Teaching Telling


In good ‘ol Scarlet Knight country, my designation is simple. I’m an undergrad studying English and Digital Communications in Media. It’s an odd combination – the former is a degree that gets a lot of shit for being pointless in a STEM-based world, and the latter….well, I’m sure if you quoted it to a random somebody, they’d just sort of stare at you with a blank look on their face. That’s okay, though. Really, that is. I’ve always been a strong believer in keeping your passions within arm’s reach – in not settling for anything that makes you fully compromise that. Otherwise, who are you, really? Your job? Your paycheck? Your house? Where is the dreamer in any of that if you’re not doing something that drives you? What’s real?

Of course, that’s both just my opinion and totally not the point of today’s blog. It’s a bit too heavy for my taste. At least for the moment. :p

But being an English major has given me plenty of avenues to expand on my creative side. I’ve always liked that about the field – it’s more than just quoting antiquated old men and pulling analysis out of your ass. A good half of it is fully devoted to self-expression, something I like to think I’m quite good at. Naturally, to try and hone that, I’ve taken on a lot of advanced creative writing courses in my time at Rutgers so far – trying to glean some knowledge from people who’ve already been published and acknowledged, and some feedback from young wannabes like myself.

In three years – six semesters – I’ve learned two things:

  • Creatively writing about anything other than gender issues in a creative writing course full of gender studies majors will get you crucified.

And more importantly:

  • You will be forced to relearn everything that you thought you taught yourself – reclassified under different, longer names.

And that’s something that I’ve always been iffy about.

To break the creative process into parts – to isolate the deeply personal formative process that is storytelling into specific, segmented stages – has always felt wrong to me. Growing up, no one taught me how to write. Maybe that shows. Maybe it doesn’t. But I didn’t take any lessons as a kid that showed me how to translate the mess in my skull onto a shabbily drawn comic book on a page. I didn’t know the word plot until much later, but I knew how to form one long before I knew how to structure a three part narrative, avoid my fuckin’ adverbs, and stay in active voice at severe risk to life and limb.

It’s the distinction between being a writer and being someone who tells stories, and while one method (I’ll save you the legwork – it’s the former) is tried and true as far as getting published, I feel like the other is infinitely important to at least understand.

Don’t misunderstand, though. I think it’s important to at least know the steps taken in successful people’s formative processes. If your published professor took steps A, B, and C and are now published bestsellers, you don’t really have much ground to call them a hack. But by no means should you necessarily glom onto their methodology because you think that now, it’s an authority. It’s a combination of factors that produced a success story – and there are an infinite number of combinations out there. If you’re an aspiring writer, even an unproven one like yours truly, take your lessons with a grain of salt – don’t be afraid to tell them to fuck off and press for your own deviations.

I think, at the core, there’s one important thing that none of my professors have taught me. To be a good storyteller, you need to understand the kind of power that you’re screwing with. You’re creating – and that’s nothing to be scoffed at. Fictional as it might be, this is a world you’ve put down on notebook paper, full to the brim with story, with history, with agony and triumph. You cannot relegate that to steps laid out point by point from a textbook somewhere.

Treat that power with respect, and you’ll do just fine.



Teaching Telling

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