Tips for getting more from your university than just a reading list and a diploma
Take advantage of office hours
Professors, when they’re not working furiously to complete some paperwork, love to have students come visit. Most of them that I’ve encountered at least. Even if they’re not YOUR professors.
If you’re getting a creative writing degree and you haven’t met with every single creative writing instructor there, you’re wasting your opportunity. You can likely bring in your work to them and they will talk about it with you. Or you can ask them questions about craft and industry.
One of the most valuable things you learn from writers, and they don’t have time to teach in the classrooms at schools, is their life stories. How they made it in writing. Or how they didn’t make it (but they must have done something to get hired).
And how often are you going to get a chance to talk to a successful writer about his or her own work. Yes, read h/her publications and try to learn from it. I’m sure the writer will be touched.
Try the school library. There may be a faculty section. Or you could ask the instructor for a copy of their book. Read it like a writer, and ask h/her things about the techniques and the reasons for making certain choices.
*A genuine interest in your instructor’s work and the craft of writing will likely get you better grades as well*
I know, I know. You’re completely loaded with work. You couldn’t possibly do more. Well, you’re going to have to if you want to be the best damn writer you can be.
When you’re assigned reading for a creative writing class, seek out more of the same. If you have a section from Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, go out and get the whole book.
And be sure to ask your professor for recommendations for further reading. That way you don’t waste any time searching or reading inferior stuff.
If you’re really strapped for time, remember, there are short forms in 3 of the 4 major genres of writing. Short poems, flash fiction, and lyric essays are designed to do a lot in a little time/space. You can learn economy of language.
For a while, I set my homepage to Brevity.
Or instead of waking up with coffee and TV, or even while you’re eating breakfast, listen to The Writer’s Almanac podcast. Or read a poem.
If you read one poem a day, or one essay, that’s 365 a year. Imagine how brilliant you’ll be.
Attend any special events with visiting writers
A lot of schools occasionally bring in guest writers to teach a class for the day, do a reading, a Q&A session. Things like that. Go to these special events. Every one. It might really fire you up, as well as educate you.
And if the visiting author is teaching a class, see if you can drop in on that class that day.
Find out when he or she will be there in advance, so you have time to familiarize yourself with h/her body of work.
Check with the English department or your professors to find out who’s coming. You can even request they try to get your favorite writer to visit.
More to come in the future. Until then, pens at the ready!