Tomorrow, I will once again be at The Loft Literary Center attending a writing class about memoir. A question came up recently among writer friends I know on Facebook about creative writing programs, i.e. Masters programs. Are there too many, turning out way too many writers who have not lived life? Have you ever faced the choice between getting a Masters or gaining life experience?
I thoroughly enjoy taking writing classes every once in a while. I find them especially helpful when I’m stuck in some way. They can break the log jam, spark new ideas, and get the writing flowing again. I earned a BA in Music in college and was so finished with school upon graduation, I did not even consider graduate school. At least not in America. I moved to Vienna, Austria, and began the process to enter the University of Vienna to study German. At that time, I had not yet begun to take my writing seriously. I returned to the US, however, and then began taking my writing seriously.
Over the years, I’ve probably taken enough classes, workshops, and seminars to equal the coursework for a Masters. I studied what interested me at that time — personal essay, journal writing, screenwriting, fiction, etc. I considered occasionally the option of entering graduate school to obtain a Masters in creative writing, but could not stomach being a student in a classroom again under those circumstances. I have consistently chosen to gain life experience.
What do writers usually write about? Life. Even in genre writing, the focus is on the human condition and how people live their lives. If you’re in college reading this, consider taking a few years to just live after you graduate — work at an interesting job, travel, fall in love, volunteer in a hospital, follow your intuition. Keep a journal — daily, if possible. Exercise your writing muscles there, honing your skill at description, dialogue, recording dialects, and characterization. Eavesdrop shamelessly, but not for content. Eavesdrop to hear the music in the language, the accents, the way people mangle syntax in speech, what makes an individual’s speech so unique. Work at strange jobs, if that’s your interest. But experience life as fully as you can while keeping it legal, please. You can always return to the notion of getting a graduate degree.
So, tomorrow, I’m taking a break from working on the presentation related to my memoir project, and I’m going to a memoir class to, I hope, spark more ideas for writing my memoir. Last week’s class reassured me. I want this week’s to light a firecracker under my imagination. And I’m thinking that after tomorrow, I probably won’t need anymore writing classes for a while…..