Gatekeeping and other musings

Rant Warning!

I’m a writer. A “creative” writer if you will. Really, though, all writing is creative (Thanks, Jim!)

I believe in the power of story to change minds. To help us learn. To help writers process and apply things they’re learning.

I believe that trying new things is good. I believe that “bad” writing is what we do when we’re trying to write outside our comfort zone. I believe that much “bad” writing can be revised to be better. Maybe even to become “good” writing.

I believe writing, creative writing, is scholarly and a valuable way of teaching and learning. I do NOT believe creative writing courses are fluff, “easy” or empty of content.

And I don’t believe educators should decide whether a student is “allowed’ to produce a creative capstone project. On the basis of what would we decide that? What must a student do or demonstrate in order to deserve to be permitted into the hallowed halls of creative writing?

Probably, if my writing had been looked at that way, I would never have graduated from Slippery Rock University with my MA based on my allegedly “creative” thesis. I’m sure if I read it now, I would cringe at how bad my writing was. But I was learning. Trying new things. And I was lucky enough to have professors who were okay with that.

Now I end up here at It shall be nameless university where arguments are starting (again) about whether creative writing can be a capstone project. Arguments about what makes “good” creative writing. Against what standard should we measure the creative writing of our undergraduates? Like the work they’re writing, they are also works in progress, still learning and growing and finding their way. Their senior projects should demonstrate not just what they know but what they will need to know.

If my thesis committee had expected “good” writing from me in 1996 when I graduated from SRU, I might not have my MA. Fortunately, they were open enough to see what I was learning from this attempt.

I for one don’t want to be the professor who tells a student they’re somehow not “good” enough to try a creative thesis. I have no desire to be a gatekeeper. I want to leave that door wide open.

Two Minute Lectures and Other Thoughts

My chair recently asked me to do a Two Minute Lecture for our Humanities Division. “Maybe you can talk about your writing,” he said fliply.

Maybe. Writing’s about all I ever talk about.

So I said yes. Because some ideas and thoughts have been percolating in my brain lately. Most of them sparked by a post from the inimitable Chuck Wendig on his blog Terrible Minds.  Like this post:

This discussion of writing advice that doesn’t work but is always given comes up a lot of Twitter, too.

And I also ran into a lot of debunking of standard writing advice in my recent reading of Jeffrey Somers’ excellent book Writing Without Rules.

So it seemed only right that this be the subject of my Two Minute Lecture, tentatively titled, “Writing Advice You Can (and should) Ignore.”

Right now, my plan is to take 3 or 4 writing advice standards and then explain briefly (it is only 2 minutes after all) why they’re perhaps not as valid or helpful as people think.

Stay tuned to see how well well that goes.

Echoes of voices that are gone

With the news today of the death of singer and actor Glen Campbell, I started thinking– when a singer leaves us, at least we have his/her music to listen to. We can cue up songs or search You Tube and play videos. They leave a legacy that can keep their memory alive long after they’re gone. Like this video of my personal anthem: “Rhinestone Cowboy”:


It’s sad and cool at the same time.

Writers are the same. When they pass, they leave their words for us to read and ponder and enjoy and be moved by. Artists leave their work. Ditto for filmmakers.

But it also reminds me (us, really) that we should live our lives so that we leave something behind when we depart. Words. Memories. Photos. Music. Love. Children. Something that lives beyond us.

What will you leave? What will I leave?

I hope it’s as good as this:

Gentle journey, Glen. Make beautiful music up there.

The Power of Story and why we need it now

I woke up this morning with the need to say something. Oh, it’s not a new “something”–a lot of people I admire and respect have said similar things. But I feel the need to add my voice, for what it’s worth, to the chorus.

I know I won’t say it as eloquently as Chuck Wendig does here or John Green does here or Scott A. Johnson does here.  I can’t be as succict or as powerful as Jane Yolen and Molly O’Neill and Andrew Karre have been on their Facebook pages.  But this is just little old me and here’s my nickel.

We need story.  Now maybe more than ever. Stories are powerful things.  There’s a reason little kids always say, “Tell me a story.”  Or why they need a bedtime story.  Stories can reassure, remind us of what matters.  Stories can help us see other points of view, experience things we might never get to otherwise. Stories are intrinsically human. We all tell stories, read stories, listen to stories. They connect us.  They allow disparate voices to be heard. They allow the story makers to convey their feelings and they allow the story listeners or readers to experience those feelings. That’s always a good thing.

Now, thousands of people (myself included) are in the midst of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where we subsist on caffeine and little sleep to get 50,000 words of story (or more) onto the page before November 30. Now is the perfect time to tell your story. If you’re writing a story, keep going. If you haven’t started but you think you might want to, go for it. There’s something cathartic about watching those words form on the screen as your hands move on the keyboard or across the page. If no one else ever reads it, your story still helps you. If others read it, who knows? You may actually change a few hearts. Also a good thing.

Okay, yes, I know all art is important. But I write stories, so that’s where my thoughts are today.  Artists and poets and musicians–go write your own blog posts. This is mine.

I’m not saying story is the cure-all to all of the world’s problems.  But try imagining a world without story. I don’t think I’d want to live there.

Excuse me, now– I have go add 2000 words to my story. Write on!

On Writing Every Day

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Jodi Picoult

This quote reminds me why I need to put my butt in my chair and my hands on the keyboard every day. I have to have something on the page to work with.  Thoughts in my head are not a novel.  They’re just entertainment for me when I’m bored.

Quote of the week March 28, 2016

Quote for this week: (on revision)

“If you try to write 1,000 words a day, as I do, after 100 days you’ll look up and have a book. It may be a mess, and you may have to revise it 50 times, but you can’t revise it if you haven’t written it.”
                                                          Justin Cronin, author
This is especially appropriate for me now as I am in the midst of revising that mess. But he’s right. No words on the page equals nothing to revise in the first place.