Celebrating my Students’ Blogs

My first year Creative non-fiction students are asked to write blogs. Part of the purpose of using blogs rather than a more conventional “journal” or just individual homework assignments is that the blog is public. They can read and comment on one another’s work. They can see the best, and I find that they work hard to outdo one another and themselves. Their work is, in a word, awesome. I am so proud.

With their permission, I’d like to open a window on my class blogs. They blog anonymously, linked to a list in our password-protected class site – we all know who the authors are, but you won’t.

The first assignment was to write about the nature of “truth” (what is “creative” about creative non-fiction?) Here is one response

Then we started working on description, and their task was to write about a place they knew well and visited frequently. Lots of varying responses to that one; I loved this one about Island View Beach and this one that turned into a ghost story.

Another week we did interviews, then I suggested that they might like to try writing about themselves in the third person. They had a lot of fun with that

Then, they were asked to write about someone they’re close to, if possible with a photograph.

Maybe the most difficult task so far was the “braided essay” – focussing on structure and weaving together several different types of writing. These were based on a class where everyone brought “treasures” and there were many possibilities for how the students tied them together. Here’s one I loved
And another one.

I hate to limit this post to only a few entries – there were so many others I could have chosen, and there is so much talent in my class. But this will give you a taste of the exciting work that my students are doing.

A Reading Meme

Do you remember learning to read? How old were you?
I know it was before I started school, and I was four then. I do have a clear memory of being on a bus with my mother and suddenly realizing that I could piece together what some of the signs said.
What do you find most challenging to read?
I think the hardest thing is reading something I don’t want to read. Which for me, sadly, is often student papers… Or something very difficult, like the most obscure literary theory.
What are your library habits?
I mostly use the library to read things that I don’t want to buy. Since the advent of computers, I happily put my name on reserve lists for things and let the library do the work of keeping track.
Have your library habits changed since you were younger?
I have to confess that since I started earning a good living I tend to buy books without thinking much more often and I use the library rather less than I did.
How has blogging changed your reading life?
Not really all that much, to be honest, although it has led me to some discoveries that I might have missed otherwise.
How often do you read a book and not review it on your blog?
Quite frequently.
What are your reasons for not blogging about a book?
More time than anything else. It’s as much as I can do sometimes just to get through books without writing about them as well. But sometimes I won’t blog about a book that I don’t like by an author who I know follows my blog.
What percentage of your books do you get from new book stores, second hand books stores, the library, online exchange sites, online retailers, other? To be honest, probably about 90% from new books stores, although a certain percentage of that will be from Amazon or some such.
What are your pet peeves about the way people treat books?
Not respecting that a book belongs to someone else and not giving it back. Laying a book down flat with the spine broken. Writing in or otherwise disrespecting someone else’s book.
Do you ever read for pleasure at work?
Not as often as I’d like.
When you give people books as gifts, how do you decide what to give them?
I try to give people books that I think they would like, or that I know they would like. But I’m sure I’m guilty of the same thing others are towards me, which is giving them books I want them to read rather than thinking of what I know they would like.

Good Luck, Everyone

This is remarkably poignant.

Three Links Make a Post

I’m late with my November 10th blogpost, so I’ll make this quick:

The Ten Commandments of Fiction Writing
From The Onion, Nation Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text
And an awesome set of Romantic poets as Action Heroes

Advice for Novelists

I was talking to one of my students yesterday about the process of writing a novel, suggesting that if she thought she had a novel in her she should a) just get on with it and b) probably do some research to help her fill in important textural details.

As internet felicity would have it, my blog-roll turned up two gems this morning, backing me up on those very points. Maggie Steifvater, author of several excellent young adult supernatural fantasy novels, tells how she wrote Linger two hours a week on Wednesdays, because she had to make a living the rest of the time. But she also talks about drafting and filling in the details later and all kinds of good things.

And can you imagine taking a master-class with Terry Pratchett? He talks about the importance of research and of just letting your imagination take you places and how collaborating with Neil Gaiman was so easy because neither of them had egos.

Which Neil?

Pursuant to my earlier post about Neil Gaiman, many thanks to Mike Ross from my Creative Non-fiction class who tipped me off to this delightful Twitter exchange between a midwestern mum and Neil himself (@neilhimself). You see, she thought she was writing to Neil Patrick Harris. When NG politely replied that she had the wrong Neil, she wrote “Sorry, doll. What do you do?” Their conversation proves once again what a stunningly Nice Guy Neil Gaiman is.

Who Is Neil Gaiman?

I get that question a lot.

And my inner response is “you haven’t heard of Neil Gaiman? Where have you been for the past year or so?”

But then I realize that his rock-star status, his ubiquity, is almost entirely within a) the internet community, b) the sf-fantasy community, or c) the graphic-novel community, or d) geekdom. These realms intersect with each other but perhaps not with the “real” world all that much.

But if you’re a writer, or a reader, it’s hard to imagine that you haven’t heard of him. He’s won many major literary awards, he does promos for the American Library Association, he does endless readings and book signings. His face is on a lot of posters. He’s a rock star.

He’s also a good writer and has built a huge fanbase through strategic but curiously genuine-seeming use of social software. He has a lovely blog, where he writes about his dogs and his bees and his cats. And, oh, the series of posts he wrote when one of his cats was dying was beautiful. He’s also on Twitter: one of the top celebrity Twitterers. He has children whom he obviously adores. He is engaged to be married to the performance artist Amanda Palmer, and writes beautifully about her here. He seems like a really nice guy.

And in the world of graphic novels, he’s a god. Up there with Alan Moore as one of the most important and influential, with his series The Sandman and related works. He’s also written scripts and screenplays and been involved in many other creative undertakings. He’s a talented guy.

I wish more people I knew had heard of him.