Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What I learned from...teaching freshmen Composition

Today is the first offering in my new guest post series. I've asked writers and writerly folks to share of the lessons they have learned through the years in the hopes that we can all learn with them.

Today's post comes from Melinda McGuire, a lovely lady who I've never met in person but hope to some day. Melinda is a southern fiction novelist and blogger. Having lived on both coasts, she settled down in her home state of Texas. She's a huge Faulkner fan, and currently she's compiling and editing an anthology, Rich Fabric, about the tradition, culture, and symbolism of quilting. The profits from Rich Fabric will be donated to the Twilight Wish Foundation, a non-profit foundation that grants wishes to senior citizens. Check out Melinda's blog to learn more about the anthology.

5 Things I Learned About Myself as a Writer from Teaching Freshmen Composition

1. It doesn’t matter where we are on the productivity scale - first essay or fifteenth book - some part of us fears the red pen.

2. When we fear failure, we shut down and get sucked into a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy. We pull out labels and excuses to cover ourselves, but ultimately, all roads lead to fear.

3. When someone finds something worthwhile in your writing and helps you bring that to the forefront, that changes the game, changes your mindset, changes your attitude.

4. There IS a difference between CONSTRUCTive criticism and DESTRUCTive criticism. Before you give feedback, know the difference. Then, be deliberate in your comments.

5. Write the first draft as a purging act. Get out the junk. Get all of it out on the paper, out on the computer screen. Then, sort through it. Find the good stuff. Build on that.

Great advice no matter where you are in your writing journey! To learn more about Melinda:
She'd love to connect with you on Twitter: @melindamcguire
You can also find her on Pinterest and Facebook.
Do you have words of wisdom to pass on to the masses? I'd love to have you as part of the series. Check out the call for posts here.

12 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Kelly! :) I wish I had known these things when I started teaching a decade ago!

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  2. Good advice. I use a purple pen when I do editing notes! And I always make my workshop students cite two things that are really working in a writer's piece before they suggest revisions.

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    1. Hi Catherine,
      I use purple and green :)
      I ask students in class and in writing workshops to comment on things that are done well BEFORE pointing out the areas that need improvement. Sometimes I have a hard time taking my own advice when giving feedback!
      Thanks for the comment.

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  3. Don't fall in love with your own words. No matter how pretty or prosaic they are - if they don't belong there, get rid of them. I wish I'd learnt that lesson a long time ago.

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    1. Hi Roger. I'm glad to see you here :)
      And, yes, KILL THE DARLINGS!
      What was the Stephen King rule - editing is original manuscript minus 10%. I think I could do with cutting more than that.

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  4. Great post, and great comments by your readers. Without #5, I'd never write. Getting it all out without editing at first is the FUN part of writing!

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    1. Hi! Thanks for the comment. It seems that most college freshmen, traditional and non-traditional, have the most trouble with #5. It takes a while before they believe that their first draft doesn't count against them. Once they trust that it is part of the process they start letting go and get more involved in the drafting process.

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  5. Great tips, Melinda! I wish I'd really grasped #5 when I began writing my book! I edited as I went along. Our writing group facilitator tried to tell us to let it go, but it was hard for me. Thankfully, I'm now in rewrite. I don't think I'll waste my time like that with the next story!

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    1. Hi Tonya :-)
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
      I am envious that you are learning so much from your first novel that you are going to carry with you to your next novel. My process was so different from first to second and from second to third for me. Maybe after NaNo this year I'll spend some time figuring out what approach has been the most effective.

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  6. ALL of these are true, especially numbers one and two. Roger and Tonya offered wise words as well. I don't think I fell in love with words as much as I did my characters. There were certain aspects of their personalities that I felt reluctant to change but that did nothing for the overall story. And, yes, I too edited as I went which took a lot of the fun out of the initial draft. I think part of the pleasure of Nano is "letting go."

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    1. I think that is the part that I enjoy the most about NaNo and JuNoWriMo - you don't have time to edit as you go - you just have to GO! Thanks for the comment :)

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