Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year’s Resolutions, or, So, You Want to Write

Yep, it’s that time of year again—a whole new decade, in fact—and I’m trying to figure out just what writing goals I should accomplish this year. For perspective I could start with what I laid out last year, but it would be slightly embarrassing: I didn’t meet a single goal. True, these goals were ambitious ( ‘Write a complete draft of a novel’ was number one, ‘Write a blog every month’ was in the top ten), but still…. On the other hand, why set easy-to-reach goals?

This year, then, goal number one is to finish that novel draft by 3/31/10. (Writing ‘10’ is weird; apparently, I’ve gotten old.) The other goals I’m keeping to myself, but you can believe me when I say I’ve written them down. Frankly, you can’t really call it a goal if you don’t write it down—such is our capacity to lie to ourselves.

I’m saying that writing is difficult (an obvious point, I know), which was brought home to me in a different way this fall when I taught a course in creative writing at Colorado Mountain College (Aspen campus). I must say, I loved teaching. The prep, which was extensive, didn’t seem like work at all, and the class time usually flew by. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of teaching is sharing with others the joy of great work. “Hey,” I wanted to shout at my students. “Look at what this son-of-a-bitch did right here. Isn’t it great?”

I didn’t shout; I have that much self-control. And I had nine engaged and interesting students. There was the occasional excellent piece of work. And everyone got better.

Sure, you say, you’re blowing your own horn. Maybe. But what I’m really trying to convey is that the process—interactive discussion and lecture and workshop—really works. This is no great surprise: there couldn’t be so many MFA programs if no one learned anything. For many years the big question with MFA programs was whether writing could be taught. This is largely settled. (The answer is yes. It can be taught the way, say, football is taught. That is, it can be coached.) The bigger question is this: is the degree necessary?

More on that in the next blog, which will appear within a month, I promise, because it’s New Year’s, and I’ve made a resolution.