Town People and Circus People

Town People and Circus People

The Circus in Winter

[Long read. Sorry. Not sorry.]

Since I published this essay about Cole Porter and growing up “different,” I’ve been getting a lot of emails from people saying “I’ve never had the words to describe this feeling. Thank you.”

One email in particular has been on my mind. The subject line was “An ExMid from Peru Indiana thanks you.”

It’s from a fellow Peruvian who lives “out East” now. She still visits friends and family in Peru, but says that some members of her family seem uneasy with her at times. Sometimes they’ll say, “You’ve spent too much time in [City Far Away].

“I cannot help but feel like I don’t belong there anymore when I visit.”

Oh boy, do I know that feeling.

She goes on to say:

“I guess what I am asking you is how did you break the mold on what people in Indiana perceived you to be with who you really are to yourself? Did you find a way to do it that did not result in the ‘too good for us’ label that inevitably follows such a declaration? Indiana will always have a place in my heart and Peru a place in my soul but reading your words about both places made me feel like you understood my plight. I want to thank you for that. Indiana and particularly Peru is where I grew older but I grew up elsewhere. Cole Porter knew this struggle. Of that I am sure.”

Oh boy. Here goes.

Town people vs. Circus people

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The importance of being findable

The importance of being findable

Higher Ed

This blog post is for everyone in any English department that’s experiencing falling enrollments.

For most of my career, I didn’t think too much about where my students came from. I turned in my course request and maybe I wrote up a course description for a newsletter, but mostly, I just trusted that students would show up in my class.

And that’s the problem, really. We can’t just trust that they’re going to show up anymore.

Now, we have to ensure that what we offer is easily “findable.”

 

findability

I happened to find this Ball State Advising Handbook online. It’s brand new. My fellow DUSs at ADE took a good hard look at this handbook, which will soon be in the hot little hands (or digitally in front of the eyeballs) of incoming students.

Scroll to p. 12. See the long list of majors.

Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.21.33

Imagine a student who is looking at this long list and who feels pressured to declare a major. “English” is in the second column, but our four specific concentrations within English are also listed, including Creative Writing, which is very popular, along with Literature, Rhetoric and Writing, etc.

The visibility and findability of these concentrations in this list allows us to compete with other storytelling and communication related majors whose names suggest the career that follows, such as Journalism and TCOM and Marketing, etc.

However, scroll to p. 14, “Selected majors by interest area.”

Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.28.15Screenshot 2016-06-05 09.29.03

The folks in advising have very kindly tried to take that unwieldy list of 190 majors and group them into six sections: Business, Creative Arts and Design, Government, Law, and Public Safety, Health Care and Human Services, Sports and Recreation, and Technology.

Please note that English is not included in any of these categories.

Probably this is just an honest mistake, and I need to write to Laura Helms, the very very nice and hardworking Executive Director of Academic Services and Associate Dean of University College and ask if they can add English to at least one of those lists in the 2017 catalog. But that doesn’t help me with the class of 2020.

The editors of this handbook know that students are thinking about the bridge between major and job/career, and they’re definitely trying to help. But for whatever reason, English did not come to mind when they were “categorizing” majors. Partly, that’s because English doesn’t want to be categorized. We believe that our students can do ANY of those things. But the editors will probably not let me put “English” into each category, and I’ll have to pick one, and I will feel both victorious (Yay! The first-years can see us!) and I will feel like I’ve capitulated to a kind of niche marketing that I don’t really believe in. Idealism. Pragmatism. This is the life of an English department administrator.

Scroll to p. 16. Note that all of our minors are on this page. Yay!

Recruiting students in the core/gen-ed classes

Scroll to p. 18, the Core Curriculum. Study how my department has positioned itself here, because this is really, really important.

We spent a lot of time at ADE talking about the importance of general education classes. Some students come to college knowing they want to major in English, but many more find us because they “have to take” a gen-ed course and discover that they love it.

Now, for a long time, college students were required to take a literature class to graduate, but this is no longer the case.

Here are the classes every single student at Ball State must take:

Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.08.28Know this: every department believes that all college students should be required to take one of their classes.

If your department offers a foundational class, as mine does, you have the opportunity to touch every single student, which is a privilege. Offering a required class means you don’t have to recruit students. They will show up. In droves.

These days, instead of requiring literature classes, most colleges include them in a menu, and my God, that menu matters so much. When your courses are menu-ized, you’re forced to think in terms of recruitment and “selling” and curb appeal.

Consider this example from DePaul University, where the gen-ed menu includes Arts and Literature. Scroll down this list. First, any course at the end of that list, such as Women’s Studies, is at a disadvantage. Second, Digital Cinema courses are in this menu, and it’s hard for traditional liberal arts majors to compete with those courses for the attention of millennial college students.

Tier 1 requirement:

The number of options in menu matter, as do the titles of those courses.

At Tier 1, our two classes compete with about 20 total.

Students are using the title alone to make a decision about which class on the menu to take.

Which of these titles will resonate?

Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.21.03

Would you be surprised that our Intro to Digital Literacies class always fills quickly? Of course not.

Our “Reading Literature” course does well, but fills a little more slowly. It would probably fill more quickly if the actual topic of each section was more apparent.

We offer about three sections a term, maybe one on Narratives of Resistance, one on Dystopian Literature, one on Road Novels. The topics are different depending on who is teaching. But what students will see in the system they use to sign up for classes is “Reading Literature.” This is what they’ll see on Banner.

Screenshot 2016-06-05 16.34.17

For various technological reasons, we can’t put the actual topics into this system.

We can put the those sexy, specific titles and course descriptions on our website and blog, we can make posters, etc., but it’s so hard especially at a big school like Ball State to make our topics findable by the student who is searching for a class to take.

It’s like running a really good restaurant in a city that’s hosting a big convention and not being able to let the people at the convention know that you’re just a few blocks away. Instead, all the convention go-ers eats dinner at the first restaurant they see.

Would someone invent the Yelp for cool college courses? Thanks.

Tier 2 requirement:

It’s at the next menu, Tier 2, that our department had to really think strategically about what to offer, because we’re in a much bigger menu (about 70 courses to choose from) and therefore the competition is much more fierce. We’re no longer competing with just the humanities courses anymore. We’re competing in a category called “Fine Arts, Design, and Humanities.”

If you scroll to p. 20 of the handbook, you’ll see that this is where we titled our courses much more specifically.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-05 10.35.12

Our thinking was that we might attract students via our “Intro to [identity]” courses, and then say to those students, Hey, you can take the 400-level version of this course and then encourage them to add the major or the minor.

The importance of course descriptions

People in the English department create fascinating courses that require an explanation.

For example, what does “Narratives of Resistance” mean? Read the awesome description:

We will use the course to examine how novels, poetry, and plays have been used to challenge ideas of justice in society to create change in the system. We will read Luiz Valdez’s Zoot Suit, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Barbara Shoup’s American Tune, Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, in addition to a few shorter essays, stories, and episodes of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. Evaluation will be based on quizzes, two midterm tests, two short papers, and a final exam.

Aha! You get to read some very good and important books AND watch one of my favorite shows, Mr. Robot. SOLD!

But what’s going to happen (through no fault of the instructor or me or anyone else) is that most students will show up the first day and only learn then that they get to read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and watch Mr. Robot.

Note that pp. 26-31 of the advising handbook are nothing but course descriptions of the foundational classes.

Note that that the handbook doesn’t include course descriptions of any of the other classes in the core. Because that would make this document incredibly unwieldy and students probably wouldn’t read them anyway. The title of the course alone must attract and inform. And sometimes, that’s just not possible.

You’re thinking: Why not call ENG 206 Social Justice Lit?

Because we can’t promise that we’ll always offer it with that topic. Even the instructor might not want to do it time and time again.

Why not create ENG 206 Social Justice Lit, 207 Dystopian Lit, 208 Road Lit, 209 Southern Lit, etc.

Because there are not enough numbers to contain all the cool things we could teach.

I have more to say about this topic of findability, but for now, I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that it’s really important for English departments to take out their own eyeballs and look at everything with a student’s eyeballs.

We can offer the most interesting classes in the world, but if students can’t find them, no one will take them.

The importance of being disloyal

The importance of being disloyal

Writing

I’m thinking a lot about disloyalty today.

Let me explain why.

I feel like I’ve betrayed my hometown and home state.

This essay was published today, and I’d like to say a few things about it.

They Found a Meth Lab in Cole Porter’s Childhood Home

A few months ago, Barb Shoup at the Indiana Writers Center asked me to submit an essay to an anthology of Indiana writers that will be published this fall to celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016. She mentioned that the anthology might end up being used in public schools, and I thought, What would I really like to say to an Indiana high school student? It also stood to reason that Governor Mike Pence might actually read something I wrote. What would I really like to say to him? Oh boy!

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Recruiting English majors and minors

Recruiting English majors and minors

Higher Ed

Here at the Association of Departments of English, we’re talking a lot about why fewer students are majoring in English and what we can do about it.

Here’s a very good playbook on how to improve your recruitment strategies by Emily Todd and Lina Insana. Download away!  It’s really great.

Here’s what I’d add to all that great advice.

Use every communication method at your disposal to reach more students.

I realized that I’m lucky to have certain tools at my disposal.

  • One is something called Banner Works, a pretty simple program that allows me to contact Ball State students by major or minor and send them an email. I use this a lot to communicate with my own majors, and I use it to send a message, say, to all the Theater majors to let them know that they might be interested in our new class on Shakespeare’s plays.
  • (One thing that shocked me when I took my job as Assistant Chair was the dearth of communication options available to me. It’s surprisingly hard for a department to communicate effectively to their alums and to their students, let alone to non-majors.)

Recruitment Email

Here is a link to an email that I sent via the Ball State Comm Center in Fall 2015 to all undergraduate students and faculty. I sent it out right before registration was to begin, and I spent about two hours crafting this message of a mere 200 words.

Yes, it’s a listicle.

A few months later, I discovered that the number of minors in our department was up by about 25%.

Here’s a link to my recruitment email. Please steal.

Pitching the English major/minor

When I googled “recruiting English majors,” here were the top three results:
Screenshot 2016-06-04 10.29.30
The key to selling the English major is that we have to change the narrative. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it can be done.
Let’s work on our pitch. 
Why are #bsuenglish enrollments up, despite national trends?

Why are #bsuenglish enrollments up, despite national trends?

Higher Ed

I’m sitting in the Indianapolis airport, waiting for a flight that will take me to Arizona, where I’ll be attending the Association of Departments of English Summer Seminar. Basically, it’s for English department administrators: chairs, directors of undergraduate studies (basically my job), and directors of graduate study.

I’ve attended the AWP Conference for many years, but this is the first time that I’m going to a professional conference that isn’t connected to my identity as a writer, but rather my identity as an administrator.

I’m going early to attend an all-day workshop for Directors of Undergraduate Studies (DUSs). This is the reading were assigned to do ahead of time. Honestly, I’d already read most of it! Because I’m a geek that way. And when you see these topics, I think you’ll understand why I jumped at the chance to go to this conference:

The 21st-Century Curriculum

Appiah, “What Is the Point of College”

Cartwright, “Strengthening the Undergraduate English Major: Enrollment Declines and the Problem of Attracting Students”

Klein, “‘Everyone Has Their Reasons’: Planning English Department Curricular Reform”

Recruitment, Retention, and Enrollment Trends

Anderson, “Going for the Hard Sell as Interest in English Major Declines “

“Humanities Indicators Project Bachelor’s Degrees in the Humanities”

Jaschik, “Study Shows 8.7% Decline in Humanities Bachelor’s Degrees in 2 Years”

Professionalization, Careers, and the English Majors

Anders, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket”

Carey, “Gaps in Earnings Stand Out in Release of College Data”

Meyers, “Feeding English Majors in the 21st Century”

Our topics seem to be coming out of an alarming (to me) trend in higher education: the national decline in the number of students majoring in the humanities (an almost 9% drop in the last two years) and in English; the University of Maryland, for instance, has experienced a 40% decline in English majors in the last three years.

Holy crap, that’s a lot. And I’ve got to hand it to the leadership of that department for openly discussing the problem rather than trying to hide it. Sharing the steps they’ve taken to combat the problem with a national audience and with those in their discipline benefits us all.

But I want to brag for minute here, because I work in an English department that hasn’t been affected by these national trends. In fact, we’ve seen mostly growth (with a few dips).

Screenshot 2016-06-02 09.09.48

Because I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be asked about how we managed to avoid these declines, I’ve been asking my colleagues (all of whom have been department administrators off and on for about ten years, a lot longer than me): Why do you think the Ball State English department has been holding steady or growing instead of declining?

This is what I’ve got so far.

We made it easier to major and minor in English

  • About 7 years ago, right around the time the economy tanked and higher ed started tightening its fiscal belt, we changed our major from 48 to 36 credits (except for the English Ed major, which is still 48), and we changed our minors from 21 to 15-18 credits.
  • We (well, not me, I wasn’t here yet) responded to the university’s call to improve “time to graduation” proactively instead of reactively.
  • Almost every week, I get a student in my office who started off in TCOM or Journalism or Marketing (other “story” majors) and sometimes even “practical” majors like Business or the hard sciences. Often they wanted to major in English, but didn’t know what they’d “do” with it or their parents/friends/guidance counselors encouraged them to look elsewhere. If they make the switch early enough, I can sometimes keep them on track for graduation AND help them pick up one of our majors.

We have strong teachers in lower-level classes where recruitment happens

  • Sometimes these teachers are TT faculty. More often, these teachers are what Ball State refers to as “contract faculty.” They are NTT positions, but the job comes with a 4/4 load, benefits, rank (Assistant Professor), and contract faculty are enfranchised, voting members of the department. Despite a recent raise, they are still not paid as much as they should be, but it is NOT adjunct work. We work very very hard not to hire adjuncts unless it’s an emergency.
  • One of my biggest jobs in the department is making our master schedule, and we do what we can to improve the quality of life for our contract faculty, such as scheduling them around their individual needs (travel from out of town, childcare, writing/research time, etc.) I can’t give them their first choice all the time, but my assistant and I try, and I think that this effort pays dividends that are both tangible and intangible.
  • Many of them teach first-year writing, but we also work hard to give them a chance to vary that by scheduling them to teach in our Honors Program and giving those with MFAs a chance to teach creative writing and those with PhDs in Lit a chance to teach lower-level literature courses.
  • I believe that there is nothing more important for your self-esteem and your professional identity than the ability to have at least some say in WHEN you teach and WHAT you teach. And if that makes people better teachers, and you have the resources to try and make it happen, why not do it? (I have a full-time assistant named Katie, without whom none of these things would happen.)
  • But consider, too, that we schedule courses for 32 TT faculty, 36 contract faculty, and 40+ graduate students, and hoo boy, you can see why it’s hard. I’ve taught in departments where I was simply given a schedule, no negotiations, and if I did that, just handed out schedules, then I’d have time to do any number of things–create an Alumni Speaker’s Bureau! run an internship program!–but perhaps it’s just as well to keep faculty thriving.

 We introduced a concentration in creative writing.

  • Rather than fight the explosion of interest in creative writing among college students, our department embraced it.
  • Today, creative writing majors outnumber all the other concentrations, even English Education (a close second), but CW majors take a healthy dose of literature courses, which keeps our classes full to bursting.
  • Notably, our CW major includes four genres: fiction and poetry, sure, but also creative nonfiction and best of all, screenwriting–important because Ball State is David Letterman’s alma mater and is very interested in all things visual, media, etc.

We introduced and marketed our highly appealing minors both inside and outside the department.

  • Creative writing is a very popular minor for many majors.
  • So is our Professional Writing and Emerging Media minor.
  • So is our Film/Screenwriting minor.
  • I think our new minor in TESOL will be very popular as well.

We are visible and have a lot of community IRL and online

  • We don’t have a huge programming budget, like say Butler University. But we do have lively co-curricular programming that’s well attended by students all over campus.
  • In the spring, that’s our In Print Festival of First Books (created by Jill Christman).
  • We have a student-run writing group called the Writer’s Community where students read, write, organize readings, and support each other.
  • My predecessor Dr. Adam Beach started a department blog and social media for the department in 2010, and he figured out a way to leverage our work-study student secretaries to work on public relations when they aren’t answering phones or making copies.
  • When I took over in 2014, I tried to grow our digital community so that students and faculty might feel more part of an IRL community. I talked about those initiatives here.

We address our students’ concerns about “What am I going to do with this degree?”

 We partner with popular majors at our institution.

  • TCOM is one of the most popular majors at Ball State, and all Video Production majors there must take some of our “storytelling” classes in creative writing.
  • Many of them stick around to pick up minors with us, and that has been a very good thing for us.
  • In addition, their “hard skills” are augmented by our soft ones.

There’s much more to say. In my next post, I’ll share some other strategies.

Confessions of a Gadfly

Confessions of a Gadfly

CW Programs Higher Ed Literary Citizenship Teaching

You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?

In 2014, Hanover College selected The Circus in Winter as its Common Reading, and I came to campus to talk to students. I loved the campus, the view, the students. On that first visit, sociology professor and writer Dr. Robyn Ryle told me that, like a lot of small, liberal arts colleges, Hanover had experienced an enrollment dip.

I found this news surprising and very worrisome. Hanover isn’t my alma mater, but I did go to a very similar kind of college—and The Circus in Winter had been the direct result of the quality liberal arts education I received at DePauw University.

So, when Hanover invited me back in 2015, I widened the scope of my “professionalization” concerns–which over time had morphed from a concern about creative writing students, to a concern about English majors, and now to a concern about liberal arts majors.

I gave the first-year students at Hanover a pep talk about why they were at the right school and screw all the haters who were saying, “What are you going to do with that?”

I called the talk “Stars to Steer By.” I haven’t published it yet, because I wrote it as a power point, but I will–just as soon as I can finish a draft of this novel of mine.

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How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

How I feel when Hillary People shake their heads at me

Writing

Throughout my life, I’ve worked hard to balance my idealistic nature with necessary doses of…realism? pragmatism? skepticism?

If you believe in Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I married a cynic. Sometimes, the stuff that comes out of my husband’s mouth shocks the heck out of me, but mostly, I am just so thankful that he helps me prioritize and stay focused. When I met him, I was a puddle of naive disappointment. These days, I rarely get that low.

I can remember so many moments in my life when I’ve said something so idealistic that the other person looked away and shook their head in disbelief. “You really think like that?” they’d say, and I’d say, “You don’t?”

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My critique of a critique of MFA programs

My critique of a critique of MFA programs

CW Programs

There’s a long history of articles about the impact of MFA programs on contemporary literature. The latest addition to this oeuvre is “How Has the MFA Changed the Contemporary Novel?” just published by The Atlantic. What’s different about this one: the authors fed 200 novels into a computer–100 by writers with MFAs and 100 by writers without MFAs–and used computational text analysis to study the diction, style, theme, setting, and characters of these novels.

Here are my thoughts:

Creative writing has become a big business—it’s estimated that it currently contributes more than $200 million a year in revenue to universities in the U.S.

I’m not sure how to evaluate this figure since the authors have linked to a 51-page pdf of Mark McGurl’s book The Program Era, which I have read. I just spent about ten minutes of my life scrolling through that pdf to find that $200,000 figure, but gave up. Which makes me wonder why the authors couldn’t have simply said, “According to Mark McGurl…” Another thing I wonder is if this figure includes only tuition payments or if it also includes the savings to universities–who are able to pay MFA candidates a small salary and NOT offer them health insurance (compared to paying TT or contingent faculty) to teach first-year writing courses.

We collected a sample of 200 novels written by graduates of MFA programs from over 20 leading programs (including Columbia, University of Texas at Austin, Iowa, and others) that have been published in the last 15 years.

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What’s the Matter with Indiana?

What’s the Matter with Indiana?

Writing

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, I sat down to write, and I made a horrible mistake: I checked Tweetdeck.

I have a special list called “Indiana” which is how I stay in touch with my state. It includes newspapers, colleges, political and cultural organizations, progressive and conservative politicians, TV and radio stations, etc.

Yesterday, every tweet in my “Indiana” column on Tweetdeck filled me with despair.

A song came to my head. “Anything you can do, I can do better…” So I started retweeting all the bad news with my tweaked ditty.

After awhile, I got so angry that I logged into Facebook and wrote this:

Screenshot 2016-02-25 13.19.10

Yes, I sacrificed my novel-writing time to Facebook-screed writing time.

This is why I’m going to have to go off social media again.

Tell me, why do you hate Indiana?

My friend Barbara Shoup asked me to contribute something to an Indiana anthology that’s going to be published in conjunction with Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial celebration. Although, who knows? Maybe that’s not going to happen either, since it’s not clear if my governor will be able to find the money to “celebrate” Indiana’s history.

So I got out an essay I started here a few years ago and expanded it.

This essay doesn’t celebrate Indiana. It critiques it. And the more I worked on it, the angrier I got, and I’m actually not sure it’s still appropriate for the anthology.

Here’s a snippet:

I don’t think Indiana is honest to goodness. Sometimes, I think it’s the angriest place I’ve ever lived—and I’ve lived in a lot of places.

I’m going to read it this Saturday and see what happens. Please come and tell me what you think?vouched

I guess that the news about plastic bags and Tesla and payday companies wouldn’t have enraged me any other week, but this week it did.

If you know me, then you know how much I love my home state.

But this week, I did not.

I’m reminded of this scene in my favorite novel, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Replace “the South” with “Indiana,” and that’s how I felt this week.)

“Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they live at all?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”

“I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

Subscribe to my list and keep tabs on Indiana

My “Indiana” list has always been private, but I just made it public, so you can subscribe to it, too.

You’ll see bad news, probably, but I also hope this list gives you hope as well.

If you use Twitter, I highly recommend you use lists. Here’s how. It allows you to follow accounts without actually “following.”

Once you subscribe to the list, create a column for that list on Tweetdeck (or Hootsuite). Here’s how.

I hardly ever look at Twitter via the Twitter app (unless I’m on my phone). I look at Twitter via Tweetdeck, where I can see a variety of columns. Some people think Tweetdeck is overwhelming, but I think Twitter is, actually. Once you get used to the interface, it’s easy, because your feed and your interests are nicely organized–by you.

Maybe my legislators think that no one is paying attention to what they’re doing?

I’m paying attention. I hope you will, too.

Five Things: 2/22/16

Five Things: 2/22/16

Five Things

1. I’m giving a reading

I’m reading on Saturday, February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis. Here’s the Facebook invite with lots of details. It’s taking place at New Day Craft (oh man, I love mead) and includes me, Michael Dahlie, Matthew Minicucci and fellow Peruvian Jordan Zandi, whose book Solarium is fresh-pressed from Sarabande Books. Free, but bring bucks for booze and books.

2. Being “different” in Indiana.

I’m going to read an essay I’ve been working on for awhile about what it’s like to be “different” in Indiana. I started tweeting about it today and got a bunch of reactions, so I’m guessing this topic resonates with a lot of people. It also gives me a chance to talk about Cole Porter (another Peruvian).

3. Advice about Residencies

Things you won’t think to bring but should: a white noise machine, an eye mask, and, if it’s winter, a neti pot and good slippers with a sole. Being at Ragdale took me back to my graduate school days. It was so wonderful to hang out with other writers and artists for three weeks. It put me back in touch with Writer Me, before I became Teacher Me and Administrator Me and Wife Me, etc. Although I teach creative writing at the college level, I rarely talk about writing with my creative writing colleagues because we’re so busy with teaching and service and bureaucratic stuff. When I wanted to talk about writing, the fellow residents were very supportive, but everyone was also happy to just leave you alone, too. How long as it been since I could stand up from a table and say “I’ve gotta go work,” and not make excuses or fear coming off as rude? A long time! I’ve never done a residency before. I’m now a convert. I finished about 65 pages of my novel, and I’m happy with that.

4. Tricks I Learned

Hemingway said you should stop writing in the middle of a sentence, and there’s some truth to that, I’ve found. I discovered that if I made myself stop before I’d “fixed” everything in a chapter, I sort of couldn’t wait to get back to the writing. And that’s a good feeling. If I finished a chapter, I made myself start another right away so I’d have something I could come back to. Another trick I learned was to create arbitrary deadlines. I got the most writing done on days when I was trying to get something “done” before a big dinner or an important meeting. I also created arbitrary deadlines for myself each day: write 7 pages and you can watch Downton Abbey; finish that book and you can go to the gym; get to the end of section 4 by the end of February. Otherwise, I would have just la la la-ed with myself for three weeks, I think.

5. March at Hanover College

In March, I’m going to be a writer-in-residence at Hanover College. I’ve visited this small liberal arts college twice in recent years; they’ve been using The Circus in Winter as their “common read” for first-year students. I’ve never done a gig like this before, but I can’t wait to get there. Hanover has one of the most spectacular and beautiful campuses I’ve ever visited, and man, I hope it snows a little so that I can see the view in the winter time.

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