The Author and the Creative Writing Class

It’s rewarding to walk into a classroom and have a student say, “You’re the published author.” For someone whose dream is to write for the young adult audience, it’s especially thrilling.
I would know. I do. And it happened to me.
The next words from this thrilled student’s mouth? Care to guess?
“What did you write again.”
Yep. The face was memorable but the book title was not.
Although, several students recognized the cover of the book I had discussed with them in November, months before.


And then there was the creative writing class.
What I Expected
When the middle school English teacher gave me “freedom” to teach whatever I wanted to her creative writing class, I smiled. Maybe I sent the clouds scurrying from the radiant beams of joy.
“We’re finishing up a unit on mystery and suspense,” she wrote. “They have stories to read to the class.”
Long stories. I was impressed.
The fact many of the stories read more like horror? Not as impressive to my anti-scare self.
Based on the reaction from the regular English students (noted above), I expected the writers to fall all over me.
Not even a smile when I mentioned I was a published author. Oh-kay.
I did get a positive reaction when I told them we wouldn’t be moving on to the poetry writing unit. Cheers all around.
When I offered to comment on their rough drafts to see if they might want to make changes before they turned the story in two days later? Not a single taker.
My published status meant nothing to these young writers.
“I would have flipped if a published author offered to read my stories,” a little voice inside me whined.
Reality Bites
The forum the teacher used for sharing the stories invited only positive comments once the author finished their reading.
“I liked the description.”
“Loved how real the characters were.”
“You did a great job building tension.”
Sometimes what they said was even true.
I itched to mark up these stories. Several of them had great premises. Others were a mashup of every police show and horror movie the student had seen.
My lips were sealed.
And I didn’t get to comment on even one story of the nine that were read over the first two days I worked in the room.
Happily Ever After
None of these stories had a happy ending. Apparently, suspense stories involve the narrator dying (in two cases), lots of minor characters’ deaths (in over half the stories) and fathers who were really mass murderers (in three instances).
Yikes! Should I report this to the authorities? Perhaps these stories had a hint of auto-biography in them.
I offered the class two choices for our Friday writing activity. As I expected, they chose the “finish the story” write around.
I selected nine young adult genres (not mystery or suspense), and wrote down a first line. Most of these I took from published books of that genre. A couple leapt from my imagination reservoir.
And they wrote.
But the suspense unit was still too fresh in their minds. With the exception of a few stories, the variety of authors chose to steer the contemporary diary toward suicide and murder. In fact, the actual horror story was less horrifying than some of the others.
On this occassion, however, a few of the students asked me to “finish” the stories that didn’t find resolution.
There were three. Two of them didn’t involve murderous parents or homicide in any form.
It was great fun pulling all their threads together. My favorite? The fantasy, of course. Although the steampunk story had a more interesting plot line.
An author teaching creative writing might not be the smooth fit you’d imagine. Even if imagining is what you do for a living.

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The Writing Zone: I’m Loving It

I’m in “The Zone.” Freshly brewed coffee tantalizes my nose. The whir of the espresso machine and drone of conversation fades to background music.

            When the muse visits, a writer’s environment becomes inconsequential.

She sings her siren song. Her whispers spur my fingers to ever higher speeds on the annoying bluetooth keyboard attached to my tablet.

Not a chance I can keep up. Her tempo could challenge an Indy 500 winner. The music floods through me, vibrating in my chest like the deepest notes of a free-standing bass.

Why does she visit me today – in this place? The past few days, she refused to even glance in my direction.

Is she capricious? Did I offend her with my indecision about what project to tackle next?

As much as I’d like to understand her whimsy, there’s no time for interviews. I must capture her warm breeze of inspiration and translate it to words on the page.

My fingers cramp. The low battery warning flashes across my screen. Can I even risk the time it takes to find the power cord? Is there a power outlet nearby?

An ancient interpretation of The Muse
An ancient interpretation of The Muse

Ms. Muse laughs with abandon. A quirk of her fingers warns of her intention to move along. I must keep up or lose the creative spark she lends my story.

Ancient Greeks called her genius. I don’t want the responsibility of such a title. I long for a few dabbles of it in the beginning of my latest work. No agent could reject the writing of a genius, could they?

So, I type on until the red bar in the upper right corner fades to black.

Thankfully, there is this thing called auto-save.

And voice recording. But that requires me to leave the sweet-smelling coffee shop behind.

People stare at me, sitting in the front seat of my car and talking. To no one they can see.

It’s not as easy to catch the words when my voice overwhelms the fading chant of the muse. I press on until the spark fades.

With a sigh, I return to the regular press of writing. It’s my job to put words on the page. I love the creative process.

My sadness spurs from the knowledge that my words pale, lacking the genius of what came before.

Perhaps, my inspiration will visit again tomorrow. Either way, I’ll be tapping away at the keys, content to fill the file with my own ideas.

I’m a writer. I write – with genius when she calls – but more often from the well of my own soul.

    What helps you call up your muse? Do you feel your words are sub-par when the inspiration isn’t guiding you? What keeps you writing – no matter what?

How the Street of Dreams Mirrors Life

5,185 square feet, $1,325,000
5,185 square feet, $1,325,000

“I live on the street of my dreams.”

Do you? Does your daily life take you through your dream landscape?

Since I wasn’t being wowed by the uniqueness of the homes on the Street of Dreams, my writer brain went to town to make a life connection. It doesn’t take much to wind up my creativity.

I found three parallels between my experience with the million-dollar homes and my pursuit of a writing career.

Expectations

When someone tells me about a million-dollar home, I’m expecting either an enormous lot or unique features.

If you read my post last week, you know I didn’t find either of these at the Street of Dreams. I found million-dollar homes with fantastic fountains and more floor space than I ever want to be responsible for cleaning.

Lot size? Not much considering how big the homes were. In fact, I could see clearly into all the neighbors’ yards from the second story balcony of one of the homes. Not much in the way of a private setting.

I’ll be honest about the writing career. I knew I needed to pen a million words before I could expect to begin to perfect the craft of novel writing. I have penned more than 750,000 (yes, I keep track) in the past two years. I’m still pre-published.

In fact, this writing gig is much harder work than I expected. Some days all the words I write sound trite or infantile. Other days getting the words out feels like an exorcism (not that I know what that feels like, but seeing one thanks to Hollywood – uh, similar screaming and pain quotients).

Comparison: Expectations while traveling the street of your dreams are never met. Bag them.

Awe Factor

Staring at the amazing great room, kitchen, dining and outdoor living area of the dream home we most loved dropped my jaw. I could visualize it teeming with the people I love – some of them aren’t even born yet.

An ooey-gooey swell of deliciousness warmed me from the inside out. A stuffed turkey roasted in the professional-grade natural gas oven. Trays of appetizers lined the granite-covered buffet along the wall of the dining room. A fire crackled in the great room and outside on the covered patio.

I wish you could see what I did and feel the emotions swelling like a tidal wave inside me. That’s the awe factor we expect from our dreams.

Writing, the dream of my heart, parallels this experience.

Fingers flying over the keyboard. Words, sentences and paragraphs become pages, scenes and chapters. Characters are born on those pages. Lives explode with love, fear, anger and adventure.

Hours pass and only the movement of the sun from my front window to my back deck signifies it. I’m engulfed in the fantasy of my creativity.

This exceeds what I imagined pursuing my dream and being a full-time writer would be like on a daily basis. No paycheck? That’s what you think. Contentment in the dream feeds a hungry soul and clothes lagging confidence.

Epiphany: Living the dream is like having Thanksgiving dinner every day.

Visualization

Imagination is the bedrock of my chosen path. If I can’t visualize, I’m not going to be able to write a story that comes to life either.

My vision of a million-dollar home includes elevators, stoves that cook entire meals without me and a private setting in the middle of the woods.

The Street of Dreams in reality? Stairs I had to climb, even though some of the homes had three levels. Professional quality gas stoves but no automation that would prepare meals at the touch of a button (don’t get sassy about a microwave here, either).

Worst of all, I could see acres of trees in the distance along the ridge of Mt. Scott. Below that were fields of homes, too many to number. So much for tranquility in my million-dollar sanctuary.

Creating a story from nothing but my imagination is what I visualized when I pictured me as a professional writer. I have done that – seven separate times in the past year.

Of course, what I’ve done to take that first novel (well, actually the third; the first two had to be thrown away. They were me writing to find the real story) to a place where it’s ready for public eyes is hardly that glamorous – or enjoyable.

Weeks spent rewriting after reading through the first draft almost felt creative. Revising every sentence to make it sound literary – creative but pushing tedium. Rewriting a third time based on the comments and criticism from my beta readers required a firm hand.

“You will write today. I don’t care if you’re sick of this story. You have a goal to meet.”

You think this manuscript is ready for an agent?
You think this manuscript is ready for an agent?

Revising the 300 pages to smooth the cadence and perfect the prose rivaled a marathon. I was unsure if there would be enough chocolate to see me through to the end.

Still…not…done. Now, comb over every sentence, looking for grammar, usage and typographical errors. Gladly send the thing to someone else for proofreading.

Time to query agents. Time to fix the dull beginning. Time to rewrite the first fifty pages because a professional finds them flawed beyond redemption – almost.

Nothing like I visualized.

Truth to be learned: real life is nothing like the dream. It can be better, if you’re willing to work on reality conforming it to the reality you want.

My allusions might not resonate with you. Or maybe they do.

How has your dream measured up to your expectations and visualizations? Or how has the awe factor kept you moving forward?

The Year of the Horse

It’s the Year of the Horse. I know, it’s nearly halfway through the Chinese Horse Year.

I fully intended to write this post in January. January didn’t unfold at all in the way I planned. No one plans for hospice care, death and funerals, do they?

Anyway, I did some research back in December about the Chinese zodiac because I was thrilled the Year of the Horse was upon us.

You see, I was born in the Year of the Horse (a few horses ago). This fascinates me because I spent much of my life being obsessed with horses. Yes, the family-given title of “Horse Crazy” belonged to me.

While other girls posted things like this on their wall:

Yes, I know I’ve just shown my true age

I posted something like this:

Run, horses, run!

While others played house and imagined they were the mom or dad or whatever, I pretended I was the horse and rider both. Galloping around holding my hands as if they gripped the reins and smacking my hip with an open palm. Yes, that was me.

I read every book with a horse on the cover or the word horse in the title. I dreamed of owning a horse. I collected horse statues and named them and talked to them and petted them.

My imagination works well – a plus for a fiction writer. If you’re shaking your head at my insanity, you wouldn’t be the first. My sister could tell some stories…but I hope she abstains.

Back to my research. I don’t buy into any sort of star-predictions. That doesn’t keep me from being curious. After all, I somewhat resemble the Sagittarius of my astrological sign. Of course, I could probably say the same about most of them.

According to what I found about people born in the year of the Horse, I agree that my strengths are:

  • Ingenious communicating techniques (hello, I’m a writer after all)
  • Cheerful
  • Sometimes talks too much
  • Perceptive
  • Refuses to be reconciled to failure

I disagree with these attributes, however:

  • Always wants to be in the limelight
  • Clever
  • Talented
  • Earthy but stubborn (what does this even mean?)
  • Like large crowds (Uh, introvert here; crowds drain me)
  • Popular among friends (don’t you have to have friends to be popular?)

Simple math shows that the nays have it (although it was fairly close).  As usual, some generalizations can fit a person while others will not.

As much as I love horses, I don’t think it has anything to do with being born in the Year of the Horse. I have always been so proud that I was a “Horse” in this system, however. Have you seen the other choices?

What’s your perception of zodiac charts, symbols and predictions? Which one of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac you are? Does it fit you?