Pencil And Paper Passion

14765101649_d49d709d84_oOver the last several weeks, I’ve been interpreting Mary Laura Philpott’s “What I’ve Learned From 28 Brilliant Creators,” relating the nuggets of quote wisdom to my own personal life, my classroom, and the writing life.

I must admit, I did not realize how much of a soul-searching undertaking task going 8415892514_af30087dbd_othrough Philpott’s post was going to be. And twenty-eight nuggets of wisdom on top of that; what was I thinking—I feel like I had locked myself into a topic that, sometimes, I honestly didn’t want to always share publicly. But after today, I’m left with eight more posts, and I’ll be sad this blog series on cultivating creativity is going away.

Today though, we tackle Sharon Draper, Adam Silvera, and Garth Risk. Specifically, I’ll be talking about how everyone holds within them the potential for at least one great story, a story that you and others alike can love. Then, I have a small advertisement at the end of the post that I hope ties in well with the Regular Blog’s take home message.


Writing a novel, a story, the act of creation, is not necessarily incredibly mind-blowing life altering stuff. Sharon Draper says, “When I was in third grade I wrote something called ‘Clouds,’ in which I described them as looking like bunnies, if I remember. That was NOT a life-altering moment, although I was very proud when it got posted on the school bulletin board.” Anyone can create a story; they just have to put their mind to it.

Whether you have talent or not, technique and craft can be learned and honed. Beth Hill over at The Editor’s Blog is one of many voices that echo this sentiment. Hill writes, “There are many ways to mess up stories, so many pitfalls for the writer who is ignorant of the craft and lacks both skills and experience. But no writer needs to remain ignorant, not today. Not when so many resources are available. Since the third grade, Draper has gone on to win several awards because she kept writing and kept learning, kept trying. Hill continues, “Trying to write a novel blindly, without knowing what’s required, is foolish in a day when so much information is available. Take advantage of that availability and learn.”

It’s why I went to graduate school and earned my MA in literature. I wanted to know how stories worked. It’s why too my wife is currently half-way through an MFA program. Because she too wants to know how stories work. As any professional athlete will tell you, training is important, vital.

Official college courses are, of course, not the only route one can take.  

Adam Silvera reviewed books. Lots and lots of books before he began selling his own novels, and he says, “I actually put into practice ‘reviewing’ my own book in the drafting stage, so I can identify its strengths and its weaknesses. I review it through every draft . . . I can identify the weakness, and by the next draft I should have tackled that and improved upon it.”

Well, if you read Wednesday’s post, you know I don’t review books. Well—not officially really. But I read, dang it. I read hard. My graduate program took me from Kate Chopin’s 1899 The Awakening all through to Edward P. Jones’ 2004 Lost in the City. I’m currently reading three books just for fun, and this summer I’m embarking on an Irish Literature reading list, and if anyone is interested in joining me on that adventure, that would be super dang cool.

And when you’re doing this always reading, you come across stories that speak to your soul–even small things like Philpott’s post on what she learned from talking to so many already brilliant creators, like what it means when you’re stuck in an airport and all you want for is a good burrito. And there are stories you can’t help but love: Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, Smith’s White Teeth, Wilson’s Eureka Street. You know, the list is highly personal, but those are the kind of stories I want to tell; those stories are my ambition.

Garth Risk Hallberg says, “My ambition for the book [City on Fire] always felt like, ‘I want to make the kind of book I’ve always loved.’ That necessarily entailed becoming the kind of person who could make that kind of book. And in a way, I had to renounce a certain species of ambition to do it. Just the sheer scale of the work . . .  Maybe that’s why I didn’t tell anyone I was working on it. It wasn’t supposed to take me anywhere other than where the book itself wanted to go . . . Maybe in America it’s easy to get mixed up and waste years chasing being a personage, instead of sitting down with a pencil and paper like any other person.”

And that’s what it comes down to: pencil and paper, work. Training. Work. Passion. And that is kinda mind-blowing and cloud like.



Beginning June 1st, I am offering a 3 week creative writing course entitled The Dog Must Die: Plotting and Structure Workshop. The first twenty-five people to sign-up will receive a complete critique/workshop of up to 20 pages of writing—and the writing can be something you create as you work your way through the course, something older that you’ve been having difficulties with, or even the first 20 pages of a novel in progress.

Cost for the course is $120.

Course registration opens May 20th. Until then, if you’re interested in taking the course, shoot me an email with the subject heading THE DOG MUST DIE.


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