On Being Easy

In their final papers, many of my students admitted that they entered the semester with the notion that Intro. to Creative Writing would lead to an easy A and not require a lot of work. Well, they were surprised by assignments that were rigorous and demanding. Why do students expect creative writing to be so easy?

In their final papers, many of my students admitted that they entered the semester with the notion that Intro. to Creative Writing would lead to an easy A and not require a lot of work. Well, they were surprised by assignments that were rigorous and demanding.

Why do students expect creative writing to be so easy? Why hasn’t the discipline earned the same level of academic respect as composition or English literature?

In grad school, as the only MFA student in a composition pedagogy class filled with students studying (you guessed it!) composition pedagogy, I spent an entire semester researching this. I knew that my professor looked down on me, and I worked hard to prove to everyone that I was indeed a serious student and that my expertise was worth something.

I came to the conclusion that creative writing as an academic discipline isn’t taken seriously because a lot of people practice creative writing as a hobby. Few people write theses about postmodernism in their spare time or do rocket science in their basements. But anyone can write creatively, which is why a lot of my students came with the attitude that they already knew what they were doing.

However, in a world over-saturated with information, creative writers who actually want to be read must learn the techniques that will charm an audience. That is no easy task. And very few people can do it well.

Many of my students don’t think they will ever utilize creative writing in the workplace. But they are so sorely mistaken. Skills that students learn in creative writing are both practical and valuable. In fact, these skills can give an ambitious employee an edge over his/her coworkers or other people in the job applicant pool.

Just last week, my boss at my other job asked me to help him with a presentation that had nothing to do with creative writing. But, to make the presentation more interesting, I included a sample script with imaginary characters. My boss and I agreed that this would make the presentation more palatable. I mean, what’s the point of a presentation if no one pays attention to it?

Creative writing is not an easy A because I never graded the students’ creativity. Each one of my students expressed his or her creativity, in varying degrees. I gave them feedback about how they could improve the effectiveness of their message or push their imaginations.

Over the course of the semester, many of them were confused about their grade standing because I wasn’t giving any letter grades. But their final grades were based on whether or not they completed assignments, came to class consistently and on time, and followed directions.

When many students failed to complete assignments, come to class consistently and on time, and follow directions – yet still expected an easy A – I realized just how little respect students have for creative writing. Wouldn’t any other professor of any other discipline expect and enforce the same policies?

Creative writers may never find the cure for cancer or solve world hunger, but they may be able to write about those things in such a way that inspires the right person for the job.

(Photo by howieluvzsus)

Blogging as a Creative Writing Exercise

Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them. As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

Blogs can be literary forms, just as much as short stories and poems are literary forms. Not everyone who has a blog uses it to create high-brow literature, but bloggers do write to charm a unique audience, one that’s unique in that it can interact with them.

As a writer, blogging helps me supplement my other writing projects. It helps me discover my own voice, explore my characters, and experiment with different styles.

I’ve been struggling with a short story that I’m trying to revise. A friend who is helping me revise this story said that my first person narrator should speak more honestly, like I do in my Comma ‘n Sentence blog posts.

No matter how I restructure this story, the characters remain flat and lifeless. I get so caught up in the language that I forget my characters need to resemble people. I just can’t seem to get inside their heads.

On this blog, I write in my voice, and I try my best to penetrate the surface of whatever subject matter I am exploring. So how can I get the characters in my stories to speak in a similar, substantial voice?

Earlier this semester, I asked my students to complete a faux blogging exercise that required them to create a concept for a blog and write three blog posts in the voice of a fictional or celebrity character. My students wrote blog posts from the perspective of Spongebob Squarepants, Paris Hilton, and George W. Bush, among others.

My favorite posts explored an emotional side of the character that most people never see. For example, in one blog, “Katy Perry” wrote very detailed posts about the nail polish she is wearing. The posts were believable because Katy does like unique nail polish, but they were also creative because Katy doesn’t actually write about her nail polish. The student had to use her imagination to create the content. She was able to maintain Katy’s voice throughout the posts by mimicking what she does know about Katy’s persona and the way she speaks.

The blogging exercise was supposed to inspire my students to think about how they could write from the perspective of someone else. Now that I’m struggling with writing in another character’s voice, I should probably follow my own advice.

Blogging requires a certain candor and simplicity that I sometimes lose when I’m writing fiction because I’m so focused on language and structure. When I blog, my goal is for the writing to be as clear and direct as possible. I have no idea why I can’t carry that over to my fiction writing.

But I think a great exercise for me would be to write “blog posts” in the voice of the characters I just can’t seem to penetrate. I might be able to get to know them better and let them help me discover the emotions that I really need to write. If I can uncover their insights, musings, and thoughts, their stories should write itself. In this way, I will be able to build multi-layered fiction.

(Photo by Tony the Misfit)

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I asked my students to come up with a plan for the future of their writing lives. If they want to continue writing outside of class, how will they motivate themselves? What will inspire them? Where will they go to write? Who will they ask to read their work? Many of my students decided that forcing yourself to write just ruins the experience.

I asked my students to come up with a plan for the future of their writing lives. If they want to continue writing outside of class, how will they motivate themselves? What will inspire them? Where will they go to write? Who will they ask to read their work?

Many of my students decided that forcing yourself to write just ruins the experience. You should write when you feel inspired and not worry about making it happen. If you must force yourself to write, you probably shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

I both agree and disagree. I must force myself to write. I love the act of writing but sitting down to a blank page or a story that I know needs a lot of work makes me anxious and exhausted. If I didn’t force myself to tackle these things, I’d never probably never write anything.

Based on my students’ logic, I should probably just stop trying.

However, I do try because I know that, once I start, I will enter my “happy place”. Once I find my momentum or start tinkering with words and sentences, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And usually, when I force myself to sit through the uncomfortable feeling of beginning – even if I don’t finish with something perfect (I never do) – what I do gain is something more than I had when I started, which was nothing.

If I updated this blog only when I felt inspired, I’d probably never update it at all. Having an active blog is important to me so I stick to a schedule. Many times, when I sit down to write a blog post, I have no idea what I’m going to write. But I always write something, and I usually surprise myself – sitting with my thoughts for a few minutes reveals that I have more than a few things on my mind. And, even though many of my posts are far from perfect, at least I can see that I have something written where nothing before existed. I can only move forward from there.

I frequently feel inspired, but I don’t always feel like writing. When I was younger and had more free time, I could sit down with a pen and paper and capture every inspired moment. Maybe my students take for granted the time they have to daydream document their thoughts. These days, when I feel inspired, I’m probably busy with something else or about to fall asleep. But carrying those thoughts, when you’re inclination is to write them, can be a huge burden.

In an interview with the Paris Review, writer Fran Lebowitz said, “…I realized how much easier it is to write than not to write. Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you. It’s very psychically wearing not to write—I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.”

Scheduling time to write can be cathartic. I know that when I force myself to write, even if I don’t immediately feel inspired, eventually something will spark emotion or an idea. If I don’t necessarily feel inspired to work on one thing, then I scrap it temporarily. But I won’t stop writing. I’ll focus more closely on my blog or try to develop another story or poem.

Anyway, if you’re serious enough about writing that you want to develop it to the point of completion, you’ll have to revise. Revision is not easy; you’ll have to be honest with yourself and trudge through something that you likely don’t want to revisit. You’ll most likely have to force yourself to revise, but knowing that you’re most likely improving the piece helps.

As a class, we concluded that, if you have interest in writing for yourself only, then you can wait for inspiration to strike. But if you have interest in writing for an audience, any audience, you are going to have to motivate yourself beyond waiting for that aha moment.

(Photo by Bohman)

In the Beginning, I Had a False Start

In writing, as in life, a temporal beginning does not always make for the best beginning. Amateur, even professional, fiction writers tend to start a story at its chronological beginning. Because we think chronologically, our natural inclination is to begin a story with a character waking up from a dream or by introducing a stranger.

When we say “the beginning”, we usually mean a measure of time. Your date of birth marks the beginning of your life, your eyes opening mark the beginning of your day.

But the beginning doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready to take action, “to begin”. I’m sure the moment you wake up isn’t the moment you feel most human. I usually don’t feel human until 10 AM.

In writing, as in life, a temporal beginning does not always make for the best beginning. Amateur, even professional, fiction writers – in their first drafts – tend to start a story at its chronological beginning. Because we think and remember chronologically, our natural inclination is to begin a story with a character waking up from a dream or by introducing the new stranger in town.

But those are not always the most interesting places to begin.

Of course, traditional narrative is linear, which means it moves from beginning to end. Think of your favorite novels or stories. How many begin at the temporal beginning? How many begin in the center of the action and then extend outward? How many begin at the end?

How can you find the beginning of your story? Just assume that the first beginning you write is going to be the wrong beginning. But you need to start somewhere! Don’t feel too badly about your false starts. You will write to discover your beginning, even if that happens 12 pages into what you’ve written.

One of the first things you should do, when you evaluate your rough draft, is ask yourself: where does this story really begin? If you write a 15-page story, you’ll probably be angry when you find your beginning at page 12.

Anything before the beginning usually deflates the story. Think of the story as a balloon you’re trying to fill with helium so that you can let it float. If you’re struggling with the story, you just can’t seem to fill that balloon with helium . It inflates then deflates, inflates then deflates. You are not good with the helium tank. You let out all the air. But once you find your beginning, the balloon inflates and grows steadily larger.

Just remind yourself – you would have never found your beginning if you hadn’t written everything leading up to it. The same way that many people have come before you, many words may come before your story’s beginning.

Writers usually struggle with endings, but I think beginnings are exponentially more difficult to write. Your characters help you arrive at an ending, but a beginning can begin anywhere.

And isn’t life like that? Don’t we all have false starts? Doesn’t it take some of us years to start living? If you think writing is hard, try living.

(Photo by russelljsmith)

Blasting Blowhards of the Book

Creative writing is often considered an elitist pursuit, mostly because the people who practice creative writing try to keep it that way. Hiding behind the excuse that “no one cares about creative writing except the people who practice it”, the creative writing clique keeps to itself.

Creative writing is often considered an elitist pursuit, mostly because the people who practice creative writing try to keep it that way. Hiding behind the excuse that “no one cares about creative writing except the people who practice it”, the creative writing clique keeps to itself.

The truth is, a lot of people do care about writing. Whenever someone I meet finds out that I’m a writer, that person almost always has some kind of writing-related anecdote to share – “Oh, I love to write stories!” or “I used to write poems but never have the time anymore.”

We forget that writing creatively can be easy and fun! It could be a populist activity! If you have a paper and pen, you have the power.

I, too, used to keep my interest in creative writing to myself. I wrote as a hobby and rarely discussed it with other people, assuming that no one would care. But when I teach students who want to learn creative writing and who have spent most of their lives believing, like others, that writing is an elitist pursuit, I constantly have to think of new ways to change their minds.

The people who sometimes make writing seem inaccessible are often colleagues and people I admire otherwise. These people dress (black berets), act (smoke cigarettes), and talk (big words to sound smart) differently, to make a statement. They exaggerate their vices. I know a lot of people who are happy to perpetuate the stereotype. They work the “I’m quirky” angle and run with it – much like Katy Perry, but smarter.

In one of my favorite publicized examples, Gawker published a Columbia University writing professor’s haughty e-mail to her former writing students. Though the e-mail could very well have been misinterpreted, Janette Turner Hospital seems to be bragging to her former MFA students about all the great opportunities they are missing by not living in Manhattan. She writes:

And then there are all the peripheral pleasures of living on Manhattan: we’ve seen the Matisse exhibition at MOMA, have tickets for the opening of Don Pasquale at the Met Opera, have tickets to see Al Pacino on stage as Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, etc etc. Plus I’m just 15 minutes walking distance from Columbia and from all the sidewalk bistros on Broadway, and 3 minutes from Central Park where we join the joggers every morning. This is Cloud Nine living on the Upper West Side (which is known to my agent and my Norton editor, who live in Greenwich Village, as “Upstate Manhattan.” )

In truth, being a good writer has nothing to do with living in Manhattan, attending plays, viewing art, and living a life of privilege and culture.

Some of the best writers look like normal people. They are humble and rarely talk about writing, as it is something they practice when they’re working alone. When you’re seriously working and truly talented, you don’t feel the need to constantly talk about how you’re a writer. Because the status doesn’t matter. Being able to do the work does.

In many fields, the representatives are generally the blowhards, the ones who seek attention. In politics, for example, some highly publicized, badly behaved politicians – Christine O’Donnell, Jim McGreevey, Sarah Palin, etc. – don’t necessarily represent all politicians.

Similarly, I cringe when I hear a colleague or fellow writer say something “artsy” or “intellectual” to a person who obviously doesn’t care – this is not a way to convince non-writers that writing is, in fact, something practiced by down-to-earth people.

If you want non-writers to care about writing, to become better, more enthusiastic readers, writers must realize that not everyone was born charmed by the written word. Not everyone is writing to be the next Great American Novelist, but all people should have a mode of expression. Creative writing is the easiest way to do express oneself, since most of us are already literate (not everyone can paint, draw, play the piano, etc.).

But why would people curious about writing even want to try to write a short story if they felt they needed to wear a beret to do so?

(Photo sylvar)

What You Read Can’t Hurt You

Discussing serious fiction – with its complicated characters, heavy themes, and often intricate storylines – is sure to inspire questions like: Is this character believable? Is the character fully developed? Are the relationships between the characters fully realized?

Discussing serious fiction – with its complicated characters, heavy themes, and often intricate storylines – is sure to inspire questions like: Is this character believable? Is the character fully developed? Are the relationships between the characters fully realized?

No one can answer these questions without reflecting on personal experience or commenting on humanity in general. If you’re open-minded about people, you will generally approach fiction with an open mind. If not, reading fiction can help you practice open-mindedness, so that when you encounter people unlike you, in real life, you’ll be ready to listen.

For homework, I asked my students to read an excerpt from Selah Saterstrom’s The Meat and Spirit Plan, a coming-of-age novel about a female protagonist who grows up in the “dead-end Southern town of Beau Repose”. The novel is “experimental”, in that each page contains a lot of white space; the story is told in a series of vignettes, organized by section titles that are actually lyrics from heavy metal songs.

I was just completely floored by my students’ reactions to the book. In their reading responses, they judged the main character harshly and were put off by the “adult situations” that the author describes. To summarize, the narrator grows up impoverished, without a mother present.

No one has told the narrator how to behave so she looks to her role models: her similarly misguided female friends and Ginger Rogers, who the narrator believes is the feminine ideal. The narrator is grappling with her sexuality and just happens to be surrounded by men who disrespect her and use her violently. She has no better guide.

Think of what happens to so many girls and young women today – they idolize pop stars and female celebrities. They grow up hypersexualized because they think they need to dress or act a certain way to please men.

The narrator gets caught up in the wrong crowd, abuses drugs and alcohol, and becomes a victim of repeated sexual abuse. Here’s an excerpt:

Hamp Jones pulls down my jeans and gets on top. Stop I say. It hurt Mandy the first time too he says. I do not know Mandy and he does not stop. After, I walk into the room where the others are. Hamp Jones leaves then everyone leaves. I return to bed and pass out.

I wake naked. I have taken off my clothes during the night but do not remember doing so. I get out of bed, stand in front of a full-length mirror that used to hang in the house of a gay movie star’s mother and I look at myself. With the exception of being born, being fucked for the first time, and dying, you generally get another shot at things.

What I like so much about the narrator’s voice is her underlying current of misguided hope. Think about a woman you might refer to as “slutty” – you know exactly who I mean. Why does she behave this way? Don’t you think, in some misguided way, that she’s looking for love, affection, and attention? If you lack a model of healthy love, of course you’ll fumble and search for it in all the wrong places.

The type of sexual violence depicted in the above scene happens again and again, at least throughout the first part of the book. Readers want to know: why doesn’t the narrator speak up against the abuse? Why does she allow it to happen?

I firmly believe in personal responsibility and would never refer to someone as a victim without seriously questioning it first. When you’re 15-years-old, lack stable parents, and live in a community that doesn’t educate its children about safe sex, rape, and sexual harassment, I’m pretty sure that makes you a victim.

What do you think happens in inner cities like Baltimore and Newark? Young men, who grow up without fathers, look to drug dealers and rappers as role models. They think driving around in a blinged-out BMW, bought with money earned by selling coke, is the definition of success. And how can you really blame them?

I asked my students, “If you never had a positive role model, if you never had a parent/parents/another relative who cared about you, if you couldn’t see the benefit of a college education, would you be here in this room right now?”. I know that I probably would never have gone to college if I didn’t have parents who pushed me all my life. How is a 15-year-old supposed to know what’s best for her? She’s not supposed to know.

I like to read and assign literature that really pushes the boundaries. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it’s unpleasant. But when you imagine the worst kind of life or circumstances, I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere out there in the world is living a life worse than the one you can imagine. Try not to let something shocking or graphic cloud your ability to see the humanity in any given situation.

When I was a young girl, my Ukrainian-American parents forced me to attend Ukrainian school every Saturday. Instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons, I spent six hours in a classroom with other Ukrainian-American children and a “fresh-off-the-boat” teacher, learning about Ukrainian language, culture, and history.

I hated it. I was constantly looking for reasons to complain about class, and my friends and I were evil troublemakers: we cheated, we pulled pranks on the teacher, and we whispered and passed notes instead of paying attention.

One day, our teacher showed us a movie depicting a violent war that took place in 15th century Ukraine. The Cossacks, members of the Ukrainian military, were riding around on horses and slicing people’s heads off with their swords.

In this live-action movie, the heads snapped neatly off necks and rolled down the hills. I was extremely disgusted, but the best thing about the movie was that it gave me a reason to complain to my parents.

“Can you believe the teacher showed us this movie?” I said. “It was so gross!”

Looking back on that experience, I definitely think the teacher overestimated our maturity – we were pre-teens and obviously couldn’t handle the representation of violence. But I realize that the teacher’s goal was not to offend or disturb us – the goal was to show us just how gruesome that war really was.

Growing up, I was extremely sheltered. I never did drugs or drank. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school, where we got detention for wearing the wrong kind of socks. My experience is completely opposite what the narrator in The Meat and Spirit Plan endures. Yet, The Meat and Spirit Plan is one of my favorite contemporary novels, and it has greatly influenced my own writing. How could that be?

The best books capture universal emotion: suffering, pain, joy, fear, or anger. These things are often uncomfortable to read. Have you ever felt uncomfortable in the presence of someone of the opposite sex? Has anyone made an inappropriate advance toward you? Have you ever felt intense affection for a friend? Have you ever liked someone so much you would do anything to impress them? Have you ever just wanted so badly to fit in that you made an unfortunate decision?

A few of my students noticed that the narrator is like a female version of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. In many ways, The Meat and Spirit Plan is a coming-of-age story, just like Catcher. But what makes it different is the underrepresented female perspective. How many coming-of-age tales have female narrators? When I think coming-of-age, I think This Side of Paradise (Amory Blaine), The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Stephen Dedalus), and Catcher (Holden Caulfield) – all male protagonists.

Does anyone bat an eyelash when Holden invites a prostitute to his hotel room? Does anyone criticize Stephen for his loveless affairs? Or when Amory tries to pressure a girl into having sex with him?

This past Sunday, “60 Minutes” ran a story about the Haiti’s most recent cholera outbreak. The reporter mentioned rape and sexual violence, in passing (“With people living on top of each other, the camp has become a breeding ground for domestic violence, gangs and rapes.”).

I’m sure, if any of those Haitian women had the chance to share on a more personal level, their stories would be more violent and heartbreaking than anything Saterstrom has described. Would you dismiss their stories as pornographic? As something written for the “shock value”?

If you don’t want to watch the news, then you can watch The Simpsons or Jersey Shore. You are free to make that choice. If you don’t want to read serious literature, then you can read throw-away fiction in your spare time. You are free to make that choice.

But the goal of a college education is to make a student see that there’s a big world beyond the college campus. If you graduate from college without any natural curiosity about your fellow human beings, then your education has failed you.

When I think back to how much of a fuss I made about that violent Cossack movie, I’m actually embarrassed – those people died because they believed in freedom, in something greater than themselves. They were fighting valiantly. But I could only see the heads rolling down the hill.

(Photo by kevinspencer)

Magic Tricks of the Text

Have you ever seen someone perform a really bad magic trick? The person is trying so hard to deceive or charm you that you are able to seem, without even really trying to look, exactly where he slipped the quarter. But when you witness a good magic trick, you are mystified. You know an answer must exist, but you don’t care.

Have you ever seen someone perform a really bad magic trick? The person is trying so hard to deceive or charm you that you are able to seem, without even really trying to look, exactly where he slipped the quarter.

But when you witness a good magic trick, you are baffled and mystified. You know that an answer must exist, but you don’t even care because the feeling of wonderment is something you don’t experience often. In a way, you have allowed the magician to guide you on an emotional journey.

A good writer is like a talented magician, manipulating the reader’s attention and executing the trick so smoothly that the reader neither questions nor stops to think about the mechanics of the act.

I’ve used the metaphor numerous times in class. Scott Spencer, author of Endless Love, is a writer-magician. The first-person narrator in Endless Love is a teenage boy who burns down the home of his girlfriend’s family.

But Spencer is so adept at creating a delusional, manipulative narrator that we find ourselves, as readers, almost sympathizing with a guy who clearly requires psychological care.

At one point, the narrator runs into the house because he feels obligated to save the family from the fire. He says, “It seemed that that house longed to burn, just as a heart can be overcome with love.”

For a moment, the reader might think, Wow, what an interesting image! Then, the reader remembers that the narrator is an arsonist who has completely lost his mind. He is so convincing that you often have to step out of the narrative and remind yourself: he’s feeding you complete bullshit. At the same time, you don’t really care because his words are so hypnotic.

I want my students to recognize how well a good writer will anticipate the reader’s next thought or return to a scene the moment a reader is on the verge of forgetting it. The pacing of a story and the writer’s ability to capture a reader’s interest depends completely on this awareness.

Just imagine trying to understand someone you’ll probably never meet. Both the writer and the magician must know enough about the human thought process, even without knowing the reader/audience member personally, to do their jobs correctly.

Finally, a good writer is like a good magician because a good writer understands that proper grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, and paragraph breaks will make or break a trick. Poet Wallace Stevens once said, “Technique is proof of your seriousness.”

The same way that no one wants to see a magician with stunted, awkward movements, no one wants to read text with errors. If the reader is too aware of the text, the trick will fail. The text should guide but not disturb; words should neither be too simple nor too complicated, and the sentence structure must not make the reader stumble.

A good writer writes gracefully. A good writer, like a good magician, makes it look easy.

(Photo by kennymatic)

Emily Dickinson at the Computer

I’m no Dickinson scholar, but I do know that she wrote her poems by hand. The dashes were a mark of great energy, violence, and passion. They break up sentences and phrases in a way that commas and semicolons can’t. They demonstrate a fierce continuation of thought, a determination to reach the end of the idea.

In class last week, my students and I discussed Emily Dickinson’s poem #449, better known as “I died for beauty – but was scarce“. We were all mesmerized by the dashes, a punctuation mark sprinkled throughout Dickinson’s work.

I’m no Dickinson scholar, but I do know that she wrote her poems by hand. The dashes were a mark of great energy, some violence, and definitely passion. They break up sentences and phrases in a way that commas and semicolons can’t. They demonstrate a fierce continuation of thought, a determination to reach the end of the idea. The dashes also complete full thoughts but act as bridges to the next sentence.

Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Start writing and insert dashes whenever your emotions are stirred. Drawing a dash requires the horizontal movement of your hand, throwing some of your weight onto the paper, and the ability to stop at the end of the mark and transition back to the first letter of the next word.

How much of the energy that you invest in writing is obvious on the page? If you make a dash with force, the ink with be dark, and the line will be heavy. If you make a dash in passing, the mark will be light.

The act of writing with pen and paper is physical in a way that most of us don’t realize. The whole body is involved in the process. And, because writing with pen is more permanent than other methods of writing, it requires a certain concentration too.

Sometimes, I try to imagine what I would do if I lost my ability to write, in the physical sense. What if I lost function of my hands? Or could no longer see the page in front of me? If I had to dictate my thoughts to someone else, I would probably need to close my eyes and imagine my hand writing those thoughts in order to make sense of them.

But we’re all disabled now, aren’t we? Look at a keyboard. See the dash at the end of the number row? Press it. A dash will appear on the screen. Press it harder, with more force. A dash will appear on the screen. Start hammering away at the dash key. A dash will appear on the screen. No matter how hard you press that key, the dash will look the same.

Would Dickinson have been able to draft poems on her MacBook? Has part of me been lost in translation?

(Photo by mrbill)

The Blinding Light of the Beginning Writer

I don’t like grammatical errors, not because I’m a grammar snob – I’m the first to admit that I don’t know every single rule and nuance – but because poor grammar in a piece of writing interferes with my ability to read it. Grammar can be taught; if someone wants to learn grammar badly enough, that person can learn it.

I don’t like grammatical errors, not because I’m a grammar snob – I’m the first to admit that I don’t know every single rule and nuance – but because poor grammar in a piece of writing interferes with my ability to read it.

Grammar can be taught; if someone wants to learn grammar badly enough, that person can learn it.

Most children learn grammar simply by listening to language. They may not be able to explain the difference between “is” and “are” and when to use those words appropriately. But they figure out how to use those words without thinking too hard about them. Later, in school, students learn the rules that describe the grammar they absorbed as children.

Sometimes, a child isn’t able to learn all the nuances of English grammar simply by listening to others speak. That’s why grammar lessons are helpful – they clear everything up for the student. Usually, as you get older, your grammar will improve, simply because you begin to understand and have rules for the way you have communicated your entire life.

However, having a working command of grammar doesn’t necessarily make anyone a good or imaginative writer. As most people grow older, their imagination fades. Imagination cannot be taught.

In fact, I think some of the best, most imaginative writing could be produced by enthusiastic, passionate young writers who don’t necessarily have the best command of grammar. I’m not trying to make excuses for native English speakers who don’t have a working knowledge of grammar by age 18. But the ones who still try to write despite their frustration with the language, the ones committed to expressing their ideas and emotions – those young writers produce some of the best, most imaginative writing.

Writing, without fully understanding how to do so, is quite brave, especially when we have so many other ways to communicate.

It’s up to someone who appreciates imagination and creativity to approach these writers and teach them the value of grammar, to possibly show them a new way to learn. Not everyone with poor grammar is careless, and many have ideas that they deserve to express.

When I read something by a beginner, I typically value imagination over order, but I value order because I know readers don’t have patience for disorder. And they deserve to see the beginning writer’s light too.

(Photo by Abulic Monkey)

Blogging and Creative Reinvention

When I feel stale, I like to reinvent myself, which is what I have done. As you can see, I’ve redesigned the layout. I’m also going to be covering more subject matter: writing, teaching, exploring current events and pop culture, living outside of New York City, and navigating friendships and dating in the Internet age.

About a year ago, I redesigned Comma ‘n Sentence and started to get serious about blogging about social media. During my year-long journey, I have trudged through the depths of social media, exploring how it affects our relationships and lives.

Now, to be honest, I’m kind of over social media – until something or someone new revolutionizes the current scene, I can no longer imagine myself getting excited about it. However, that doesn’t mean I want to stop blogging.

In the year and a half since I started this blog, a lot has happened to me: I finished my Master’s degree, I entered “the real world”, I moved out of my parents’ house, and I learned how to navigate a lot of “grown-up” issues like health insurance and making decisions about my career path.

When I feel stale, I like to reinvent myself, which is what I have done. As you can see, I’ve redesigned the layout. I’m also going to be covering more subject matter: writing, teaching, exploring current events and pop culture, living outside of New York City, and navigating friendships and dating in the Internet age.

I was recently offered an opportunity that may or may not be the key to helping me pursue my dream job: being a full-time creative writing professor. I hope to blog about teaching, new things that I read, the creative process, staying inspired, and being yourself in a society that expects you to be everything but yourself.

I hope you will continue to follow me in this journey, and I appreciate you for reading regularly. If you have any suggestions or thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment!

(Photo by Margarita Banting)