark that Donald Maas encouraged writers to hold on to. I know there are ways to still have a unique, fun tone in academia, but really there’s not either. Academic writing is like the science-math person among creative writers. It’s for a different people. I am a chameleon though, so I should be able to pick it up. I just can’t make myself do it.

This is why I (and others like me) have to work even harder than others who are in love academic writing. I read all the text books and required reading so I can participate in discussion. I write all the papers I’m told. In grad school, this is already 6 or so hours of work. Then I do 2 assistantships worth of work as well. We’re up to about 8 hours of work. I also hold a job outside of school and the assistantships. Then, finally, I get to come home and work on the one thing I care about: creative writing. I may be lame and narrow-minded for only loving one thing this much, but that’s who I am. There are enough people on the planet to do other things. So now, I have to squeeze in creative writing time around working out and staying healthy.

What I, and others like me, have to do is crazy. Time management is my new major. I am so organized and together that I can come home to write. I have to be, because I want to write creatively more than anything else. So I have to work harder and put out thousands of more words than the regular grad student. But I will do it because I want to pay bills in the future, and because I want to be a story-teller. And I will. One day.

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Morals, Rejection, Projects–Oh my!

I am probably the ∞th person to use the phrase from the great film “The Wizard of Oz”. I took it, changed it up a bit and made it my own. Sort of. This is a really bad example of what writers do. Or what I’ve read writers do. I’m not really sure what “real writers” do any way. I know a few on Facebook who actually reply to me (and like my status on occasion!) so I suppose I could ask them.

But this post is already boring, right? You don’t want to read me jabbering away! I don’t either!

I think this must be an issue with some of my writing (other junior writers listen up!). I write a lot of my own thoughts in my writing. According to Donald Maas (who politely declined to be my agent) the best part of the fiction is you. You are the best thing you can put into your fiction. Now, this doesn’t mean making your character like pistachio pudding (YUM!) because you do. No, it means that your point of view is the most unique thing about you. A good writer makes that point of view accessible to a wider audience. Pretty cool power, hu? Imagine being such a good communicator that 50% of people who read you nod and say, “Ah, yeah, I get it.” Oh, to have such power! That power is your voice. Or your words. Whichever.

Sometimes finding your voice is hard though. I literally didn’t have mine figured out until last year. I just turned 25 and thank goodness I figured that out! I thought I knew it when I was 17. I was positive I knew my voice when I was 21. But it wasn’t until I moved to Ohio and was literally writing every day (no, literally) that I found my voice. I had to practice, use other people’s words, make them my own, and then realize I was ditching them because I liked my ideas better.

imagine how much better a writer I would be today if I had practiced every day from when I was 17? I feel like my stories (which get revisions unlike these blog posts) would be masterful. I’d be head maven of the order of the bards! Well, okay not really. I look at my rejections as a challenge now. No, I don’t have it all figured out and did cry a little when I got another one the other day. But you know what? It takes about 50+ rejections to make me stop writing and only one to get you in. That’s the reality I had to remember when sighing sadly at all those rejections. I can take a million of those. But one in (with an agent or publisher) and that is a far greater step forward than one rejection will ever be. But I think it’s my voice still.

A friend of mine read a short story that I was particularly proud of. He liked some of the characters, said the story was good, wanted more of the fantasy element I was creating, but said that my main character’s moral filter was bothersome, condescending, and mine. Yes, he said that every time my POVC made a judgment call, it was mine coming through. If this had been the first time it happened with a story, I may have let it go. But people have been saying I have bad writing because I have a POVC who wants to cut his ties from his druggy friend who treats him like dirt. Now, I cannot make excuses for failings in my writing, but this “goodness” in my POVC was his flaw too. He was almost sunk and sucked into a downward spiral that would ruin his life because he could not cut off this friend and live his own life. But he had to make the decision to be a badass, ditch the jerk, and start anew. To me, that was a nice moment and a good character development section. And yes. They were my morals (I’m not a fan of drugs since some friends of mine were hospitalized by a high driver who walked free) but this story was not about that. It was about my poor POVC growing a spine and leaving someone who was toxic and manipulative.

Aaaaaand, I have no time to write about projects. But that’s okay.

Junior writers, my fellows, don’t sacrifice yourself in your writing to please the masses. You will always, ALWAYS, piss someone off. “Utopia” by Thomas Moore pisses me off. But I love that book. It’s my favorite thing to get into a heated discussion over. Read things that piss you off. Read things that challenge you (in a good, healthy way). Read things that will make you stare off into the distance thinking about. Don’t read to be stroked and told what a good, smart person you are. You already know you’re awesome. Reading is for brave people who want to be challenge.

The Only Thing You Have To Worry About Is Being Kicked Into A Well

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Image by Kashif Mardani

In my head, the ideal life is writing when I want, on what I want, how I want. But you can’t be trusted to write that kind of thing. People have to know you before they trust you. You have to trust yourself. You have to know a lot before you can write a lot, I think. And I think you should know a lot.

I’ve been struggling recently with my class reading. I have a lot to read. For one class, we have 3 books, online readings, and handouts to get through and none of them are easy reads. Plus, I’m a slow reader. AND I’m not into the pedagogy side of what my major is teaching. Rhetoric and Writing seems to be for those who want to make a career out of teaching. A year ago that was totally me. But now, I want to be a writer who teaches. I only want to be a teacher because I know once I have that gig, I’ll have it for a little while–longer than a freelance job any way. I also hold two part time graduate assistant jobs, teach a dance class at the gym, and work the front desk. I’m a wee bit busy as it were. But all that reading! I need it for class and my projects, don’t I?

My professor said it was alright if we only got 80% of the reading done, but that makes me lazy and the next thing you know, I’ve only read ten of the fifty pages we had due. But at times like that, I get a lot of creative writing done to send out (and have rejected…)! I have to find a balance of what to get done. On the one hand, I need to write creative stuff (that bad stuff I mentioned in my last blog that is fun to do) so I can send it out and try to get something published outside of my school’s literary magazine. On the other, I need to know this rhetoric and digital stuff so I can do my school projects well and sound smart. And I mean, this is the stuff that will pay me later. Right?

I’ve decided to break it down the middle. I need this well of knowledge that is filling up from all this reading. I may never directly apply this stuff, but I need to know it. It gives me ideas, makes me think of media and literacy in a whole new way, and challenges me. All of this is good. I also am learning to take pleasure in writing book reviews, grants, technical writing–all that “boring” stuff (I’m a novelist and a fantasy writer at that, cut me some slack!) that will pay me sooner than a short story will. I need to abel to dip into this well of knowledge and use it for other kinds of writing. However, I have an addictive (and lazy…) personality. I could easily fall into this well and never get out again. I could be so caught up in writing academically that I never write “Once upon a time” again!

But that’s not what I want. So I warn myself thusly: “Alright, you have time at work to finish this chapter. Then, you will have your academic writing done by 3pm, no later because of class. Then, you will start a timer and you will 500 words of fun stuff.”
I don’t have just one “fun” project I’m working on and rather than stare at one that I can’t get my juices flowing for, I open up Write Or Die 2 and use the given prompt in there. Or I even go to seventhsanctum.com and get some nonsense from those generators. I save those little 500-word bits for later, just in case SOMETHING can come from them.

But the point is the balance it out. Yin and Yang. Jedi and Sith. Spock and Kirk. That kind of thing. I don’t want lose myself in that well (and then haunt some people). I want to stay the way I am and entwine my worlds. I never wanted academia to touch my creative writing, but I’m grateful for the lessons it’s taught me that I can apply to my creativity.