How to Survive First Year Writing
The Writing department, or any Fine Arts program, can be the hardest program on campus. Of course, Science students and Engineers will laugh at you for saying it, but ask them if they want to write a four thousand word story from their imagination. They’ll balk at the idea. The truth is, science and engineering have a right-or-wrong structure. Maybe they have to study more, maybe they have to take more challenging courses, but it’s a once and done thing.
Writing is a complicated process that’s never finished. You hand things in to workshop for the express purpose of having them ripped apart, and yet you have to do your very best to get them ripped apart in the first place. You’ll hear things about your work you never imagined you’d hear, good and bad. Your art, something that is an intrinsic part of you, will be pulled apart, dissected, ruined before your very eyes.
I make it sound bad. In reality, it’s one of the most rewarding and expansive learning procedures you could ever go through. If you’re really ready to get better at your art, then you’re in the right place.
Thing is, I can’t count the number of breakdowns I’ve had over a bad mark, a bad comment, or story revisions that simply seem too big. You’re giving a piece of yourself over to someone else and they’re going to come back with everything that’s wrong with it. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to let go, to fix, to listen, to deal with. Hearing that you’re not good enough for the program or for your professor or for that one writer in your class you really admire hurts. So think of this post as a crash course for surviving the writing department, for getting over the breakdowns, and for doing your best every single time.
1. Detach – This story/play/script/poem might be your baby. It might be the most important, perfect thing to you. It’s not to everyone whose reading it. So detach from it. Let yourself see that it could have flaws. Understand that the people giving you feedback are judging your work, not you.
2. Understand – Do not be afraid of your profs. I know so many Writing students who find the profs intimidating or unapproachable. The profs are there to help you and make you better. They want you to succeed. So if you don’t understand a mark you got, talk to them. Make an appointment in their office hours and look through the piece page by page with them. If you understand where you went wrong, you’ll be able to improve in revisions.
3. Believe in Yourself – You made it into the Writing department. That alone is an unimaginable feat for some people. So believe in your skill and your ability above all else. Allow yourself to believe that you’re in the right place and that you know what you’re doing. Without that, you’ll get lost, fast.
4. Let Yourself Break Down – Call your parents and cry; there’s no shame in it. Whether it’s over a bad mark or just a particularly brutal workshop, don’t hold it in. Don’t let it take over your life. Break down and pull yourself back together. Go back to the first piece of advice, to the second, to the third. Don’t let one thing make you believe you can’t do this at all.
This is going to be hard, but it’s also going to make you feel like you can publish a book/screenplay/poem more than any other program ever could. I’m not saying you won’t have bad days, because you will, but try to understand where everyone is coming from. There’s not a person in this department that doesn’t want you to succeed, that doesn’t want to see your name printed for the world to see. A challenge requires a hero to rise up and meet it.