On Monday, March 4, I had the amazing opportunity to go to a writing center appointment at my alma mater, the University of Southern California. My advisor, Dr. Sandra Barr, who has been advising me for my graduate thesis, had told me that the appointment was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., which is pretty early for a typical writing center appointment.
I got to the campus a little early and, since it was a very cold morning, chose to walk to the nearest Starbucks for a hot chocolate to warm up. As I was waiting for my drink to arrive, I noticed a group of students walking toward me. One of the students approached me and asked whether I was waiting for someone. I replied in the affirmative, and she informed me that she was there to meet me for a writing center appointment. I was more than a little surprised — I had not been scheduled for a writing center appointment, but now had one anyway!
When I arrived at the designated room, I found another student there already. After introducing myself and my advisor, Dr. Barr, to each other, we all took our seats and got down to business.
The student volunteer at the writing center came in and asked us whether we had a writing project that we needed help with. We all said no, so she left the room to get us a tutor. While we waited for her to return, the other student and I started discussing our own writing projects. The discussion went well, and we were soon joined by Dr. Barr. Once we were all brainstorming, the tutor returned, and we continued to work through our projects. It was a good 45 minutes before we finished and another 15 minutes before we left the room. In that time, I learned a lot about what I will need to do to be a successful writer.
1. Structure Is Everything
A lot of people, myself included, don’t believe that in order to write something good, it needs to be well-written. That is a common misconception. Good writing is not difficult to achieve – it just takes a little bit of work to figure out where to start and what structure to use.
The tutor who accompanied me to my appointment had told me that she was an editor, and that is what stood out to me. She had patiently and willingly given me feedback on a variety of short stories, and had even pointed out some things that made my stories stronger.
When I got back to my office in the same afternoon, I sat down at my desk and started to write. A few minutes later, I wrote:
“She is right. I have to stop believing that just because something is easy that it doesn’t mean it’s not good. What I have to focus on is the structure and the logic of my stories. I really have to study how narrators interact with their audiences.”
I then spent the next hour and a half rewriting the first part of my novel in a way that would make it more logical, as well as plotting out the rest of the story. When I had finished, I felt that the original story had been stretched out too much and that the rewriting had made it stronger.
2. Use The Right Equipment
I learned a lot about the importance of using the right equipment for the job. Sometimes, we don’t possess the necessary equipment to do our jobs comfortably, so we either have to learn to use other people’s equipment or buy our own equipment.
I had previously worked on my novel in a Starbucks’ quiet corner using one of their overstuffed vintage chairs and a laptop. For my graduate dissertation, I had written all of my chapters on an old typewriter, which had become quite the character in and of itself (and still is – I use it for all my fiction writing now).
During my writing center appointment, I had tried out a number of different machines – from a simple manual typewriter to a sleek, new laptop. I discovered that while all of them had their merits, none of them were designed to be used with one leg propped up on top of the other. A drafting table and an old, beat-up office chair shared space in my office, and I had put them to good use.
3. It Takes Practice
I discovered that in order to be a successful writer, it takes a lot of practice. While it is possible to be talented and to have the raw materials available, it still takes practice to be able to craft those materials into something that is both logically coherent and aesthetically pleasing. Writing is a lot like playing an instrument – it takes practice to be both excellent and to feel that you can play better than others can.
My tutor had told me that there were a lot of skills that I needed to learn, and I had to believe her. No one thing, no matter how talented you are, can make you into a good writer overnight. It takes time, dedication, and a whole lot of practice.
After my appointment with my advisor and the tutor, I had started working on my next story. While it’s only been a few days, I already feel like I have learned a lot, and am more determined than ever to succeed as a writer.