I gave the Discovery 2013 interns some “Summer Homework.”
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.
Not 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.)
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.]
There’s something about the term itself—Literary Citizenship—that seems to get through to writers (old or young), makes a lightbulb go off over their head.
I know it had that effect on me in 2008 the first time I heard it.
And that’s important.
As self-helpy as it sounds, becoming a writer is about figuring out what makes your lightbulb go off, finding the quotes or concepts to write on your 3×5 cards and pin above your writing desk.
Raymond Carver said:
I have some three-by-five cards on the wall now. ‘Fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing.’ Ezra Pound….I have a three-by-five card up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: ‘…and suddenly everything became clear to him.’ I find these words filled with wonder and possibility.
What aphorisms or maxims or quotations have helped you the most? Do you keep them in your head, scrawled on the wall, post-it-noted to your laptop?
Tell me about them.
Here’s the reason I’m asking.
Tonight in my Literary Citizenship class, we’re discussing Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life and Austin Kleon’s Steal like an Artist.
Honestly, I don’t use this kind of book in my creative writing classes nearly as often as I should, the kind of book that starts a conversation about creativity, process, the writer’s life, etc.
Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and one of my favorites, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art Independence and Spirit.
I remember well the lessons of Bird by Bird.
- The one-inch picture frame.
- It’s okay to write a shitty first draft.
I remember well the lessons of If You Want to Write.
- Know that you have talent, are original, and have something important to say.
- Know that it is good to work. Work with love, and think of liking it when you do it. It’s is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
Here are the aphorisms in Carolyn See’s, Making a Literary Life
- Keep it to yourself.
- What’s your material?
- A thousand words a day.
- Charming notes.
- Pretend to be a writer.
- Hang out with people who support your work.
- Do some magic.
- Make rejection a process.
Here are the aphorisms in Austin Kleon’s, Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative
- Steal like an artist.
- Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
- Write the book you want to read.
- Use your hands.
- Side projects and hobbies are important.
- The secret: do good work and share it with people.
- Geography is no longer our master.
- Be nice. The world is a small town.
- Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done.
- Creativity is subtraction.
Here’s one I use a lot, both in my teaching and my writing: “Only trouble is interesting.” Janet Burroway.
What are your favorites?