Long before I was a writer, I taught Freshman Comp at a large, football-obsessed state university. I walked thousands of students through the writing process of academic papers. Naturally I thought this would be a big plus when I sat down to write my own novel. I mean, I had been teaching college writing for nearly a decade. Surely that meant I was an expert, right?
Excuse me for a second- I almost asphyxiated while laughing at myself.
There are so many aspects of the college writing experience that don’t necessarily apply to fiction writing. I mean, who needs to worry about in-text citations when you’re keyboard deep into a battle scene on an alien world? I had to learn that my inner critic, honed after thousands of freshman comp papers, was actually a liability when it came to producing my own fiction. No one wants to feel like they have a stern professor standing over their shoulders while trying to write a love scene. Yet that’s exactly what I had become to my inner writer. Suffice to say, I had as much unlearning to do as I did learning.
Another few years as a writer, however, brought me the realization that, as much as college teaching left me unprepared for fiction writing, college and writing nonetheless have some important things in common. In fact, college life and the writerly lifestyle are sometimes so similar it’s painful. Here are just a few of the things the two have in common:
- The Writing Process
I taught writing as a process, meaning that a piece of writing works best when it’s tackled in identifiable stages- freewriting, brainstorming, clustering, and more. We worked through multiple drafts until the paper was finally ready for peer review, where students turn their work over to other classmates for honest feedback. These are just a few of the stages of the writing process, and some of them should seem familiar. The ones that don’t, however, can be easily adapted to fiction writing. Take academic research. We may not have to use in-text citations when inventing alien worlds, but it is a good idea to be meticulous in your research nonetheless.
College students quickly learn to cram, or die. It’s because we professors make sure to schedule all tests and major assignments within the same week, ensuring campus-wide insanity. (No, we don’t really do this, but it’s a fun urban legend.) Nonetheless, there’s a lot to be learned from the up-til-dawn lifestyle of the hard studying college student. Writers will also face deadlines that at least feel like a ton of exams landing on them all at once. That’s when collegiate survival skills come in handy. You’ll need a ton of caffeine, chocolate and other snacks, loud music if that’s your thing, and a grim determination to make that deadline, or else.
This is maybe my favorite part of the writing process, and it’s great for fiction. I especially love it when I have full-on writer’s block, or even just need to explore a character or plot point more fully. In my version of brainstorming, you write the first things that come into your head for a specified period of time. Say, five minutes or so. Now, you’re aiming for a step above gibberish, if possible, so do try and keep the topic at hand in mind when you write. But if you do wind up typing, “I wish I was watching Oprah right now,” that’s okay, too. Sometimes just the act of writing will unblock your flow.
- Yoga pants
Walk on to any college campus and you’re likely to encounter a lot of yoga pants, sweats, and even pajama bottoms. This has become the uniform of choice for today’s college students and writers alike. Why not take advantage of the fact that there’s no one to impress? Find a “uniform” that works for you. Physical discomfort from uncomfortable clothes won’t do your writing any favors.
- The library
With almost everything available in digital format these days, the old fashioned library is going out of style. That’s why I made sure to use it as much as possible and to force my students to do the same. At least two sources for their research papers had to be physical books, and sometimes we even had class in the library. Just like with my students, I think it’s beneficial to writers to ground ourselves, every once in a while, in a physical book. Plus the library is an invaluable tool with any kind of research.
Coffee is a student’s- and writer’s- best friend. How else to power through those late night study sessions? What about those study group meetings at the local coffee shop? Similarly, writers often claim to have coffee for blood. (I know this one does.) And the local coffee shop is a favorite writing spot. Some of us are even lucky enough to have combination bookstores/ coffee shops, for maximum inspiration.
I like to think of this one as “suiting up and showing up.” Those of us who have left college behind would be hard pressed to remember every lecture. In fact, there were probably many circumstances of being barely awake. But we powered through and showed up anyway, even if we were only present physically. Writers can get a lot out of this. The trick is to show up for every writing session, even if you don’t particularly feel like it. There may even be sessions where the words aren’t coming, but the act of honoring our writing time makes it more likely we’ll succeed. After all, the surest way to fail at writing is to be an absentee at the keyboard.
- Peer review
You know that writing process I keep harping about? Well, this is a step not to be missed. After you’ve written your best draft, it’s essential to get peer feedback. My students exchanged papers with each other. As a writer, I send out my draft to beta readers, made up mostly of fellow writers, for feedback. Some people use friends and family too. The important part is that you get eyes on it- other than your own.
Vicki Keire grew up in a 19th Century haunted house in the Deep South full of books, abandoned coal chutes, and plenty of places to get into trouble with her siblings. She spent the last decade teaching writing and literature at a large, football-obsessed university while slipping paranormal fiction in between the pages of her textbooks.
Published works include the bestselling Angel’s Edge series, which includes Gifts of the Blood, Darkness in the Blood, and Blood Redemption, The Chronicles of Nowhere series, and the stand-alone novel Daughter of Glass. She is included in the Dark Tomorrows anthology with J.L. Bryan and Amanda Hocking, and the Primetime anthology with J.R. Rain and Anita Exley.
When not reading and writing about all things paranormal, she enjoys other people’s cooking and keeps vampire hours. She’d rather burn the laundry than fold it, and believes that when an author wins the Newberry, he or she gets a secret lifetime pass to Neverland. She is fond of lost causes and loud music. She currently resides in Central Florida on a lake-front farm full of many furry friends. She loves hearing from readers and can be reached on most social media sites or through her blog (link: http://www.vickikeire.blogspot.com/), of which she is awfully fond.