On Friday, we had a meeting with the new/returning Work Study Employees for the kids/teen camps. I asked them all to tell each other their majors. When they’d gone around the room, one of them jokingly asked, “So what’s your major.”
“Life,” I said. And it’s true. I finished my last round of formal education back in 2004 – can you guys believe it’s really been a decade since I got my Library Science degree, and I still haven’t finished paying for the student loans? – but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning. I go to writer’s conferences and read books on the writing craft, of course, but it is really living life that keeps teaching me how to be a better writer.
It is hard to write heartbreak and loss if you haven’t lived it. And you could never make up people as quirky as some of the co-workers you will have at the random jobs you take along the way. You learn about group dynamics, the need to find meaning and redemption, and the power of saying, “I’m sorry.” I look at what I was writing a decade ago (or two decades ago, as a teenager), and while the building blocks of craft are there, those novels don’t have the depth or power of what I’m writing now.
I find that things I learned doing research for non-fiction articles, or for other projects/ventures, even the failed ones that never saw the light of day, inform my current fiction. Random facts become useful at the strangest moments. I am certain that the research I have been doing for this one on the psychology of birth order and the psychological impact of body language will benefit me later on as well.
One reason I love teaching is that I can see some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way and help other writers not be held back by them. When someone walks out of my class saying they “get” something they didn’t understand before, that can make my entire week.
While I can’t just give you the power of life experience, I do want to share some of the worksheets I’ve been making for my writing classes. A lot of these are modified from other resources I’ve worked with to fit my own learning/teaching style (As they say, there really is nothing truly under the sun), but a few of them contain activities from my own “aha” moments. The first one is up now on my resources page. It is a collection of character development sheets (which we will be going over tonight in my Novel Preparation class. Sorry you guys, but you still have to catch the class to get the PowerPoints and the critiques). Look for more worksheets soon.
I’m planning a couple of short stories set in the Tides world to break up the intensity of this last round of edits. There are a couple of minor characters in there that I just love but didn’t have enough room to explore, so I’m going to give them their own small canvas. I’ll let you guys know as soon as the first one goes up.