Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sage advice from a former teacher

Last week, at the Red Lake Falls Library, I had the privilege of meeting a former professor of mine from Bemidji State University, one who taught me a lot about writing: award-winning Minnesota author Will Weaver.

Throughout my entire academic career, I can name two teachers who have had an impact on my writing. One is my 6th grade college-prep English teacher Mrs. Anne Olson. (I hope I spelled her name right). Never before in high school was I ever asked to write a creative piece. What? I thought at the time. You mean, make something up? I had always dreamed of being a writer and was always working on something, but this was the very first time I was able to do it for a class. She taught many of the mechanics of creative writing, from character sketches and such, and her advice was always positive.

Will Weaver, on the other hand, took my writing to a whole new level. I took two classes from him: Introduction to Fiction Writing and Intermediate Fiction Writing. (Yes, my Criminal Justice advisor didn't think too highly of my taking such classes when I was getting a degree in Criminal Justice, but oh well - I'll have the last laugh when I'm sitting on top of the bestseller's list). Will Weaver's advice, albeit simple and straightforward, was right on the money. And, last week, proved it once again.

Will Weaver first talked about the art of the short story and how beginning writers can use that format to learn about the craft. He taught about keeping your focus on a small, defined period of time and even a limited number of characters. He even said that a narrow subject matter would also help make one's short story better.

He read several pieces from his books, many of them young adult, and also talked about "writing more about less." This means to write about the finer details of one's story (just the right amount of details, but not too much that would overload one's senses and also not too little where the writers is screaming for more).  There was much more advise he shared (and this blog simply cannot name them all) but one that really stuck with me was the following: write well enough so that you don't give the reader a reason to stop. The same is also true with an editor, because if you can keep an editor's attention, you have the makings of a good story.

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