Giant Squids, Robotic Narcotics, Constipated Dragons? Here’s my card!
Like a timid squirrel, my initial experience with the writing center was a long and delicate matter. I would run up to the door, sniff around, look around, and then run off for a time to hide nuts in a tree. Eventually, my nuts dutifully stored, I brought a research paper into the writing center and was instantly in love with everything about the place. “Yes,” I said, “these are people I would gladly share a scavenged meal with.”
Sometime later, I decided that I would bring a piece of fiction into the writing center. Why not? After all, it is free and hey, just maybe, if my writing is any good the tutor will enjoy the chance to take a break from working on academic writing to read some fiction. Well I am still not sure if my writing is any good, but my suspicion that a writing center tutor would enjoy the chance to work on some fiction was correct. Since that fateful, and cliché-ly phrased day I have been occasionally taking creative writing to the center.
In most cases the tutors I worked with preformed with admirable grace in smoothly adjusting and adapting their tools and style to work with fiction writing. Since then I have become a profit of ill-repute, shambling through upbeat creative writing classes with a coffer in hand, declaring that the almighty WC is near and ready to be your friend. Yet most fiction writers see themselves as students whom the academic types look down upon. The general feeling among the fiction writers I have spoken to is that the writing center is not for us; it is for students writing academic papers who need the help. After all, we have workshops.
Writing workshops are fantastic if, and I put a heavy emphasis on IF, the right components come together to make for the right environment. Stuff like good professors, and dedicated peers willing to do more than simply scan your story to ensure that whatever minimum standards of credit that a professor has set are met. Yet even with all the help showering down on you like naked men or women or whatever you like to have shower down on you glistening in naked glory, workshops can still fail to help you improve as a fiction writer.
And alas, what a beautiful coincidence it is that comfortably fitted into a snug area of the library is a coven filled with delightful believers ready and willing to help fulfill your un-met needs. Workshops are essentially all endgame. Even worse, at least for those of us with a competitive streak, it is very hard to look at a workshop opportunity as exactly that, a workshop opportunity. I would never dream of brining a story into a workshop that I wasn’t already sure was excellent. (I must note here that this is only possible after horrendously beating my doubts to a bloody death.) But the thing is is that it can be incredibly hard to get to a place where you feel confident enough to trounce into a workshop beseeching the humble folk within to gaze upon all the glory that is your story. Depending on your style, (lets say like King who writes from the gut or like Tolkien who spent more time world building than writing) it can be sometimes be difficult to shape the never ending wet stream of vomit that is character ideas, and settings into a coherent and lovely piece of art.
Creative writing classes aren’t about sitting down and just talking out what you are trying to do. Typically people read your story and after the class talks about it, while you sit dutifully silent, you get about twenty rushed seconds to ask questions. There is never a, “lets sit down, let me pitch this thing to you,” exercise. Which is sad, because this can be enormously helpful. Truthfully, sometimes it’s easier to get someone to listen to that crazy dream you had the other night than actually sit down and listen to you pitch a book or story. Maybe this has to do with this weird divide that exists where you are either another filthy artist who should get a real job or “Good show Sir!” worthy. I am getting off topic. My point is that there is a huge middle ground before you get to work shopping in fiction where having a smart, kind and qualified person sit down and work with you, help you explore the ideas that you are trying to lay down into not just clear prose, but art, is something that is invaluable to us mortals.
In my experience I found that the WC, already so filled with skills and tools and friendly faces, can and will provide the same debilitatingly delightful help that it already offers to the eager pupils with academic papers, to fiction writers.
With a break from my long winded and clarity defiling blathering, simply put, my plan is to investigate how writing center tutors can adjust their style, technique, and tools to work more proficiently with writers who enter their domain with fiction.
The perceivable personal value of my many years of writing fiction and taking creative writing classes can assuredly be contested, yet in my experience I have found that using the trusty tools we writing tutors keep in our belts, I have been able to improve my writing process dramatically. Well my experience with tutors who adapt to work on the fiction I have brought in has been remarkable; I think that with a few slight adjustments the writing center can become a fiction writer’s best friend. The kind who always welcomes you with hot tea, warm cake and a smile, no matter how long you have stayed away.