First, let me clear up what I mean by “real.” This isn’t a debate about online classes versus college programs.
I’ve been writing fiction since middle school, but I didn’t apply to my college’s creative writing program. The thought terrified me even at an age when it’s easy to be braver about something like this. I applied to the journalism program instead because hey, it was still writing, and I worked on my high school’s newspaper for two years (the most you could do at my school). I will say now that my journalism degree did help sharpen my skills.
In the back of my mind I planned to take whatever creative writing courses I could. There was no set minor, but they did have an “Intro to Creative Writing” class. I took it as soon as possible.
Big mistake. Huge. Julia-Roberts-telling-off-that-saleswoman HUGE.
Worst thing I could have done. The professor was out of his mind. While it might be normal for a class like that to switch from one form of writing to another (poetry…not my forte…to short stories, screenplays, etc.), I didn’t enjoy it at all. He insisted that I put more emotion in my assignments but offered no guidance on achieving this. How could I pour my heart into vague assignments that weren’t my favorite in the first place? He’d tell us to “write a poem” or “write a short story,” then give us a minimal critique before moving on. After a while I stopped trying altogether. Made me feel stupid for thinking I had an edge because of how much I’d written over the years. By the end, I felt like the worst one in my group.
The group critiques were useless by the way. The first five people would say something different, then the rest of the class would either agree or disagree with them.
(That’s what I meant by “real.” There’s this type of class, then there’s classes that focus on novels or short stories. Taught by a professor who actually teaches.)
I mostly wrote fanfiction for years after that disaster. I’ll give Professor-What’s-His-Name (really can’t remember) that it was always difficult for me to connect with stories/characters emotionally. Maybe that’s why I never went the extra step to improve my writing in high school. At first glance I was better than average for my age, and I constantly thought of story concepts. One of my flaws – in writing and in life – is that sometimes I don’t follow through. Dozens of novels and short stories weren’t finished, or if they were, I didn’t go back to edit much. At most I showed a few short stories to very patient English teachers.
It was safer to write stories than to edit…or actually show them to people in my life. I’d rather do what I loved than have others tell me I should quit while I’m ahead.
This “secrecy” is probably why I haven’t published anything yet even though I’ve been writing for about fifteen years.
As for my current writing practice, I have gotten better on my own. Things finally clicked for me on that “emotional” level. Instead of focusing on the surface elements (plot, setting, characters), I started thinking of what I wanted to write about. What topics held my interest? What message did I want to send to readers, if anyone ever read what I wrote? How can you build a story around that? What characters do you need for that story, and what kind of plot would draw them together?
I finally get it and it feels amazing now. About damn time.
Maybe I’d have gotten my act together sooner if I’d taken some real creative writing classes, branched out, improved my craft instead of letting it plateau. I do regret it in hindsight.
Believe it or not, I’m still reluctant to take real writing classes. These days it’s because I’m stubborn and jaded. I don’t want some random “professor” or “expert” telling me what to write, or how I’m doing it wrong. Maybe that’s the wrong perspective but I can’t help it. Then there are my old insecurities. What if the class I pick turns out to have a crazy professor and indifferent students?
I might reconsider this if I find the right class. For now, I’ll keep working on my first draft.