While I was in college, I took the following writing classes as part of my major:
- Fiction I and Fiction II
- Creative Non-Fiction I and Creative Non-Fiction II
- Research Writing
- Magazine Writing (I and II)
You'll notice that none of these classes are called "Let's Write a Novel" class or "Here's How One Ends a Story" class or "Write Me a Book: Any Book" class.
I think the longest piece I wrote for any of these classes was about 15 pages and I'm pretty sure that was for memoir-writing class (Creative Non-Fiction), where we mostly tried not to criticize each other's lives and/or life choices as we read and workshopped each other's memoirs. But secretly (or not so secretly), we were all judging each other.
"Oh, so-and-so isn't very good." "Ugh. He only writes science fiction. Eww." "Her characters are so unrealistic." "That is so brave of you to write that."
For whatever reason, my fiction felt weaker at the time than the pieces I wrote for memoir. I can't really criticize it too much. I was still learning, wasn't I? We were usually about 12 young writers, all with different styles and different levels of experience and distinct personalities, thrown together in a room and given the run-down of conventions of a genre or style in two semesters. And then we had to read each other's work and critique it.
And I'll be honest--I didn't always know what the hell we were arguing about. I didn't follow the conversation all the time. Why are we talking about a minor detail in this story when there's a glaring problem with inconsistency on page 5--because you wrote on page 1 that blah blah was blah blah blah but by page 5, it's all changed...
Are you trying to emulate him? Because I don't think the style really works with this kind of a plot...
Plot? What plot? It's 7 pages long! What the hell can you even do with 7 pages?
You know, I'm not sure if this really packs the weight necessary...
I think that metaphor is really interesting, but I don't think it makes sense because...
Right. Sure. Huh?
Thus, I learned that my fiction wasn't quite fiction-y yet. It wasn't living on its own, outside of my head. The language was too literal, the plots non-existent, the characters abysmal. The critique was generally unhelpful.
Graduates of my school will say that everyone there is passionate about what they do. They're also pretentious as hell.
Yeah, I wrote a lot and I absorbed and learned a lot, too, but really, by the time graduation came, I was tired of writing. And when I started Book the First and realized that I hadn't actually finished anything book-length in all the years I've been writing fiction, I started to feel kind of behind.
I went to classes with kids who'd come to college with three novels hidden in their desks--all written in their teens. Or people who'd casually throw out, "Oh, yeah, I'm writing another novel."
So, I realized that I'm actually sort of in recovery from being a writing major. By that, I mean that I'm bounding with ideas and inspiration now. I'm excited about what I'm writing. I've had to let go of the things I learned in college or build on them to write longer works. And I had to get over the idea that just because some douchebag in freshmen year didn't like something I dashed off in an hour because it was due in two days, it was actually bad.
Also, it's not necessary to follow the train of thought in a workshop. I don't think we were all interested in everything we had to read plus we were being graded, which seems silly because how can you grade creative writing...
Sometimes, I wish those fiction classes had gone into more detail--on genres, maybe, or into how to structure longer works. But for the most part, I'm happier with my writing now than I was then. I wish I had a critique group around me--I suppose that's my next endeavor, finding one locally or online--but there is something still slightly repelling about a critique group to me.
It's why I have a blog instead. You know, me and every other writing major in the world.
I came across a tumblr today called Creative Writing Student Crane. Hysterical. It pretty much illustrates the sick, sick minds of writing majors. There's this one about First Drafts. Another about Themes. Where's the one about Author's Intentions? That was the one topic that made me want to kill whenever it popped up in a Lit. class.
And now, I had best go and finish the last few pages of my draft. I already have ideas about how to fix up the Shitty First Draft into a Marginally OK Second Draft.