Form a Blog Circle

I gave the Discovery 2013 interns some “Summer Homework.”

Why?

Many of these students were in my Literary Citizenship class this spring, but some were not, and so we’ve decided to spend the 10 weeks leading up to the conference doing some training via “homework.”

Every Friday by 3 PM, they’ll engage in something I call “Charming Notes.” It’s a version of what Carolyn See prescribes in her book Making a Literary Life. They’ll be required to friend or follow or engage with five people, writers, magazines, agents, or publishers in order to expand their literary horizons. (We did this in my class during Spring 2013, and it worked wonders.) One of those five must be an “active” note–meaning they have to say something to the person, comment on a blog, send an email or message, not just passively follow someone.

Every other Friday by 3 PM, they’ll post to their blog. I’ve told them that these posts can be:

  • journal entries
  • book reviews/what they’re reading
  • commentary about articles they read while preparing for MWW
  • interviews with writers
  • a roundup of links to helpful articles or information
  • fearful questions and anxieties
  • a response to someone else’s blog post
  • I’ve recommended that they use my blog Literary Citizenship for inspiration, esp. the links in the right-hand column.

I’ve warned them: “You can blog about or share your own writing, but primarily, the goal is to be interested in what other people are doing, not what you’re doing.”

They must read ALL of each week’s posts (5 or 6) and comment on them. In a sense, they will “workshop” each other’s posts, but in a supportive, helpful way. Such as, if they think the post could be formatted more attractively or they catch a typo, they should tell the person in our private FB group (only we see that). But if they want to engage in a conversation with the post, they’ll do that in the comments section.

Basically, I’ve created a blog circle.

Ultimately, I want each intern to find the community they need and blog about whatever they need to blog about, but I also want them to form a community among themselves.

The internet is about circles and communities and connections. Our job is to find the right ones to plug into. 

A metaphor: going online at first is like being a boat drifting in the middle of the ocean. You write into a void. No one can find you. You’re a needle in a haystack. You’re not even a ping on anybody’s radar.

What you have to do is find some other boats and tie yourselves together. Not just any boats. The right boats. Boats like you.

Hang out with them. Talk. Learn. Eat. Plus, you’re more visible to search parties.

Who’s in your blog circle? If you don’t have one, think about how to find one.

An example: I just proposed a panel for AWP 2014 in Seattle on teaching novel writing. The first people who came to my mind were people I’ve met via social media who share my interest. John Vanderslice comments on my blog “The Big Thing” quite often because he teaches a similar class. Then there’s Roxane Gay and Jon Billman, with whom I talk about the subject on Twitter from time to time.

They sent me Charming Notes, or I sent Charming Notes to them.

That’s the benefit of being online, I think: that when particular opportunities arise, names come to mind.

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Last Lecture: Find Your Tribe

tribe

You’ve all come so far since that first night of class. Remember? Remember where you were just a short time ago?

Think about what you accomplished.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Next Thing: Professionalization in Creative Writing

jobs imageNot every Creative Writing major wants to go to grad school, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if most of them want to be published writers. What brings them to our classes, I think, is a desire to be connected to the world of books. This essay by Dean Bakopoulos speaks to that desire.  

Creative writing isn’t a pre-professional discipline. We’re not like some academic majors which prepare students for a concrete, discernible “next thing,” such as graduate study, this job, that career path. When my students say, “What I can do with this degree?” I talk about “transferable skills.” I point them in the direction of the career center.

To be honest, I hate it when they ask me that question, because I know there are no easy answers.

Here’s an answer from a great writer, teacher, and literary citizen, Dinty Moore. (He posted this on Facebook a few days ago, and I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing it here.)

Dear E****

The short answer is that you will have to be creative in your job search if you major in poetry: you might end up working in editing or publishing or you might end up in a field entirely unrelated. This is hard for parents to understand, but students often end up finding careers well outside of their majors no matter what they choose. I have spent most of my life around writers, poets, painters, dancers, actors, and though many of them wait tables, tend bar, sell real estate, or do data entry, none of them in my experience is actually starving to death. People find ways to survive and still do what they love. Of course, your parents want you to choose accounting and then go immediately into an accounting job and stay there all of your life, so they never have to worry about you. I understand that impulse: I have a daughter as well. That is just something you’ll have to work out, based on your relationship with your parents, how badly you want to be a writer, and other factors.

But here’s the deal: just because it’s hard to answer the question “What can I do with this degree?” doesn’t mean it’s not a fair question. We should try to answer it. And every school, every program DOES try to answer that question–even if it’s to point students in the direction of the career center or internship office.

What we don’t have in the discipline of creative writing, especially at the undergraduate level, is a tradition of offering courses engaged in the direct professionalization of students.

This year, I’m on a committee that reviews curriculum proposals across the sciences and humanities, and I’ve come across a variety of courses in other departments–1 credit, 2 credits, sometimes 3-credit courses–in which the practical necessities of career planning are brought into the classroom. 

For example, check out this capstone professionalization course offered in my own department–within the Professional Writing minor.

or Terry Kennedy’s graduate class at UNC-Greensboro, “Entrepreneurship and Independent Press Publishing.”

On the other hand, I think it’s also true that CW students don’t always recognize “professionalization” when they see it, when it’s actually happening to them.

For example, on the first day of this course, a student said she wished that our CW major “did more” to teach students about publishing and related careers.

And I said, “Well, we offer a year-long course in Literary Editing and Publishing, during which you edit a national literary magazine.  And we offer a class called Creative Writing in the Community which gives you teaching experience. And every year, we host a literary festival called In Print in which we bring first-book authors to campus to read and to talk to you about the experience of publishing their first books. And in my fiction-writing courses, I talk about how to submit work to lit mags and to agents and editors. And at this university, you have many chances to take ‘immersive learning courses’ (Ball State’s moniker for ‘experiential learning’) in which you develop all kinds of real-world skills. And in this major, we offer coursework in Screenwriting, during which you can submit a script that actually gets made into a movie by TCOM majors and acting majors.

“So, explain to me how we are NOT preparing you for real life?”

The room got kinda quiet.

I see this course, Literary Citizenship, playing another important role in how we professionalize students–by teaching them how to blog and use social media as writers.

In her article, “How to Get an Internship in Publishing: 5 Tips,” Livia Nelson writes:

I do believe, though, that our generation’s saving grace in this economy is that we understand social media and the blogosphere. Even some of the most connected industry vets can barely figure out how to block pop-ups, let alone create a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/blog presence. But social media integration is essential to businesses now—and since we’ve been playing around with Facebook etc. since they’re beginnings (I first got a Facebook when I was 16), it’s like a first language to us (the technical term for this is “digital native”). So make sure to play up the fact that, for you, working with social media ain’t no thang (I included social media in my list of skills).

And so, because it’s that time of year when students are starting to freak out a little about the next thing–or their lack of a next thing–my grad student Linda Taylor has compiled this awesome resource list of job search websites for publishing internships and jobs. Some of these require signing up in order to access job boards. Go here to download: job hunting websites

[This is a cross post between Literary Citizenship and The Big Thing.]


What we talked about in class this week

Week 3

Lit Cit class, January 24

Notes by the totally awesome Linda Taylor

Blogging and charming notes:

Realize that there is not a straight line into a job with a Creative Writing major. The classes you’re taking will give you multiple experiences.

Your blog is yours. Cathy had each person talk about what they blogged about, what changed when they understood it as more than an assignment but something that was theirs, and also what was happening with their charming notes.

Your blogs are works in progress, always will be. They’re like a portfolio. Let it change as your life becomes more complex. Okay to blog with information and resources people may need. They may find you when they Google a question that you have answered.

Find people who are maybe in the middle (that is, not super famous). They may be following someone famous and talking to each other. Find people who are interested in the same things but are still early in their career or a few years ahead of you. Look for kindred souls.

By the end of this semester, your experience of being on social media should be drastically different. You’re not a college whiner; you’re a professional. Put your ideas out there. Read things. Be a positive influence.

This is a class where you can talk about your dreams and hopes, your career aspirations, your interests, what you really care about.

If all you do is put your blog out there, it will just linger. Be sure to use your FB and Twitter account to let people know you’ve posted. Use tags. Make sure it’s “findable.” 

Because Cathy has a wider network, she wants to make those in her network aware of your blogs. Realize that when you write your blog, you’re writing to more than just a few friends. It’s out there and many other types of folks may read it—like Cathy’s friends who are fellow professors and other professionals.

It’s a good idea to put a photo of yourself on your blog. Let folks know what you look like. Inspires warm fuzzies.

You could go into business for yourself offering author solutions. Do you have a good camera? People need current photos of themselves for social media.

Good act of literary citizenship—find something you like, post it, talk about it. Like this. You’ve made it permanent. If someone later Googles that person, they may find your blog, and may then read that person’s work. Free advertising.

This week is all about “let’s be positive.” Next week, we’ll look at the dark side of Literary Citizenship re: Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

YOU MUST POST TO YOUR BLOG AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK, NO LATER THAN THE TIME CLASS BEGINS ON THURSDAY. YOU WILL LOSE POINTS IF YOU FAIL TO DO SO. THIS IS NOT NEGOTIABLE. 

We must all be involved in one thing to promote:

(1) In Print festival, happening in March (Mark Neely to come next week).

(2) Reading in April for National Poetry Month.

(3) Applying to a graduate program. Cathy will be talking about this.

This is real life stuff—not just online community. How can you help to make these events successful using your contacts and social media?

Also, in these small groups, make sure to read one another’s blogs in that group. We may not all be able to read everyone’s blogs, but read at least the folks in your group.

Idea: As we read Jennifer Egan for next week, esp. with regard to the last story, think of Prof. Michael Meyerhofer’s new book. It’s an ebook only. What might we be able to do as a class to take what we’re learning and make his book sell, say, 8,000 copies by the end of the semester? And if we did that, is that a good thing, the “right” thing to do? Is that “literary citizenship” or is that what Egan calls “parroting.”

Presentations:

Carolyn See by Jay Sheets

Austin Kleon by Jackson Eflin

How did Austin Kleon go from his creative writing program (where you are now) to being a big speaker and making money? He had a 9–5 job and did book-related jobs, but then his first book was on the newspaper poetry thing. Then he was able to start speaking and one thing led to another.

It’s good to share and give info away for free, but at some point you have to decide “Why am I doing all this? Will this turn into a book? Do I want to keep my day job? What might this lead to?”

The business world calls this “monetizing your online presence.” Cathy calls it “being very deliberate about what you give away for free.” If you want to give away your words for free forever, that’s totally up to you, but remember, you gotta pay the bills somehow.

Think about this: How do our ideal readers find out about books? Kleon is made for the social media generation; Carolyn See is not.

Is it a writer’s job to find a wider audience? Or to speak to your audience? Does this just happen? Perhaps you have a certain demographic but then it can spread. Perhaps it’s a case-by-case basis.

What happens when writers don’t show up on social media? Like Carolyn See. Literary people are probably more on FB than Twitter.

Comparisons between See and Kleon—both talk about pretending to be a writer, fake it till you make it. Both say to convince ourselves and give ourselves permission to do it. Both talked about figuring out who you are, but they had different approaches. Both talked about outside experiences.

Major difference: See said, “Keep it to yourself,” to wait to show your work till ready; Kleon says put it out there.

Sean Lovelace says you should always be growing. Every two years you should look back on your work and say, “That was so bad.” You should keep improving. Kleon would say, “Let people see that evolution.”

Age definitely seems to make a difference in the perspective on putting stuff “out there.” See became famous before she had to do all this stuff. Kleon realizes that the world is different now.

Can you be ambitious without being annoying? For example, American Idol. The people who did the best were confident without being divas.

Cathy thinks this is what See means by “Keep It To Yourself.” Not, “keep your work to yourself, be ashamed of it,” but rather, “Don’t talk about being a writer all the freaking time, how much you want to make it, blah blah blah.”

Cathy says: I used to bring it up being a writer all the time early on. Now I don’t as much—except of course on my blog, on social media, and even then, I try pretty hard to BE INTERESTED IN WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING. I know I’m a writer. I don’t need to bring it up in conversation so that I’ll feel validated. Keeping it to yourself is, to me, way cooler.

From the books, people liked:

  • Side projects, I can do other things besides write.
  • Nothing is original, but those ideas can be reformed to be your own.
  • Praise file.
  • Quit picking fights, go make something.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Stay out of debt.
  • Keep your day job.
  • Keep a calendar and log book.
  • Marry well.
  • Write the book you want to read.

Some of these “be boring” things are so important—real life. We should learn the art side and be creative, but life is life and there are vital things that we must do in order to be able to actually live a creative life.

Think about your writing life. Think about your relationships. Who gets it? Who gets you? Hang out with people who support your work, as See says.

Being a writer doesn’t mean you must have the word “writing” in your day job title. If you can have a solid job with a solid income and health insurance, etc., then you’re just not worried. You may find that you’re writing even more even though you have a full-time job. Be strong enough to have your day job and still call yourself a writer. You must be able to say that to yourself and be okay with it.

Where to live. Think about this. It’s not a bad thing to be out of Indiana for awhile, but you can create a literary life here. If you want a job in publishing, you need to go where the publishers are.

The period after college and graduate school is the “abyss.” Take the opportunity to go somewhere and experience life. You have to actively work to make connections when you go to a new place.

Realize that the writing life is not the life for getting rich. Say no to some things so that you can say yes later. Be willing to not have all the “stuff.” Be willing to say no. Figure out how to spend as little money as possible so that you can invent the life that you want.

For the couple years after college, if you don’t have a family to support and tons of bills to pay, what will it take for you to get your book written? Maybe that boring job is what you want to keep. Maybe that will get you started.

The five years after college are very important. You have to decide if the writing is something you care about enough to make sacrifices. You may realize that you don’t want to be a writer—there may be something else that’s sort of related or sort of not.

Be savvy about grad school—don’t just go in order to give your life meaning again by being in school. Be careful not to go deeply in debt.