Monday, October 27, 2014

Bay Path MFA goes to International Online Learning Conference

On my way to the 20th Online Learning Consortium International Conference!  My BPU colleagues, Mary Wiseman and Peter Testori, and I are giving a presentation about creative collaboration within an online creative writing program, our MFA in Creative Nonfiction.  Educators, writers, and faculty from colleges and universities around the world will be sharing ideas for making the online experience more interactive, dynamic, and (the buzzword) "multi-modal" than it already is.

Key for me, though, is always how to help students deepen their writing practice.   How to stimulate workshopping discussions that get at the artistic and emotional heart of a piece.  How to apply what the lessons we learn from good writers -from John McPhee to Vivian Gornick, from Phillip Lopate to Diane Ackerman to Richard Rodriguez - to our own creative work.  How to direct students to literary publications and writing resources that can advance their career and strengthen their craft. How, in other words, to participate as serious writers in the digital world we live in.

I'm looking forward to learning new ways of teaching, new ways to enhance my students' experience in the MFA.  (And, it must be admitted, to four days in Florida.  No reason faculty development and 82-degree weather can't go together!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Breakfast with the Muse: guest post

I'm a member of a national writing community of women writers, She Writes.  She Writes is a publishing organization, a website where guest writers blog and members form groups, and a place for writers in all genres to share resources and work.  The organization sends out a weekly newsletter and also offers editing and other services for writers. It's a fantastic community and a good place for aspiring and established women writers to network.   Recently, I enjoyed this post by Jill Jepson, "The Delicate Balance of the Writing Life," on her blog "Breakfast with the Muse."  In the spirit of muses (and breakfast!), I'm sharing it this morning with you.  Make yourself a good cup of coffee or tea and enjoy.


Welcome to my new Breakfast with the Muse blog. I’m delighted to be posting on She Writes and hope you find this blog as helpful and inspiring as I’ve found other She Writes blogs.
As I was thinking about what I could write for my very first Breakfast with the Muse post, it struck me that every bit of writing advice I’ve ever given was true only half the time. The other half of the time, the opposite advice was true.

  • Learn to write fast to increase productivity—but also learn to write slowly for excellence and grace.
  • Write every day—except when you need rest and space, then don’t write every day.
  • Show, don’t tell! But sometimes tell.  

This conundrum has led me to the First Law of Writing about Writing:

For every piece of advice, there’s an equal and opposite piece of advice.
It all gets down to this: The writing life is complicated and paradoxical. It’s full of ambiguities, contradictions, and exceptions. It’s a life of fulcrums: points on which you must pivot with delicate balance, choosing between one technique and another, this method or that. There are dozens—maybe hundreds—of such balancing points. Here are three:

1. Write for your audience / Write for yourself
Creative writing classes often start by telling us always to write with an audience in mind.  “Do you want to get published and be paid for it, or are you not really concerned about other people buying and reading your book?” asks writing coach Kip Langello. If the former, he says, write for your readers.
But blogger Jeff Goins disagrees. Write for yourself first, he says: “…it is the only way that you can be true to your art—the only way that your writing can have the impact you dream of.” 
2. Listen to advice / Ignore advice
Ignoring advice has always struck me as a sure sign of an amateur--especially when that advice is coming from people in a position to know what they’re talking about. Learning to listen to the wisdom and experience of editors, teachers, and coaches is essential for all writers.
Imagine being lost in a strange city and being handed a roadmap with your destination clearly marked. Ignoring the advice of a publishing professional is like throwing that roadmap away.
But not always. Editors and teachers aren’t right 100% of the time. They make mistakes—sometimes big ones. A certain amount of writing advice is simply personal taste, and some of it is just plain wrong. So some of the time, the best thing you can do is to ignore it.
3. Follow the rules / Break the rules
Rules are landmarks leading to excellence. Following the rules of perfect grammar and punctuation helps us present ourselves as impeccable professionals. Knowing the rules of a particular genre are often essential to getting published in that genre. Rules exist for a reason, and learning them will make you a better writer.
Then you can break them—some of the time, at least. Push the envelope, shatter expectations, be bold and different and unique. That is good, too.
You’ll notice I’ve presented both sides of each of these balancing points—but offered no advice on when to go to one side and when to go to the other. It’s easy! Just use your intuition. Or ignore your intuition and use reason. Or use neither. Or both. 
The fact is, there are no clear guidelines about when to do one thing and when another. The choices we must make are subtle, unique to each writer, and constantly changing. All we writers can do is leap off that cliff and hope for the best.
And that’s okay! It’s what gives writing its adrenaline rush.
After all, writing isn’t rocket science. It’s something much harder: It’s art.