Taking Classes at GrubStreet

In the spirit of posting things months after they happened, I’m here to tell you about my GrubStreet experience from the beginning of this year (yes, six months ago). If you, too, are an unmotivated recent college graduate/writer wannabe, I highly recommend GrubStreet because you’re paying money to write. Yeah, it doesn’t really sound ideal, does it?

But sometimes, that’s what you have to do. If you’re having trouble sitting down and writing a complete story/poem/whatever, then what are you willing to do to fix that? There are definitely some non-monetary options. For example, you could create a writing group with some people that you trust and set weekly deadlines or assign a week to each person for workshop, etc. You could also do the honor code and “promise” yourself (or someone else) that you’ll finish x amount of work for a given day, or week. OR, if you’ve turned into a lazy couch potato post-graduation and you’re ~serious~ about writing, then maybe you need to shell out some cash to ensure you get shit done.

You can look at paying for writing classes in two ways: one, you could laugh at someone for spending money for something they could technically do for free (not nice), or two, you could interpret it as wowthis person is really serious about this kind of thing. PLUS, you’re not just paying for yourself to actually write, but now you have access to a whole writing community! You’ll have a (hopefully) qualified and very smart instructor to critique your work and provide valuable lessons along with other people to give different perspectives on your work (of course, you’ll be doing the same with theirs).

I was lucky enough to get a scholarship for my first GrubStreet class and I LOVED it! I loved having deadlines to keep me honest and having a very sweet and intelligent mentor motivated me to producing work that I was proud of. To be completely honest, I only came out of that class with two stories that I think have potential (out of six), but that’s because that particular class had hard word limits because workshopping about eleven other people takes up a lot of time.

I’m currently enrolled in my second GrubStreet class and it’s online. I’ve only just started the second week, but so far, I really like it. It’s another 6 Weeks, 6 Stories class, but the assignments are different AND we get 1,000 words to write for each story (that’s a flash fiction piece each week!). The only major downsides are that most people don’t write inline comments because they think writing up a quick summary is enough, and you don’t have that personable connection that you would have in a regular workshop where you could see each other face-to-face.

All in all, I’m really enjoying the class so far, and I definitely think paying money for classes can be worth it. If you have any questions about GrubStreet, or my experiences with it, please comment below!

-Christina

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School is Still Cool (why you should consider taking writing classes)

Hi friends,

In an effort to post more than two blog entries in 2016, I’m writing to inform you that I’m going to start taking writing classes! Yes, I still have a full-time job. Yes, I’m still struggling with getting on that daily writing grind, but this class is only on Mondays from 5:30-7:30, so I’m hoping this will be manageable.

I’ve been looking at writing workshops in the Boston area for the past several months, but was always deterred by their (usually expensive) cost. Luckily, one of my co-workers referred me to a poet she’s studied with in the past and told me he offers a mixed genre course over the timespan of two months. Even though I consider myself a fiction writer, occasionally I’ll dabble in poetry and have written a couple essays (non-literary) for my senior thesis. Plus, I hear it’s a good idea to experiment with more than one genre as they tend to inform the other.

So (to get to the point of this), why should you consider taking writing classes? Are you one of those people who think “Writing classes? You’re paying for someone else to set deadlines for you and spoon feed you writing prompts? That’s absurd!!”? I definitely was. I’m not saying I looked down on writing classes, but for a long time, I was convinced that I could do all that on my own. Turns out, it’s a lot harder than it looks. PLUS, you wouldn’t be getting feedback on your own, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you want to grow as a writer. Plus plus plus, there’s nothing more encouraging than being a part of a strong writing community, which might be one of the biggest things I miss about Amherst.

My class doesn’t start until January 9th, but I will be sure to update once I get the ball rolling. I’m also a bit bummed because GrubStreet offered me a generous scholarship after I committed to my current writing class, but I’m hoping I can apply and (hopefully, HOPEFULLY!) get it again for another term because homegirl is broke and adulting is expensive (also, I hear great things about GrubStreet).

If you’re taking writing classes, or know of any writing opportunities in the Boston area, please comment below! I need all the help I can get.

Love,

Christina

Advice to My 22-Year-Old Self as a 22-Year-Old

There’s a calendar on my desk that I never use. Well, that’s not completely true–there’s a calendar on my desk that I never use anymore. January was great. January had things written on each date: the daily word count I had to hit for whatever story I was working on, deadlines for writing contests, dates with friends, dates with boy, birthdays, etc.

I was pretty good at keeping track of everything until about March or April when my recordings started to peter off. As I got caught up with senior year and everything else that was going on in my life, I found myself writing less and less. Especially now that I’ve graduated and am working a full time job, I can barely bring myself to type out a hundred words. My calendar has been completely blank from May to now. My last blog post was in January. I thought, Well, that’s okay–I’ll just write again when the inspiration strikes. Sometimes, inspiration doesn’t hit me for months. Once, it evaded me for almost two years.

Wasn’t it Jack London who said you have to go after inspiration with a club? What can I do to make writing easier? I think the answer is that it doesn’t get easier. Writing is hard. Life is hard. You can’t just sit around waiting for the “next big thing” to fall in your lap. In fact, the “next big thing” probably isn’t going to come around even when you’re trying–a lot of the things you work on might suck, but they suck a lot less than not having anything at all.

I think the key here is discipline. A writing mentor once told me that if he could go back in time and give his younger self a piece of advice, it would be to write daily. Imagine if you wrote 100 words a day. Sure, that might not be much, but if you wrote 100 words a day for a whole week, that’s 700 words. If you wrote 700 words for 52 weeks, that’s 36,400 words–that’s half a novel. Of course, you’ll probably cumulate more words the more you write and once you get that writing muscle back in shape, it will come naturally. The hardest part is getting to start.

I’m only 22, but I know if I was ten years older, I think the top five things I would tell myself right now would be as follows:

  1. Write daily. Shoot for 300 words, but don’t do anything less than 100.
  2. Read a short story everyday and always be reading a book. Inspiration comes best from other people.
  3. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Safety nets are cool and all, but the end goal is to get the most out of life and experience as much as you can.
  4. Try to hit up twenty countries before you’re locked down with kids.
  5. Create equal balance between work, your hobbies, and relationships. Don’t let one hold back the other.

Actually, make that six things:

6. Blow the dust off that damn calendar and start keeping track again. There’s something supremely satisfying about crossing off a completed task.

xoxo

Christina

Second Guess Yourself

Specifically, with word choice. But before we get into that, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s important to disregard the perfectionist editor in your brain when it comes to writing. Just write down whatever comes to you organically without trying to get your sentence down “just right.”

But, after you’ve written your sentences and you’re trying to edit them perfectly, take another look at them and think, “Is this the best I can do? Is there another verb/adjective/whatever I could use to make this sentence more distinct?” The answer is YES.

One of my favorite sites to use when it comes to writing is thesaurus.com. Now, I’m not saying pull a Joey Tribbiani and replace every possible word with a “smarter” sounding one (we’re not trying to sound like assholes here), but if you’re trying to describe something with images/phrases that are overused, that could spell problems when it comes to subverting expectations.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • The last thing I saw was her feet coming toward me when my vision went black.

  • The last thing I saw was her feet running toward me when my vision dropped black.

Here, I replaced the word “coming” with “running” and “went black” with “dropped black.” “Running” is an alright word for this case–it’s slightly more descriptive than “coming,” but I could probably pick something better. Describing the narrator’s vision as “dropped black” as opposed to “went black” is much stronger. “Drop” is a weird verb to use in this scenario, but I kind of like it because it’s not something most people would expect to see in relation to passing out, but it still gets the point across.

And also:

  • “It’s nothing,” he said, leaning against the handrail. “Getting old, I guess.”
  • “It’s nothing,” he huffed against the aluminum handrail. “Getting old, I guess.”

In this scene, a man battling an illness is trying to convince his friend he’s alright. The second bullet paints the picture clearer since “huffed” relays the image of him struggling to speak as opposed to simply using the word, “said.” The addition of “aluminum” gives the reader a better idea of what the handrail looks like and makes the scene a little clearer to visualize.

I listened to a Tin House podcast once where Steve Almond was giving a lecture on crafting sentences, and he said that “every word matters.” It matters when you use “anxious” as opposed to “restless.” Or, “tender” rather than “gentle.” Each word has its own purpose, which is why it matters when you choose one over another. Make sure you choose wisely to get the best point across.

-Christina

Radio Station KFKD

Hi friends,

Guess what I’m doing during my last winter break, EVER? My thesis. Do I sound like an asshole yet? So I’ve said this before, but one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received includes writing daily. Now, I definitely haven’t been writing 500 words every single day (I think that process lasted about a week), but I have made it a requirement to write something each day (lately it’s been 300 words). For me, I find it best to do this for a week straight, take one day off where I don’t write anything, and then start all over again. Taking that day off is very important because it gives my brain a chance to recharge since, essentially, I’ve written half a short story’s worth per week, which is pretty draining, creatively.

Anyway. For those of you who haven’t read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, I highly recommend you do so. There’s a TON of really amazing writing advice in there. In regards to Radio Station KFKD, Lamott says that we all have a radio station in our head that plays as we write. This radio station is always on in the back of your mind, trying to edit your words as you go along.

Here is her advice: TURN IT OFF. This might be hard since we all want to write pretty sentences, but it’s so important. Radio Station KFKD (this isn’t an actual term by the way) is what causes writer’s block. It’s the reason why you sit at your desk for twenty minutes staring at a blank page and wondering how to phrase something without sounding stupid. You need to ignore it. You need to write, no matter what. Even if it sucks, at least it’s something. You can always get the idea down and go back and edit it later–no one is reading your first, unedited draft.

For me, I always type things out, and if I don’t like the way it sounds/the sentence in general, I’ll change the font color to this obnoxious pink so I know to go back and fix it later. This is an extremely effective process (for me) because I actually get stuff done instead of waiting around for “inspiration to strike.”

Does this make sense? I hope so. Merry almost Christmas!

-Christina

p.s. I’m currently reading Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son because I read “Emergency” in one of my creative writing classes and fell in love. What are you reading?

Writer Crush Whenever

Don’t Eat Cat by Jess Walter

At night I deadbolt doors and hard-bar windows, and it’s not bad living in the city. I stay home a lot. Turn off outdoor lights, bring in garbage cans: simple, commonsense stuff. Obviously I don’t have any pets. I leave my car unlocked so they won’t break the windows looking for food and trinkets. Play music all night to drown out the yowling. But nights aren’t bad. Daytime is when I get fed up with zombies.

I know. I shouldn’t call them that.

I’m not one of those reactionaries who believe they should be locked up, or sterilized, or confined to Z towns. I think there are perfectly good jobs for people with hypo-endocrinal thyro-encephalitis: day labor, night janitors. But hiring zombies for food service? I just think that’s wrong.

Read the rest of the first chapter on Google books, or listen on the Tin House Workshop Podcasts. I discovered this over at the Tin House Podcasts and must’ve listened to it at least ten times because it’s just THAT good–plus, Jess Walter is a fantastic reader. I strongly encourage you to check it out!

❤ Christina

For Those of You Who Want to MFA

I think the controversy surrounding MFAs is so fascinating. I agree that you can’t really teach people “how to write,” but I also believe being in the right community with the right faculty (which is v. important) can help inspire your writing and push you even further. There is no right answer.

My thesis creative writing prof has two major points he likes to emphasize when talking about MFAs: time and money. He advises us to take time away from school to travel and get a bit of experience in the corporate world to fuel and possibly influence our writing, and to only apply to fully funded programs since an MFA doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job (I know I personally am not applying for a very, very long time).

Anywho, I stumbled upon this really insightful blog post and wanted to share it with y’all because he makes a really great argument on why MFAs aren’t for everybody.

Enjoy,

Christina

Something Basic.

Hey guys,

Long time no see. I’ve learned a LOT over the past four months, and I will certainly return to posting (hopefully weekly–depends on what life throws at me). First, an update: my story “The Nudist on Pine Street” was a finalist at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Sandy River Review Undergraduate No-Fee Contest which was judged by Sarah Braunstein (!!). After workshopping the story in my thesis class, though, I can definitely see why it didn’t win. But I’m still learning and I’m just grateful for having the chance to participate.

Onto things you actually want to read: incorporating the five senses. Have I written about this already? Maybe? Sorry if I have, but it’s something that’s worth mentioning. I’m sure most writers have this hammered into their skulls already, but for those of you who don’t, then listen up! Whether it be poetry, nonfiction, fiction, etc., you want to include the five senses at some point throughout your piece. By five senses, of course I mean sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Why do you want to do this? These details evoke our own senses and makes us more engaged in your story. It makes your words concrete. Do you have to include all of them? Nope–but the more you have, the stronger your work will be.

Let’s compare sentences and you can see for yourself:

  • “Her fingers touched the frozen pea packs” vs. “Her fingers crunched through the frozen lumps”
  • “He bit his lip. There was blood” vs. “He bit his lip and tasted the metallic rust”

Which sentences do you think work best–the first or second? Maybe these aren’t the best examples, but the correct answer would be the second sentences. The second options (at least, I think) are much more vivid than the first ones and contain descriptions that most people can probably relate to. The more descriptive your details are (as long as you aren’t overwhelming), the better.

Hope this helps!

Always,

c