I have been thinking a lot about reworking the way I write.
In my day job, I’m a college teacher, I teach writing skills, research skills, the fundamentals of writing at a college level basically. Yes, I know, get the jokes about how I probably suck at it because I’m a terrible writer out of the way.
Are we done yet, children?
A lot of times though, I end up teaching students how to just write period, and deal with great students that are not what would be considered a “natural” writer, whatever that means. They’re adult learners going back to college after a long time, new college students who are from a public school system that’s basically passed them forward hoping the next level will catch up and fix whatever deficiencies in basic skills…never mind, that’s another argument for another day.
In teaching students who are reticent to write, to show off their writing, and hide their fear of being judged by their writing by refusing to do it or ducking out and doing the bare minimum, I’ve come up with a lesson plan that’s for the most part, pretty flexible and easy to apply to large-ish groups of college students in writing classes. It involves taking a lot of what I learned as a freelancer writing articles and writing about music and turns it into a step-by-step, almost mathematical process where about 75% of the work gets done on a writing project like a paper or a story before any actual “writing” is put down. Being able to break down the writing process for my students like this has been a refreshing experience for both me and them, because not only does it make each class a pleasure to teach and cover each step, it also helps them. I can see the signs of relief when I explain to them that this process can help you not just jump blindly onto a blank page and hope that at the end you’ll have a C- or B-level paper, that you can actually create something really good and worthwhile.
That process, that lesson plan, which I’ve named “the chain of logic,” is a pretty mechanical one. And it’s fine, because it’s a mutation of the mechanical process I’ve been doing to get my own writing out there with for years. Serious editors and proofreaders that I met and worked with in college helped me realize that off-the-cuff random spurts were OK for diaries and intensely personal editorials/writings, but that steady reliable and relatable writing need a level of structure. I needed a level of structure and design to my writing, especially if I wanted to make a living out of it and make it the center of my life. Writing is a muscle, a muscle you have to exercise in some fashion every day. Anyone can be a writer, anyone can tell a story and share it, it is, as I tell my students, one of those abstract things the human brain does to separate us from the apes.
They always like that joke.
Lately though, I have been wondering about just how much I lose when I write in such a formal way, when I spend time on breakdowns and notes and research and proposals and point-by-point breakdowns of scenes before putting the whole thing together like a puzzle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a bit of a classicist at heart so things like basic three-act structures, research, and fundamentals of style are at the root of everything I write. It’s simply that, as I slowly get better and better at it, I feel as if I need to maybe start testing the limits of classic style and classic structure. I’ve always been a huge proponent of respecting the basics, something I feel that a lot of writers don’t necessarily do these days to their own detriment, but it is possible to “twist the formula.” The trick is, you need to know and be familiar with the formula before you can do that.
I’ve been wondering a lot if I’m good enough to do that.
I will never been good at it. I refuse to believe that writing is not a non-stop learning type of job and life where I spend every waking moment working on it making my take on it better. However, you can try new things, and I think that it might be time for me to try a new thing. Or maybe it’s an old thing I’m going back to? I can never tell, to be honest I’ve been hit in the face a few times fighting, huffed paint thinner a bit as a teenager, and drank a lot, I might not have the best memory.
I do know that I’ve been thinking about this as I have been going back through old notes and short stories, hoping to do something with them as I start the next manuscript for my next big project, a BOOK book I’d like to shop around to agents. I like to take mini-breaks when working on big projects as a relaxing breather of sorts, and figured short stories would be a good quick thing to do. Most of my old work that I’ve kept is pretty terrible and clearly the result of a kid with no sense of editing or sentence structure. However, there are some decent bits and pieces in there, and as I’ve been working with them I realized how differently I wrote then compared to how I write now. Was it worse then? Well yeah, but a part of that was the writing style as well as the fact that I was much younger and inexperienced as a storyteller. So if I went back to that style again, would the years since as a college student, college teacher, blogger, reporter, cartoonist, and writer have done anything to me?
I understand that this is all pretty much just self-reflective garbage, but I think a lot about writing. It’s all I’ve ever really truly enjoyed doing, telling stories to people in some way. I just hope that I can continue to get better and try new things when it comes to storytelling and writing and creating, in some style or another.