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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Last Lecture: You’re part of a small army. What will you fight for?

CW Programs Literary Citizenship Teaching
small army meetup
A small-army meetup led by Chris Guillebeau

At the end of the semester, I write a post which functions like a “last lecture” to my students. Here’s one on that perennial question, “Am I a writer?” And here’s another on “What matters more: story or sentences?” Given that one of my classes was mentioned yesterday on, I thought I’d focus this semester’s last lecture on the topic of literary citizenship and why I teach it.

What comes next? 

I’ve always done a last lecture, even before I had a blog.

For 15 years, I’ve ended my creative writing classes by showing students how to submit work to literary magazines. This is nothing special; lots of creative writing teachers do this. You bring in a huge stack of magazines, show students how to research where to send their work, how to write a cover letter, how to keep track of submissions, how to deal with the inevitable rejections.

I showed students my rejections. I showed them bad cover letters (names redacted) that I’d swiped from a friend who edited a literary magazine. I talked about how long it can take to place a story—months or years. I ended by saying, “If you want to be a writer, this is the next step you need to take.”

Generally, I got three types of reactions:

  1. Some students got excited about the process of taking the next step.
  2. Some freaked out. They said, “Why didn’t you tell us this sooner? We should have been doing this the whole time!”
  3. Some students zoned out.

I want to talk about these three types of students.

The 1’s who get excited

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A Meets B at Midwest Writers Workshop

A Meets B at Midwest Writers Workshop

Literary Citizenship Teaching

A: I can’t tell you how many times a week I meet someone who says, “I wish someone would sit down with me and show me how to create a website or blog.”

B: And every day, I look at my students sitting in the classroom. I know they have the skills to help people.

How do you get A to meet B?

2013-07-25 14.07.46
Intern Rebekah Hobbs works with Midwest Writers Workshop attendee Susan Holland.

So I applied for a grant to pay a bunch of students to come to a room.

Then I told a bunch of writers who wanted websites/blogs to come to that room, too.

Intern John Carter helps Tony Roberts.
Intern John Carter helps Tony Roberts.

Today they sat in this room for about five hours and the B’s helped the A’s, and the A’s taught the B’s a few things, too.

Actually, the B’s didn’t even know that what they did today was a marketable skill.

Also: standing in front of that room was Roxane Gay, who knows a thing or two about websites and blogs.

These pictures may not look like much, but a lot of learning happened today.

It’s pretty fun to watch people feel empowered about technology.

The Dirty Little Secrets of Internships

CW Programs Literary Citizenship Teaching

intern_headerDear Midwest Writers Interns,

This week,  your internship at the 40th annual Midwest Writers Workshop begins.

  • On Thursday, half of you will assist Roxane Gay in her “Building a Website/Blog” class, and the other half will assist Jane Friedman in her “Creating an ebook Class.”
  • On Friday and Saturday, six of you will staff a Social Media Lab where attendees can get hands-on help and advice, and five of you will work as assistants to the literary agents who will be hearing pitches.

I thought I’d give you a few words of advice about internships. Here’s why:

  • I’ve been on both sides of the experience. I’ve been the intern, the outsider trying to get inside, and I’ve been the employer, the insider trying to train someone coming in from the outside.
  • Over the years, I’ve listened to a lot of former students complain about bad internship experiences, and I think that half the time, the students’ gripes are probably valid and the other half, the students’ gripes are the product of unreasonable expectations.

Internships aren’t classrooms (although they’re supposed to be)

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Book Reviewing in the Social Media Age: or, What if Mark Richard and I Had Been Facebook Friends?

Book Reviewing in the Social Media Age: or, What if Mark Richard and I Had Been Facebook Friends?

Literary Citizenship Teaching Writing

Here’s a question: What if I’d become a writer after–not before–social media? If you’re my age, do you ask yourself this question as often as I do?

Mark Richard was one of a handful of writers who made an enormous impression on me early in my apprenticeship. (I’d use Andre Dubus here, but he’s deceased, much to my sorrow.)

What if, after reading Mark Richard’s story “Strays” in Best American Short Stories 1989, I’d friended or followed him? Continue reading

Bringing New York Publishing to Muncie, Indiana

Literary Citizenship Teaching
This is the table where BSU Board of Trustees meets. It's kind of awesome.
This is the table where BSU Board of Trustees meets. It’s kind of awesome.

Thanks to a grant from the Discovery Group, I’ve hired 11 Ball State students for internships at this summer’s Midwest Writers Workshop.

I’ve told you before about this conference, but here it is again.

Some backstory

Ever since I arrived at Ball State in 2010, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to expose students to the benefits of this conference.   MWW is run by a group of dedicated volunteers. It’s not funded by Ball State University; it just happens to take place on campus. One day, I was talking about this to BSU professor Beth Turcotte (who knows everything about how to find the resources to make amazing things happen) and she recommended I look into the Discovery grant, and boom, I applied. In December, I found out I was a finalist and made a presentation to the members, and in February, I found out I’d been funded. I quickly put out a call for applications, and by April, I’d assembled my team.  Continue reading

The Next Thing: Professionalization in Creative Writing

CW Programs Literary Citizenship Teaching

Careers (job search)Not every Creative Writing major wants to go to grad school, and to be honest, I’m not even sure if most of them want to be published writers. What brings them to our classes, I think, is a desire to be connected to the world of books. This essay by Dean Bakopoulos speaks to that desire.

Creative writing isn’t a pre-professional discipline. We’re not like some academic majors which prepare students for a concrete, discernible “next thing,” such as graduate study, this job, that career path. When my students say, “What I can do with this degree?” I talk about “transferable skills.” I point them in the direction of the career center. Continue reading

My students, my friends

Literary Citizenship Teaching Writing

cross firesIt’s “In Print Week” here at Ball State–the In Print Festival of First Books. Each year, we invite to campus a poet, fiction writer, and nonfiction writer who have published their first books.

This has been a great year for me as a teacher;  a number of my former students had books come out. We invited one of them to In Print–Eugene Cross. This is the introduction I wrote and read last night, and I think it speaks to a lot of things I blog about here–literary citizenship, community, and how to make it through the dark times. So: I thought I’d share it with you. Continue reading

For the man who called me for advice about how to get published

For the man who called me for advice about how to get published

Literary Citizenship Teaching The Biggest Things Writing

To the man on the phone who called me today at my university office and asked if I had a few minutes to help him figure out how to get published.

First, wow, the phone rang. That hardly ever happens. I wasn’t sure it worked.

Second, no, I don’t have a few minutes. I’m getting ready to go teach a class, and I’m frantically trying to grade a few more quizzes. Continue reading

How to Talk to Writers

How to Talk to Writers

Literary Citizenship Teaching Writing

A key principle of literary citizenship is that writers should build their community and expand their circles.

Not “network.” Not “schmooze.”

In her book Living a Literary LifeCarolyn See advises writers to send one “charming note” a day to someone in the publishing field—a writer, editor, publisher, etc. The point isn’t to ask for anything, but rather to just make a connection. These days, thanks to social media, it’s never been so easy to make those kinds of connections.

I require my Literary Citizenship students to friend or follow or email someone five times a week. Friending on Facebook, liking an Author Page, following on Twitter: these are “passive” acts. But at least once a week, they’re supposed to actually say something to somebody. Such as “I enjoy your work,” or “You published one of my favorite books,” etc.

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