Monday, April 8, 2013

A writer's cone of shame

In college I took a couple of courses that left me wanting. One was a required computer skills class and the other was a creative writing class. They weren't bad classes, although the writing class came close, they were just really hard to get through.

The computer skills class was so rudimentary that I had trouble staying awake. I'm not a tech wizard by any means, but the assignments were so simple that I had them done by the time the instructor finished giving directions. In the writing class I had the opposite problem. It wasn't an easy class because I absolutely hated it! What I didn't know and the course catalogue didn't indicate was that the course alternated between novel writing and poetry writing. This particular term turned out to be poetry. I don't mind reading poetry, I simply hate writing it. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually pretty darn good, but it is something that I'll never enjoy doing because of a pushy English teacher I had years before. Plus the instructor didn't actually instruct. She gave us the defining characteristics for the various styles and let us go. Most of the class time was spent listening to each other's work being read aloud. Let me tell you, after three months of bad unicorn and fruit feallacio poems (don't ask) you stop wondering why Poe committed suicide.

In both cases, I didn't expect to ever use those skills again. When would I need to know how to make a spreadsheet or write Fushigi Yuugi fanfic haiku? Never. I'm a writer and an actor. That's two thirds of the humanities triple crown for crying out loud. All I need is a history degree and I win.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. (Not about the humanities triple crown. That thing is legit.)

I like keeping track of how many words I write each day. Usually I write it on the calendar, but I can't do that on Lee's pin-up calendar because it's too pretty. So I started doing something that Mary Robinette Kowal talked about in an episode of Storyboard. I made a spreadsheet.

Go ahead, cue the sad trombone music and say "I knew it!" I deserve it. I will don the cone of shame and wear it in shame.

Truthfully, I don't regret doing the spreadsheet. I've learned a lot about what various conditions and time constraints do for me. It turns out that I can do more in 30 - 60 minutes than I can typically do in big blocks of time. If I do a big 3 - 4 hour writing binge, I can get a lot accomplished but I'm so wiped out afterward that it takes me a couple days to recover.

As for the poetry class, I hate to say it but that came in handy too. A while back I needed a gothic poem for a short story I was working on. The poem had to be in the style of Lord Byron and rather than waste a couple days searching for something in the public domain that would work, I wrote one. In two hours...and I went a little overboard. I only needed two quatrains for the story but I ended up writing five.


If I knew then what I know now, I might have payed a little more attention in those classes. Who knows what else may have become useful?

If you're still considering what writing workshop or seminar to attend this year, please take a look at the Superstars Writing Seminar. Prices go up at the end of the month and the seminar itself is May 14 - 16 so you don't have much time to think it over. It's well worth every penny.
Last week the son of my teacher and mentor, Dave Farland (AKA Dave Wolverton), was in a terrible longboarding accident. His injuries are severe and the cost of his care is going to be astronomical. If you can, please donate to Ben's Recovery Fund or buy one of Dave's books. Dave and his family are among the nicest people I know and even the smallest amount will be greatly appreciated.

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