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LP: Recommended Areas of Study for Writers

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:01:12 GMT

SkyTy Author Posts: 81 Hey everyone, I was wondering what you all thought the best area of study is for people that want to write professionally. I've of course thought of English writing, but I've also heard that writing classes can ruin your voice. What do you recommend? Thanks for you help, Sky

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:01:27 GMT

Tabby User Posts: 3 I think if you take some of the advice of an English major to heart, but are cautious to remember who you are you should be fine. It will make you reexamine your form, which can be really beneficial, while giving you feedback (assuming you go somewhere with workshop style courses). That said, I'm speaking from hearsay. I chose Sarah Lawrence to avoid majors all together. Everything here is writing based, so I'm quite the happy clam!

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:01:43 GMT

Mr.Darcy Author Posts: 12 Sky-- I did my degree in Ancient History, Latin & Ancient Greek, which gave me a fairly broad exposure to disciplines like philosophy, law, history, and literature as well as the obvious benefits in grammatical analysis, vocabulary expansion, etc. All well and good, but I have found that I lack the in-depth knowledge that I have encountered in peers who have had more obviously literature-focused degrees like English--although this is balanced by a greater knowledge of slightly more obscure literary devices like transferred epithets. I had reasoned that since I was in any case a voracious reader and would have the whole university library at my disposal, I could continue to develop my knowledge of literature at the same time as pursuing my intellectual interests--only true to a limited extent. I would advise that the most important considerations are how interesting and stimulating you find your course of study and how this will impact your worldview as a writer. If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would definitely have cho sen at least one modern philosophy class and joined a bunch of different clubs like movie-production societies and the like, but if the field of English Literature is your ultimate calling, I would stick to it! Best, MD

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:02:01 GMT

wickedcool1 Author Posts: 44 There are countless schools with good writing programs, but you are right to fear people stealing your individual voice. Most important now will be to continue writing for yourself. THat is where people lose their track. If you write FOR professors, and never for yourself, you lose your voice. Continue writing your own stories, short fictions, and again ALWAYS HIT WRITING CONTESTS! You build your individual edge by competing against others. No one else can help you build your voice like you can.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:02:15 GMT

Hughes Author Posts: 115 Hey Sky, I'm going to have to strongly agree with Steve (wickedcool). I think as long as you keep writing the way that is true to your voice, regardless of how unconventional it is, you'll be able to make it through. I chose to study science and philosophy at the University of Edinburgh because I was very interested in writing science fiction books and wanted to study in a world where fresh ideas attacked me from my textbooks everyday. If you go this route, I would highly recommend either taking a grammar course, studying a good grammar book, or dating an English student and harping her with questions over spaghetti dinners (my personal favorite). Eliot

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:02:30 GMT

nikki123 Author Posts: 5 I think I have to agree with what the others have said. As long as you remain true to yourself, you will be fine. English classes would help to learn and perfect the craft. Remember, it will only take your voice if you let it! It sounds like you are already on guard for that. So, I would say if that course of study speaks to you, go for it. If it doesn't, then look for something that does speak to you.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:02:53 GMT

tcmeyer Author Posts: 13 Having the perspective of an academic, I find the fear of formal writing classes odd. I am firmly of the opinion that all writing is creative, regardless of the demand for it. Even seasoned fictional authors can, in the drudge of the publication world, fall into a lazy and expected prose style. The demanding editor of a book contract is very similar to the demanding professor of an essay of Derrida. If you learn the rules, and learn them well, you can always find ways to inject or sneak your own personal idiosyncrasies into everything your write. As long as you find a way that is comfortable for you, then your voice will shine through. I, for one, am partial to analogies, maybe overly so, and particular poetic turns of phrase, and especially, though breaking this quality here due to the differing conventions of this post (contexts are vital to consider), an utter disdain for or discomfort with the first person. TCM

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:03:09 GMT

Hughes Author Posts: 115 I think that have an academic perspective on lit is both a blessing and a curse to writes. As Hedlund has pointed out in other posts, it makes you exceptionally in-tune with ways you can manipulate narrative structure and characterization, but in the same breath, it often chains you against running free. You've really got to ask yourself what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to create great literary stories, escapes for the reader (everyone loves some Rowling and King) or do you want to help to change the literary tradition and, as a result, be less approachable? P.S. TCM, Derrida gives me nightmares...and ulcers.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:03:26 GMT

tcmeyer Author Posts: 13 Hughes, I'm sorry Jacques and your psyche/gastrointestinal tract are not friends. But, I still don't necessarily agree that academic background, if used properly, can be a hindrance to creative writing. Sure, it promotes a certain style of prose and explanation, but those are due to the particular conventions in which the writing takes place. As for me, being a rhetoric and critical theory guy, I see that awareness of these differences of discourse and narrative conventions allows for further development of skill and voice, but only if the writer remembers that these conventions are arbitrary and change from context to context. TCM

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:03:42 GMT

DMHedlund Administrator Posts: 80 I don't know, Trevor, I kind of have to agree with Hughes on some of these points. As a writer who loves to manipulate style and structure, my heavy lit crit background has really been ideal for the construction of works like my new novel, Atlantis, but I find myself often having to second guess the natural voice that comes to me in juxtaposition with what I'm trying to do technically. For example, before I really delved into my study of techniques like free-indirect discourse, I instinctively bleed by characters thoughts into my first-person narrator's discourse. Now I hear Bakhtin banging against the walls of the cranium every time I have a question mark in the narrative...asking if I'm intentionally compromising my narrator's objectivity, it internal battles are being reflected, if I'm injecting unreliability into a reliable narration. In the long run, I believe my writing is better for it...but only if my reader has an equally tuned eye.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:03:56 GMT

Rookwood Author Posts: 68 While I want to agree with Hughes and Hedlund on this one, I must admit that my formal writing classes have somewhat hindered by ability as a creative writer. Although the structure and grammatical rules are incredibly helpful I feel like every time I sit to put pen to paper, I'm flooded with these voices correcting moments on paper that I have yet to write. While this may seem like a schizophrenic suffering, I truly believe that I become to swamped with the technicals and concerned with the overall voice of the piece (all of which was taught to me in formal writing classes) that I can't seem to let my writing flow without conscious effort anymore. The convolution of all the rules just got to me I guess. It doesn't make me better or worse per say, but I feel as if I lost something of my former writing self when I took formal writing classes. So while it does give you the analytical and structural edge in the field, I personally believe that formal writing classes damage more than simply going to a writing coach or reading up on some influential authors.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:04:18 GMT

tcmeyer Author Posts: 13 There is, of course, the problem of the internal editor, especially one armed with the best and latest in grammatical tools. However, I think it is a statement to a writers' ability to be able to manipulate that little man (or woman), in one's head in order to let the writing flow. Once the text is there, revision might be a better place for the little editor (mine is bald with thick-rimmed glasses and a cigar). Peter Elbow, one of the founders of the Expressivist school of composition, would agree with you in the negative effect that conventional practice can have on authentic voice. He was the guy who created and coined the Free Write concept, a vital tool in invention and composition. However, being too voice centered can leave writing unclear and inaccessible to the reader, a problem which too much injection of critical theory can do as well. We are, unfortunately, part of a literary tradition in which the expectation of understanding between reader and author is placed upon the author, a culturally contingent notion. It's all a c hoice of acquisition of skills and knowledge, and a choice in their use or disuse. For example, ee cummings, one of my favorite poets, was good friends and classmates with T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, who could be argued as some of the more inaccessible writers of the early 20th century. Imagine a college freshman reading The Wasteland with no notes and only a limited understanding of the tradition from which Eliot drew his allusions. cummings choice to disregard complex subject matter, allusion, and overtly political charge to experiment with language at a language level, and, as he admitted, to be more widely accessible. I don't know, maybe it is just my cynical view regarding this ideal of the lone author in the ivory tower, the creative writing manifestation of the Ego-centric predicament that we have all inherited from Descartes. I think that good training can help you, but only if you do not allow it to overload your creative impulses and necessary experience in making mistakes, whether they be structural, grammatical, or simply poor choice in narrative construction. It's always the duty of the person to the tools one gets or has been given, and the fault of the person if the tools inhibit the goals the person wishes to achieve.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:04:45 GMT

Hughes Author Posts: 115 I think there has to be a happy medium here. Elbow can pontificate all he wants about free writing, but there has to come a time when you look at Bartholomea's (TCM, is that his name? I can't seem to remember) arguments about first mastering the style of the greats before you, too, can join their ranks that makes perfect sense. You can free write all you want, but if you have not first cultivated a style and grasp of the rules of grammar and story telling, you're incapable of filling the page with anything meaningful.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:05:00 GMT

tcmeyer Author Posts: 13 Hughes, Bartholomae would be proud. It is a matter of learning and exploiting the discourse conventions of a particular community, learning how to say what you say when talking to certain people. It's a pedagogy connected, I think, to Bahktin's dialogism, in which the way one speaks or writes is determined by the people for and to whom one is writing or speaking. You can try to walk-on a college athletic team with no experience of the mechanics or expectations of the game, but your success will be greatly more likely with a solid background of how the game is played. Furthermore, I think the more and more varied discourse communities one writes in, the better one is able to manipulate the arbitrary conventions, and further understand and master those types of code-switching, which in turn allows for a further development of voice in spite of differing discourse conventions. Take one of my idols, Michel Foucault, who was so adept at discussion and so well read that he wrote about, and spoke about, topics which no one could have collect ively discussed, especially not in connection to each other. Even though his topics were so varied, his style and organization is unmistakeably his own whether he's discussing sex, religion, insanity, the prison system, or the development of modern sciences in the 17th century. TCM

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:05:16 GMT

Hughes Author Posts: 115 TCM, I'm glad TBL has you.

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Wed, 04 Feb 2015 08:05:37 GMT

galt1034 Author Posts: 33 I say don't take classes. Go live an interesting life, take chances, do unusual things, ask strange questions, try new social strategies and put a demand on your mind to adapt and grow.