Can writing be taught? And what do writing teachers teach?

Nail Your Novel

2658174628_049a403892_bThe other night I was watching The Rewrite, in which a Hollywood scriptwriter reluctantly becomes a writing teacher. In the early part of the film he asserts that writing can’t be taught.

In some ways, I agree.

But wait, you might say. And you might brandish a kettle at me, or a pot as black as night. What, Ms Morris, are you doing here? On your blogs, in your seminars, with your nifty tips and nailing books?

Well, I hope I’m being useful, but it’s interesting to consider how much of a writer is made by what is taught, and how much is … something else.

You do the work
No matter how many courses you take or books you read, they won’t build your facility for you. You’re the one playing the instrument, and you need years of practice and exploration. The fabled 10,000 hours to achieve…

View original post 448 more words

I Hate This Prompt!

A Prompt from Writing Class: Describe your Writing Group

I absolutely hate this prompt. It is something I don’t like to do – get so up close and personal with my subject.
The group began several writing classes ago, when I first met Marlena. She and I were part of a class in the Sarah Lawrence Writing Group entitled Finding Our Voices. She wrote a piece in response to another prompt – to go out in the world and observe. She observed folk working behind the counter in what was probably a diner, and she captured the close moments of a tip of knife cutting food. I loved her piece, and then her larger work, about her childhood in Panama. At the end of the semester she and I, along with a few others, began to meet for informal writing sessions. We continued to take classes together, one with the well- known author Sally Koslow, where we met Nan and Jessica.
Jessica wrote a piece about a little girl who played cash register, a vignette I loved which later surfaced as part of her first novel. Nan was famous for her wry essays, fashion sense, her wit, and her incredible support. When I read my work she raved and made me feel so good. Jessica also supported and raved about my work, along with Marlena. I was beginning to feel like Shakespeare, or at least Margaret Mitchell.
Buoyed by all this praise, I got the courage to join a class dedicated to novel writing. Before the group met I arrived early, and sat down with a beautiful young woman who introduced herself as Eileen. She’d already written a novel, she told me, but wanted to workshop her next one, Worth the Weight. I told her I had a novel in progress too, Ms. Murphy’s Makeover, and she agreed to read it. When we met a short while later in a coffee shop she had not only read my novel, she had prepared detailed notes. Again, lots of support. (By the way, Worth the Weight has recently been published by Diversion Press.)
Riding the wave of unmitigated support, I presented my novel to the class dedicated to novel writing, led by Jimin. When asked if I wanted criticism, I said, bring it on. I was prepared for accolades. Alas, not so much this time. For the first time my book got some negative remarks, and for the first time my confidence, or over-confidence, was shaken. But tough love is still love. For example, Ahmed, who was writing a satirical piece about Pakistan, was forthright in saying that my book was repetitive. At first I was crestfallen, but I realized he was right. I really appreciate his honesty.
Jimin, our teacher, who could never be other than sweet, was incredibly generous with her time, and helped me organize the book differently in a private session, helping me to look for through threads. A new member of our group, Ines, joined us the next semester. Her writing, about Sao Paolo, seemed nothing short of amazing, and her personality, warm and generous, lit up the class. And then along came Rickey – that prolific, kind, and sizzling writer, who has offered support and help as well. Can I forget our other teacher Pat, who co-taught with Jimin? Never! Her firecracker comments and true kindness infused our class sessions. I loved her peremptory comments, her insistence that she was right, her mock battles with Jimin, the good cop, over control of time.
I may hate writing about this group, but I love being part of it.