You want to write? Don’t blow the easy part.

So, I’m teaching an undergraduate screenwriting class.  It’s at night (undergrads have a hard time at night).  It’s in a computer lab (terrible place to hold a creative writing class).  Still, it’s a screenwriting class.  At the very least, it should be of mild interest.  These are the stories we’re surrounded by in this culture.  And, if you want to be a writer, it should be important to you.

In screenwriting, we watch a bunch of films.  The whole thing is focused on classical story structure.  Three acts.  Character with a serious desire overcomes obstacles to find a new way of being.  We talk about how stories like that are built.  It’s stuff that fascinates me.  As the teacher, I should love this class.

But, it’s a complete struggle.  Energy in the room is very low (not my normal classroom).  Some of the better writers skip.  Several people occasionally have their phones out (I generally forgive a little of that — I sometimes pull my phone out without thinking).  Worst: a couple of people just cruise the internet while class is going (I asked one kid to leave last night because he was scrolling through his Facebook feed in the middle of discussion).

This is an upper-division class — there are lots of creative writing majors, but it’s not a good student mix (too many burnt out seniors, maybe?) and I didn’t adjust to the mix soon enough.  Bummer.

More bummer for the students than for me. I’ll teach the class again next year, just like I did last year (when it wasn’t such a struggle).  My poor kids, many of whom I really like, will have lost long months of opportunity to get better.  This is troubling.

From the email I get, I know a lot of aspiring writers read this page. I’m going to say something important: If you want to be a writer, you don’t mess around in your writing classes.

If you’re bored by the teacher or tired by the time of day, put your head down and work on your writing… if you don’t have internal strength, you will absolutely never make it.

If you love Facebook so much, you can’t get enough of it in your non-writing-class time, go to work in a cubicle.  Don’t even think about being a writer.  You simply don’t got it.

If you skip a bunch of writing classes, don’t ask your teacher for a recommendation (for grad school, for agent, for anything).  The writing world is small and they’re not going to stick out their necks for people who have shown signs of irresponsibility or disrespect.

There is nothing easy about being a writer.  Yes, I think it’s fun.  It’s definitely exciting sometimes.  You do work you love.  But, for 99% of us, it’s a huge struggle to stay afloat — don’t underestimate the difficulty.

The easiest part is being in school.  You show up.  You add to the discussion.  You do work that is assigned.  You do your best to learn (even if the teacher bores you and you’re tired).  You write, which is what you claim you want to do, right?

After school, it is hard to get help.  You don’t get prompts.  You don’t have natural deadlines.  Nobody wants to read your work.  Lucky for you, you still have your phone and Facebook… but you’ve lost the support network and the time in your life when your main job is to pursue what you love.

Pretty soon, your main job is to pay back student loans.

Jesus.  If you want to be a writer, don’t blow off your writing classes.  I’m serious.


8 Responses to “You want to write? Don’t blow the easy part.”

  1. 2 Bev Johansen November 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

    SO true, Geoff! Maybe they think just having signed up for a creative writing class will give them an edge somewhere out there in la la land. Life is hard work!

  2. 3 Kevin Obsatz November 3, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I’d love to talk with you about screenwriting sometime. Also, I’m about 100 pages into Stupid Fast right now, and lovin’ it. Nice work.

  3. 5 Nicole Helget November 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

    RIght and write on.

  4. 6 Carrie Mesrobian November 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Oh my god, yes!

    And if you’re not getting anything out of your class, maybe you should talk to the instructor. Tell him/her what you’re looking for. Whether students are engaged isn’t always the instructor’s problem – I’ve had good luck wrangling stuff that was really valuable from a teacher just by having a chat before class.

  5. 7 Pant Thor November 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    I honestly think, you are so right, sometimes I do it to my CW professor. But, this blog will change my life forever, thank you. Also, I am half way through T. Rimberg, what a narrative! Looking forward to hearing you speak at CenturyCollege.

    • 8 Geoff Herbach November 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Glad you’re enjoying T. (weird book!). Sometimes stuff comes up and students really can’t be there or really have something else going down in their lives… it’s just the generalized malaise that whacks me out. So, don’t be too hard on yourself!

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I am…

Geoff Herbach. I am the author of Stupid Fast and Nothing Special, among a bunch of other stuff. When I'm not writing, I teach writing at Minnesota State, Mankato.

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