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College Thoughts

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by DragonOfTheAerie, Sep 21, 2019.

  1. Fox

    Fox Dreamer

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    *sets age information to Public*
    *Googles how to build rapport*
    *begins writing furiously*
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2021
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Okay, so three things.....

    1. Absolutely, 100%, writing can be taught. BUT are college courses really designed around the needs of teaching creative writing? It depends on the course, and the teacher, but I'm very unsure that the answer is usually yes. I think, more likely, you'll find that the course is designed from the POV of a scholar than from an author. Reading 100 books, then dissecting them, and then teaching from the insights gained that way, just isn't the same as the experience of an author creating a masterpiece novel. I know that I would want to take an exceptionally close look at any writing program before committing to it. In particular, anything that emphasizes how "all stories are just...." would be a huge red flag for me. If a writing program begins with the framework of blurring all our stories together, then it can't possibly elevate the personality and depth that's required of a storyteller.

    2. Dedicated practice, yes.......... but really think about what that means, and how it's taught. I'll use an analogy. A kid, learning spelling words. In school children are given a list of spelling words, told to read through them, memorize them, and then spell them correctly in a test. Those lists do two things. The first is to push all the people who don't want to learn spelling to learn more than they would on their own. But the second? It provides a substitute for deeper learning. Hear a new word, look it up in the dictionary, get curious about it's funny spelling, look at its origins, learn why it's spelled that way... that's how a master thinks. You need to learn that behavior before you start reading spelling lists, only then can really appreciate what a spelling list has to offer. If the list, of course, is a writing course, then it can be very helpful.... but it can also hold you back, if you aren't ready, if you haven't tried, if you haven't fumbled and plowed your brain over the curious intricacies of trying to write. There are things you have to learn on your own, not a tidbit of knowledge but a way of thinking, of pushing and prodding and improving, of knowing not only that the answer is there but that you can eventually find it even on your own. Once you have that, then you take the class, or look at the spelling lists, not so they can teach you how to write, but just to save you the time.

    3. It takes 10,000 hours to become a master, but it only takes 20 hours to become better than 95% of the population. Of course, both of those numbers come loaded with qualifiers, but in my opinion that 20 hours offers way more insight than the 10,000. The premise: Learn just enough to self-correct, and then practice. Then you learn a little more - again, so you can make bigger corrections - and practice. That's exactly what an enthusiastic child would do, and exactly the opposite of how skills are taught in a college classroom. And maybe that's usually fine, the way classes work, but not for creative writing. They need to teach a lot to justify the price tag, but in reality they should teach just a little, here and there, meeting less regularly over a much longer period of time, and focus much more on workshopping the work you've been putting in. But they have to justify their price tag, and pitch that they have a method to teach, and then, boom, you come out with a pile of papers on the latest modification of the Hero's Journey, a formula to fill out that takes all the emphasis off of you, your ability, your journey, your story.
     
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  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Don't worry about it. This thread was necroed from about two years ago.
     
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  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    So, research on the creative process is something that's been seriously lacking, like, forever. But it is happening, now, in full force, in part because that one company, Pixar, co-founded by Steve Jobs, has developed such a track record for successful storytelling that it has upended old ways of thinking.

    There are other successful creatives, of course. 80% of new products fail, but there's a company that helps big well-known companies ideastorm new products that flip the number around so that they are 80% successful. The key is to rapidly generate over a hundred decent new product ideas before attempting to pick one. They get fifty people together and do it in a weekend. But for a novel, how many story ideas do most authors come up with, and eventually reject, before choosing a story they want to write? Not 100. Most stories are mediocre because it's probably fewer than five. How many ideas can an author even come up with? What can you do to come up with more? If an author could toss out just 19 ideas and write the twentieth, then one of the first five stories they write should be a success (other things equal). Ideation is big thing that people tend handwave as unteachable, but it's like everything else: teachable, if you understand it.
     
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  5. Stevie

    Stevie Minstrel

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    No need to apologise. This site pretty much exists to allow folks to ask questions and try to overcome problems. Again, for what it's worth, I think you can write. You've said you have no trouble with non-fiction and the prose in your posts comes across as clear and well structured. So I think you've got the basic mechanics of writing sorted out. Good starting point.

    Time for a bit of confession. I can only use myself as an example. I've done one writing course to date. And that was on-line and focussed purely on self-editing. I've read exactly four books on how to write. (One of them was Stephen King's 'On Writing', which is half memoir, so that's three and a half books). The rest is what I've learned from reading other author's work and articles on the interweb. Apart from one thing, and I'll come back to that. Am I a good writer? I like to think I'm passably good. How do I know that? Editors and other writers have told me so. I've won competitions and had short stories published. Not huge amounts but enough to tell me I'm getting things right.

    The thing I was going to come back to - I spent years writing, editing and reviewing technical documents. Now the six hundred page safety case of how the big, bad nuclear reactor is not going to come and gobble us all up is never going to be a best seller but it did teach me how to write well enough to tell a story. I think you can do the same. But maybe start small.

    Another example. I started out writing 400 word fan fiction pieces. Did it for months on end. Yeah, you can get as sniffy as you like about fan fiction and 400 words isn't a lot. Until you try to write an entire 3 act structure in 400 words.That taught me a whole lot about plot and economy of words. And the fan fiction bit? Well, I didn't have to sweat over setting and characters too much, so I could get on with learning plot. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

    Enough from me I think. The other advice on this thread is excellent. There are books out there on how talent can be grown. "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle, "Bounce" by Matthew Syed. They helped me realise that becoming a published author is an entirely 'do-able' proposition for anyone who wants to put the work in.
     
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  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    Two thoughts here. Maybe give yourself permission to write a terrible novel. It's fine if it sucks. And in all likelyhood, it will suck less then you think. And, maybe aim for a novella first. Novella's are fairly similar to novels (as opposed to short stories, which are a lot more different), but they're a lot easier to write. 25k words is much more manageable then 80k.

    That's probably part of it. On the other hand, it doesn't explain why some groups "outperform" others in terms of number of writers they put out. Talent is cheap, and hard work usually gets you a lot further. Often people working together to get each individual to a higher level has a positive impact on perfromance.

    I disagree. Learning, even deep learning goes through different phases and depends on your skill level. Using advanced techniques to teach a beginner is pointless, since they first need a stable basis on which to build. If you teach someone guitare you start by teaching them basic chords and scales. You don't dive in the deep end and start with advances riffs. You practice the correct thing until it becomes intuitive and you have brain-space left over for other stuff.

    I do agree that most college courses will probably not teach writing in the correct way. Or they will only teach those parts that are easy to teach and as a result probably easy to find online. Knowledge of the three-act structure or the hero's journey or about themes and motives is valuable as a writer. It can help you when you're stuck in a story or to figure out why a story isn't working. It's also the parts that are easy to teach and easy to find online resources for.

    As for "On writing" by Stephen King which has been mentioned a few times, I'm in two minds about it. I enjoyed the read and it offers a fairly unique window into the mind of one of the great storytellers of the past half century. There's some good writing advice in there. However, it's very directive. He describes his process (which is fine), but he presents it as the one true way to write. Which is an issue if that doesn't work for you.
     
  7. Fox

    Fox Dreamer

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    Thank-you everyone for the advice. :)

    I am confident in my writing abilities. It's my *storytelling* ability that makes me suffer. Unfortunately, I think the terms "writing" and "storytelling" can get mixed-up. Sometimes we'll say: this is what makes for good writing. Then we'll actually talk about storytelling, but call it writing (or *creative* writing) the entire time.

    In other words, I may have made that mistake when talking about my current challenge. If I ever said I struggle with writing fiction, I actually meant to say I am struggling with storytelling. Not to say that no true writing is involved in fiction, because there's plenty—writing and storytelling overlap a lot, and I think that's where the confusion can start.

    I've learned about three-act structure, the hero's journey and all that jazz, but that didn't seem to help too much unfortunately. But there's only so much we can say here. Soon I hope to share some actual examples here on the forums to get proper critique.

    I agree with you. The difficulty is that I really want to do the main idea I have justice. Of course, there's a reason why we have the drafting process, editing, revision. I can't even get to the re-writing part of the process, so maybe I should try your advice.
     
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2021
  8. Stevie

    Stevie Minstrel

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    Looking forward to seeing your writing on the critique thread. I get what you're saying about learning the three-act structure etc. The difference between theory and practice can be awful wide and awful deep!
     
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  9. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    The thing with ideas is that they are cheap. I find that the more I write the more ideas I get for new stories. Either for those that I'm writing or for new ones. The idea that there are grand ideas out there which are so brilliant that they make for amazing stories is wrong. It's all about the execution of the idea. And you can simply use the same idea over and over again to write different stories. All Dirk Pitt novels by Clive Cussles are roughly the same idea with a slightly different execution. And people love them all the more because of it.
     
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  10. Fox

    Fox Dreamer

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    So to be transparent, the idea I'm working on is very important to me because of a personal connection with my own experience. I was inspired in part by Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy"; I am seeking to do something similar, but mental health related. Projecting the inner mental landscape into an external physical reality. The late pandemic has given me more ideas of how this might look, given that it was an experience that universally impacted all of us, and there is a growing mental health crisis to which it contributed.

    For the record, I am well aware that this is far from the first time an author has tried to do this. And many an author have already done this successfully in many ways. It is a relief in that sense to not have this unnecessary pressure to be the first or whatever. I just want to get better at storytelling so I can, uh, tell the damn story in an entertaining way lol. I need to figure out what this story will look like still. Oh, and given the nature of what I'm exploring in this work, I want to treat the subject matter in a respectful and resonating way (which I don't think is too much of a concern considering my own mental health experiences).

    I find it helpful that you said it's not like an idea is exhausted in one single execution. Not only can multiple stories be written with the idea I just explained, but the same story can be re-written multiple times.

    I really do need to find a way to get out of my own damned way so I can have a finished product to rewrite and revise.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2021
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  11. Stevie

    Stevie Minstrel

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    That sounds like a solid idea. The next thing that might help is getting the setting sketched out. I reckon a lot of fantasy writers start with drawing 'the map'. That might be a map of the physical world the story is going to take place in. Or it might be the social/political landscape of the story. Or a chronology of events leading to the 'now' of the story. Or all of them. It all comes back to Kipling's five good serving men: who, what, where, how, why, when.

    You've probably got a main character in mind, so maybe work out their place in this world before the plot begins. Spending a good chunk of time on this might start to spark ideas about how the plot will develop but you'll have already started story telling just by doing a bit of world and character building.

    Post some ideas up for a bit of developmental edit on the critique, if you feel confident about it. Or even if you don't (y)
     
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  12. HokuRyu

    HokuRyu Dreamer

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    UAA? I dropped out of UAA before I really got anywhere. Granted, I think it was the right move for my health but lately I've entertained the notion of going back.
     
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