This is part two of the history of my writing life. If you missed it, here’s part one. Part three will be up next week.
College, of course, brought me back to original fiction. As a creative writing major, I got to write poems and short stories on a semesterly-basis. Poetry, thankfully (at the time; I’m better about poetry now) happened only during my Intro. to Creative Writing class. Short stories were the most important and numerous, with some creative non-fiction (of which I never considered myself any good) sprinkled in there. I liked writing short stories, but I yearned for more. When I decided to do a senior honors project, I chose to write a novel, even though my advisor cautioned against it. It wouldn’t be the first novel I’d ever completed; that was the romance novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2003, which marks the first and only time I completed NaNo (I did it once, why bother with it again?) and the first finished novel I ever wrote. I saw no reason to view writing a novel too ambitious.
So for the project, I wrote a novel. I wrote it the summer between junior and senior year and was quite proud of myself during that first meeting with my advisor, novelist G.W. Hawkes. He didn’t like it. He told me everything that was wrong with it (some things I agreed with reluctantly and some that I still don’t agree with). He told me to re-write it. This was really the only time I have ever completely overhauled an entire novel. What I ended up with doesn’t look anything like the first draft, the summer-written novel. It’s more solid, better, and more deserving of being my honors project. I haven’t looked at it in years. It’s bound and in the Lycoming College library. I have a copy too, somewhere. Besides the NaNo romance novel and short stories I’ve written, it’s quite possibly the only “adult” or “literary” novel I’ve written. Everything since has been YA.
In college, I learned the “rules” for writing short stories and novels. I hated them. I wanted to write what I wanted, but my fiction professor continually said that we had to follow the short story ‘arc’ in all of our pieces. I didn’t understand how important this was until I went to graduate school. There, I read a lot of nonsensical pieces from some of my classmates, pieces that would never have succeeded in my undergrad workshops. I’m not talking just about experimental pieces, either; I’m talking about pieces that made no sense, had no structure, no plot, and no readability. It was there I realized that in order to break the “rules,” you had to know the rules. Once I understood that, my writing world expanded. One of the best short stories I have ever written was done as a final “paper” for my James Joyce lit class. It’s called “Morning,” was inspired by Ulysses, and I would love more than anything to find a published home for it. (Perhaps I ought to start sending it out again.)
Continue reading →