After seven years of writing novels and novellas, using only the internet and some middle and high-school level writing classes from a great place called The Loft in Minneapolis, my sophomore year of college, I decided to take a fiction writing class.
This picture was during one of my revising sessions which included at least 20 marked-up, critiqued copies of one of my short stories and a lot of open tabs on my laptop.
The first thing I thought was I have a lot to learn. I also have been gaining a new appreciation for my peers, who both have the courage to read their stories in front of the class and write absolutely beautifully. I appreciate the different writing styles, the different takes on the same writing prompts, the imagination and creativity in the room is almost overwhelming.
Approaching my deadline for my first short story and not having anything I’m completely attached to is difficult. I’m used to writing novels, being inspired, and then taking the time to get invested in characters and developing them to their full extent.
In a short story (at least the one for this assignment), it’s hard to work with the characters long enough to even want to develop them. It’s also difficult because we have a couple rules we have to follow.
Rule 1: no deaths, no leaving someone to die.
Rule 2: real situations (no metafiction, no superpowers).
Even though I’m used to writing fiction, it’s never this realistic. There are realistic and magical or supernatural elements, but usually stay fairly grounded. This feels almost too grounded. It feels like I have to have some experience in whatever I want to write about, which I don’t. I’m only 20 years old and haven’t had too many experiences that would make very interesting storylines, at least in my opinion.
On the note of inspiration, I feel that it’s hard to be inspired when you have a deadline.
Critiquing felt a little sweet and sour. My peers were pointing out things that made sense for the story but weren’t offering up any ideas on what would make it better. I suppose that’s my job as the author, though, to figure out how to fix the problems at hand.
It’s strange critiquing because I’m more in an ‘editor’ mindset. I want to say, ‘This section should be moved over here.’, ‘You’re missing a comma.’ ‘That’s the wrong punctuation.’ And I have to remember that we’re not focused on making our story the best, we just want to get better at the basic concepts, because not everyone in this class is a writer by nature.
The revising process/ things I had to remember:
For my second story, I had absolutely no ideas of my own. I turned to Pinterest and writing prompts and dialogue prompts I had come across previously. When I mentioned this to my professor, I wasn’t expecting such an excited response. Creativity doesn’t always grow organically, especially when there’s a deadline, sometimes you have to force it or mooch off someone else’s creativity and make it your own.
I decided to write one that takes place in a hospital with the main character as a doctor and the antagonist as a patient of sorts. Now, being a marketing major with very little knowledge of hospitals and very little knowledge on how to find basic information about hospitals, I expected criticism on that front. One classmate was incredibly helpful in that area. She calmly explained that my fuck-ups broke the spell of the story for her, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. She even offered suggestions about what would be better implemented.
People always say to write what you know, but I think you can write whatever you want, as long as you have someone who won’t be offended that you don’t know what it is you’re talking about and they can help you fill in the blanks. Talk to people, do research, and learn, and by the end of it, you’ll know a lot more than if you wrote about what you immediately know off the top of your head.
I wrote the above section at the end of my sophomore year and the following just after Fall semester of my junior year. By the end of this first class which was simply called Fiction Writing, I decided to take Advanced Fiction Writing during my junior year. I had the summer to work on writing a novel and then had to get right back in the swing of writing short stories. Per usual, my main problem being I didn’t know what to write about.
I’m not going to take this section story-by-story, mainly because we had to write three of them this semester instead of just two. That was a big challenge. It might not have been so hard had we not also had to read four different books comprised of short stories that were novel-length for that one English class. My favorite was a collection called Get In Trouble by Kelly Link, if you’re looking for something to read.
One of my main takeaways from this class writing because you have to. I wasn’t always inspired. I didn’t always like my characters or the story. But something about professional writing is that you just need to write something that someone will want to read. That someone doesn’t always have to be you. However, if you enjoy your topic and you enjoy spending time with the story, it’s going to turn out better because it was nurtured.
We also focused on trying to get our stories published. We used a site called Submittable which was extremely handy when it came to finding places to submit to…ironically enough.
Something I’ve learned throughout my writing career is that if you have a story, tell it the way it needs to be told. Don’t go in adding extra fluff because you want it to be longer. If you set out to write a novel and end up writing a novella (something I’ve done a few times) that’s okay. You still will have the opportunity to publish something like that if it’s what you want to do. You just have to be patient and tell your story.
On an endnote, I’ve decided to pick up a creative writing minor, because I’ve loved these classes so much and only need two more related courses. If you love writing and have the opportunity at any point in your life to take a writing class (especially one that offers critiquing sessions) whether you’re in college or not, I highly encourage you to do so.