What I learned from a Writing Fiction College Course
Currently, I am enrolled at Edmonds Community College as a Running Start Student, which means I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Sadly not the fun kind of writing I wish I was doing, just a bunch of boring academic essays. I know, gross. Word of advice, when signing up for your first quarter of college classes, don’t pick two five credit English classes; since nobody told me that, that is exactly what I did. I picked the basic English 101 course, and English 161, or a Writing Fiction class. Needless to say I was excited to have an excuse to write fiction for school, but the class I got was much different than I expected. Here’s some things I gleaned from my experience.
No Genre Fiction
The first thing I learned in this class was that I couldn’t write genre fiction. A quick Google search tells us the genre fiction is also known as popular fiction, think romance, fantasy, or sci-fi, basically everything I enjoy writing. My professor’s reasoning behind this was that genre fiction is mainly plot driven, and he wanted us to be able to write character driven stories.
Needing character driven stories was strange for me at first. Plot was definitely still a focal point in writing our short stories, but the plot came from the character’s choices, not really any decisions I made in advance. Let me try to explain what I mean. Our professor told us to base our stories on real everyday events we went through, like walking with your sister to the park. He said that they didn’t have to be set in exciting or extravagant places, like Paris or New York, and that they don’t need to have extremely high stakes, like a beautiful woman suspended over a shark pit, but rather have all the tension and stakes be emotional, making the character(s) seem more real and thus, more relatable. Essentially a character driven story focuses on the internal conflicts, not the external ones.
With character driven stories you can make a small disagreement at a coffee shop just as interesting as that last great YA fiction book you read. Even without the werewolves, or a sappy romance. Being able to write character driven stories, I think, is essential to all writers, even if you are writing about werewolves and sappy romance. Maybe your YA Novel’s plot, that sounds absolutely amazing when you explain it to a friend, seems dull when you put pen to paper (or fingers to a keyboard). What it might need is some driven, realistic characters, to really give it life.
Another thing this class taught me, or something college in general has taught me, is that I am the worst at time management. Or maybe the best… How I managed to pass both my English classes while procrastinating on almost every assignment still baffles me. Nonetheless, time management is super important when writing anything!
It probably seems super obvious but I think it is something many aspiring writers, like myself, forget about. For example, I never set aside a time to write this post, and it almost never happened! Yikes, I wouldn’t want that to happen with the books I want to write. But seriously, give yourself sometime at night to write, if you’re a night owl like me. Set aside, say, 15 minutes at least! Just be careful, you might write for a few hours once you get going. Maybe you like to get up early in the morning, (you’re just weird like that), or maybe you have to get up early, also like me. Write some before you get your day started, it’s a great way to get your brain ready in the morning.
Some of you are probably saying, “But Noah, my days are too crazy to schedule any time for writing!” To that I say, whip out your little ‘iGods’ whenever you have down time. No seriously, you have a tiny computer wasting away in your pocket! Brilliant ideas could be stored in there, the beginnings of novels could be written on your morning bus ride to work. Who knows! Point is, make some time to write every day, you won’t regret it.
Last but certainly not least,
You wouldn’t believe how many times my professor said this, but it was probably the best advice he gave me. Honestly, sometimes you have to pull a Shia Labeouf, and just do it. Tying into my last point, just write! Whenever, wherever, however. Unless it’s with spray paint on the side of a building, I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.
Also, be willing to write crap. As my 9th grade English teach once told me, sometimes you have to mentally vomit onto the paper, as bad as it may be at first, you can go back and fix it later. That’s why it’s called a first draft, and a second, and so on. As gross as mentally vomiting may sound, she wasn’t wrong. Just get it out of your head, it doesn’t have to be pretty–yet, and do it a lot. Your writing will improve, and you’ll actually start to finish things.
Anywho, that is basically everything my writing fiction class taught me. Hopefully that was helpful to you, if not, I’m sorry that you read this far.
Noah, signing off to get some sleep.