Creative Writing 101: You Start Here

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a post attacking the practical value of Creative Writing programs in colleges. Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to fulfill the desire many people look to those programs for: we all want a next step, a course of development, towards being a real writer. What is the development, if you don’t get it in a classroom?

Though not very glamorous, author is a “glamour profession” in that it does not depend on education, experience, and job hunting but on ineffable talent combined with pure-ass luck. This disorients most people, since other people’s dreams like “doctor” or “unscrupulous investment banker” do depend on education, experience, and job hunting and they follow a delineated path of milestones towards those dreams.

Furthermore, no one in a position of of advice-giving like teacher or career counselor or college counselor understands how authors become authors, so no one around you really seems to know how any of it works, and it takes about 30 years to figure it out on your own. Here’s some of it.

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Scott Adams’s School of Smart Knocks

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Everybody wants to be awesomer. That’s a part of the appeal of books by authors like Malcolm Gladwell: they offer research and fun stories that can also teach us tricks on how to be more awesome. Those things can translate into more money, sociability, and positive outlooks. Their focus, though, remains on the story, whether it’s personal experience or a massive idea. Books in the “Self-Help” category, on the other hand, try to offer you direct advice and paradigms you should believe, like a how-to manual. Self-Help Books tend to be poorly-written, over-simplistic, and lacking nuance.

I first read Scott Adams when I was a kid. Dilbert was my favorite comic, and led me to Adams’s “thought-experiment” book, God’s Debris, which was fascinating and exciting: most of the ideas in it are bullshit (like an alternate hypothesis of gravity), but they’re interesting bullshit that makes you think, and some of it turned out to be right (like an evolutionary idea of the internet). I also read books like The Dilbert Principle, most of which were boring for a kid but proved that Adams was a smart and funny man. When his new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, came out last week I picked it up. Continue reading

Setting Your Sights High

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I accepted Malcolm Gladwell (of Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point fame) into my heart as lord and savior several years ago, at least when it comes to perspective-shifting nonfiction reading, so I was more than ready to receive his latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Is it a victory or defeat? Well, first let’s talk about what kind of book it is.

Gladwell (and separately The Steves, Levitt & Dubner) all but invented what I call the Unexpected Conclusions genre back in the early 2000s. If you set out to write this kind of book, you do it like this: Continue reading

The Rubber-Tree League

Hogwarts_at_Wizarding_WorldOccasionally I’ll get a call from my Alumni Association. Some peppy volunteer is on the line, asking if I want to share some of my wealth in gratitude to my Alma Mater. Ironically, these calls always come when I have no job. When I explain, the girl expresses her understanding and, it seems, a little bit of guilt, as if she understands it’s her fault, and the University’s, for giving me a useless degree in something like English, and they all feel bad about it now, the big mistake.

I’ve gotten plenty of jobs, of course, as a teacher and an office drone, but never when the Alumni Association calls. I like to think it’s the same girl (Karen, I call her) and Karen has been calling me randomly for the past 5 years, rooting for me to finally land a gig somewhere, but I never do. Karen thinks I live under a bridge somewhere and marvels at my upbeat attitude, an inspiration to all of them at Alumni Call Center, constantly being denied, perhaps berated. “Stiff upper lip,” Karen tells her compatriots. “We may not get donations, but I just spoke to Jeshua again, and I’m sure he’s drinking ditchwater.” “That poor son of a bitch.” Continue reading