Last week was the first week of classes for me, in my quest to obtain my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State College. It was an eye opening experience, to say the least. After thirty years, I found myself back behind a student’s desk, concentrating on the words of two extremely talented writers, whose job it is this semester to educate me and the others in my class. It was amazing! It was a little uncomfortable, being in this new element, so of course I was nervous and it took me awhile to get into my “zone”, as one of my fellow students is fond of saying, but once I settled in, awesome things began to happen.
My instructors, Barbara Chapaitis and Russell Davis are like the yin and yang of the writing spectrum, but both are just bursting with creative energy that I could feel transcending over to their students. Russell Davis is a very nuts and bolts kind of guy, whose job, for these two weeks, at least, is to teach us the basic elements of writing a novel, and that’s what he gets right down to business doing just that. His basic philosophy on writing is, “Sit your ass in the chair and write the damn book!” While Barbara Chapaitis, is a binge writing, free spirit, who is interested in the writing process and helping us to discover how that works for each individual writer. For her class, we sang, we howled, we meditated, we observed a spectacular lightning storm, and we did some free writing exercises to grease the writing wheels and get the ball rolling.
Russell believes that part of his job is to make his students as uncomfortable as possible. He writing assignments are aimed at getting us to write outside the genres that we are most comfortable with and experiment. To that end, last week I wrote a segment of a YA mystery, which I have plans to use to revive a book that has been dead in the water for about five years, and I started on a western piece, that isn’t turning out too bad. I also took a segment of that western and turned it into a horror story, but we won’t talk about that.
At first, I wondered what all the wild things Barbara had us doing had to do with writing. It soon became apparent that she was trying to get us to think about our own processes and be aware of what they are. She talked about the difference between being a planner, who outlines and plots out all the little details before sitting down to actually write the book, and being an organic writer, who gets an idea and just runs with it. Barbara is without doubt an organic writer, who locks herself in her writing space, allows no interruptions, and writes until it’s done. I wondered how she could do that. After all, life doesn’t just disappear while we are writing. She emphasized that the process is different for each one of us and encouraged us to explore our own. I discovered that for me, I’ve learned to write around life, grasping any time that makes itself available to write whenever and wherever I can. As our home is small and I have no closed door to lock myself behind, I have turned my recliner and a small coffee table into “my writing space”, and I have learned to block out the television and other distractions in my environment and immerse myself in the word that I am putting on the page. I have also learned to make whatever space I am in, “my writing space”. I can write on my breaks at work, sitting by my son’s grave, or in the car, while we are on the road, since I commute. (Thankfully, my husband does most of the driving.)
That’s my week in a nutshell. There is so much more that I learned and discovered over the past week, but I must keep this post short, because I have homework. That Western excerpt is due Tuesday; I have to critique the work of my peers, and I have to prepare for the Write the Rockies Conference next weekend, which I will also be covering as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner. I’ll let you know how it goes.