A 2009 New Yorker piece written by Louis Menand (“Show or Tell: Should creative writing be taught?”) has a cynical and comical view of creative writing programs.
Creative writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.
It’s a good read for anyone who wants to teach writing or anyone who wants to dump money into a writing program. However, at times, Menand offers a limited view of how creative writing classes operate in order to prove his point–until eventually coming around to defend a rather flimsy reason for such programs, i.e. “I don’t think the workshops taught me too much about craft, but they did teach me about the importance of making things, not just reading things. You care about things that you make, and that makes it easier to care about things that other people make.”
Several questions are raised. For instance, do writing programs actually make writers great or are they simply attended by great writers? To my knowledge, after almost a decade of teaching creative writing, the only professional writer to come out of my class… was me. Hardly a prestigious alumnus. But then, the other question: is the point of a creative writing program really to produce professionals? Is it publish-or-perish? Read more →
Yesterday, I hosted a comics scriptwriting workshop at Eastfield College as part of their Literary and Fine Arts Festival. Eastfield was a gracious host–providing a great facility and sandwiches. The students were wonderful. (Thank you Iris for inviting me.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job keeping track of my time. I went over, which meant we had to skip the writing exercises (the thing that made the workshop a workshop). I could’ve easily gone another hour. Fortunately, it makes the audio more tolerable, because there isn’t an extended period of nothingness while everyone is busy writing.
Let me know what you think. There’s some useful information here. I’d recommend listening to the lecture and following along with the power point (saved as a pdf). I could revise and improve upon some areas of the workshop, and it would be exciting to adapt this into a longer seminar or series. But right now, I’m sharing it with you. Enjoy. Post in the comments section if you have any questions or feedback.
Download the mp3
My Dallas Observer story (“Larry Brown Just Can’t Stop”) took three months to research and write. The story should have been about 4,000 words. I overwrote the first draft by 2,000 words. As a result, a lot of stuff was cut in the name of focusing the narrative. I understand, but it’s also a shame because I liked some of the deleted material.
And then, I remembered that I have a blog, and I could post all the unused bits and pieces. Here it is, in its unfinished glory.
Interview with Rick Carlisle:
“SMU pulled a coup at being able to get him here. He’s a friend of mine. I’m really thrilled that he’s here. There’s no doubt that he raises the profile of SMU basketball with his mere presence.”
“He’s a very unusual guy. The depth of his experience and the diversity of his experience is very special. It’s going to bring a lot to this city and to the SMU program.”
“Larry’s a guy who has always had great love and respect for the game, and a great enthusiasm for the game. I think this was a great opportunity for him to jump back in with SMU going to a new league, which is exciting and challenging. And they were able to put a great staff together over there too. It’s a really terrific working environment. And it’s a great city to live in obviously.”
January 12, 2013 – The entire game against Tulane is being played on the ground. Players are diving, clawing around for the ball. Tulane’s sophomore guard falls, having hurt his knee. He’s rolling in pain and pulls his jersey over his head so no one can see him cry. It’s an ugly game. Read more →
As you might have seen on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve been going on and on about my feature story in the Dallas Observer: “Larry Brown Just Can’t Stop.” In fact, @TheKobeBeef told me to chill out (“Calm down, we’ll read it”). Okay, point taken. I can’t apologize for my enthusiasm. I’ve been working on this story for a little over three months. I’m glad it’s finally in print.
Three months. Enough time to get everything perfect, right? Two and a half months were spent attending practices and games, taking lots of notes. I interviewed players and a few other coaches, but I wasn’t able to interview Larry Brown until February 13th. And at the time, I was juggling another feature with UTA Magazine and two stories about DFW Airport. Not an excuse. I’m just trying to set the scene. I was stressed. I overwrote the first draft of my Larry Brown story. What should’ve been in the 4,000 word range was almost 6,000 words. I worked on a new outline with my editor and then spent the weekend writing a second draft. By the third draft, we were really cutting it close, but I was happier with what we had. I appreciate the encouragement of Mike Mooney (name dropper in the house!) who reminded me to not give up towards the end, that those final rewrites are crucial. If my editor thought I was crazy, it’s Mike’s fault.
In the haze of editing and rewriting, I should’ve done a better job with the fact checking. And that’s my fault entirely. I wrote, “A mere seven SMU alumni have gone on to play any sort of professional basketball.” That’s not true. Herman Hudson, SMU’s athletics PR person, called to correct me on it. Read more →
The talented Lyndsay Knecht wrote an article for KERA’s Art & Seek blog about my experience with the Oral Fixation Show (click here to read it). The article also includes audio of me rehearsing “One Request Before You Leave.” You can hear Nicole Stewart laughing in the background.
David is that universally known writer type, charmingly self-depreciating from his first email. He wrote that I’d know his house by the overgrown lawn in front. He wanted to tell his story on merit of its anti-drama.
“People have often complimented me on my divorce which feels really weird, that someone would say, ‘Wow, you had a great divorce.’”
He laughs, and then I get a glimpse at the story behind the story. “It’s like, ‘Thanks, I’m good at failing,’” he says.
Nicole’s early exchanges with David via Skype go something like this:
Nicole: You get to saying that your first baby step was acknowledging that [your wife leaving you] was happening, and I want to make sure that I see you before you acknowledged it.
Nicole: Like right now, I see you as lonely, unloved and unable to provide –
So here’s David, sitting in his home office, being asked by a relative stranger on a computer monitor to take himself back to the couples counseling appointment when his wife said she no longer wanted to be married to him.
“Prizes are wonderful. They sell your books, they get you invited to places you would never be invited. I would never give mine back. But I know them fundamentally for what they are. They’re just today’s applause. They have no bearing on whether a piece of art or an artist will exist into the future. I’m more preoccupied with that. And I think that preoccupation frees your art in lots of ways.” — Junot Diaz
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain
The September issue of D Magazine is available. Buy a copy for yourself and a few more for the special people in your life. I wrote a short piece The Last Wasteland of Arlington for the Talk section. It’s about the Viridian community development in North Arlington. My wife suggested the story to me. She drives past Viridian everyday when returning home from work. “You know that’s a landfill across the street.” “Really?” “Does it smell?” “Oh yeah.” And so the conversation went.
I talked with Al Linley, Chief Operating Officer, on the phone. And then, I met with Elvio Bruni, Senior Vice President, who gave me a tour of the site. Both presented a compelling case for how Viridian would succeed where other projects in that area had failed. They did not dodge the issues, and they spoke directly about the solutions. Huffines Communities is big enough and smart enough to make this thing work. They’re working closely with the city, and they have a solid long-term plan for growing the community. But it’s still a housing development across the street from a landfill and along the Trinity River. If I had the money (which I don’t), I would get a house elsewhere. However, I’ve always looked at older, more established neighborhoods over the new developments. I like that Viridian is taking a balanced, mixed-use approach: retail and housing, development and preservation/conservation of natural wildlife, varied housing styles and price levels. Read more →
Fareed Zakaria, well-known Newsweek/Time columnist and CNN host, committed the unforgivable sin among writers. He plagiarized.
I read about it on Mediabistro this morning. The story was also reported on Newsbusters and, of course, the Atlantic Wire. All three links include samples of the plagiarism.
What really shocked me was how many people in the comments section (I know, I should never read the comments section… unless it’s my own site. You guys are smart.) said that it wasn’t technically plagiarism.
Yes. It. Was.
Here’s my response on Mediabistro: “This is plagiarism, pure and simple, by definition. Zakaria went through the original text and changed the wording of each sentence. He did not write an original article. He copied and re-worded. You do not deserve to write for TIME Magazine with that sort of practice. He should lose his job. Any writers on Mediabistro who defend him should seriously question their own professional ethics. If you think this is okay, you should find another line of work. Writers do not steal from other writers. Never, ever. You cannot assert your own definition of plagiarism as a way to justify your actions.” Yes, I just quoted myself on the issue plagiarism. Did that blow your mind? Read more →
“We use words not just to speak but also to think. If the right words aren’t there, the right ideas can’t get through.” — Princeton Review, Word Smart 1993
Email from someone today:
“I was wondering if you could help how to deal with writer’s block.”
My response: It really depends. Writer’s block can have several causes. The most important thing to keep in mind is that “writer’s block” is not an issue of quality, but production. If you are writing and not happy with it, that’s not writer’s block–that’s being critical of your own work (which isn’t always a bad thing). Writer’s block is about not being able to put any words on the screen (or paper). Often, the solution is a re-commitment to writing bad first drafts and being okay with that. Defer your greatness to the second draft. Read more →