Hi everyone – it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for another IWSG day. What am I feeling insecure about today? Well, generally things are going fairly well, but you know what it’s like when you step outside your comfort zone …
Last week I started studying for a masters in creative writing. I’m feeling insecure about it for two reasons: One, as a mature student I’m out of practice analysing texts and commenting on other people’s writing in an academic way. Scratch that – I’m not out of practice, I just plain don’t know how to do it! And two, I don’t much like the second book on the reading list, and as this book is by Nabokov – widely considered one of the greatest writers of all time – I figure I might in trouble here!
So how am I feeling this morning, after last night’s lecture discussing the literary merits of the novel, Pnin? Very, very insecure. During the lecture in the ‘virtual’ classroom, I felt like everyone else’s comments were more intelligent than mine, more insightful, and definitely more praised by the teacher. I’m the class dunce, throwing observations out there that were either glossed over or – worse – completely ignored.
You know what I wanted to say? We’re not here merely to discuss authors like Nabokov, however useful it is to read classic literature and learn from the masters of fiction. We’re here, in 2012, to learn how to be novelists – to apply this knowledge to today’s reading population, and to ask questions like: Yes, it’s very cleverly written and all, but is it a good read?
Today’s readers are very demanding. It’s not enough that a book use a clever literary device, or comment on aspects of fiction that are visible only to literary critics. There are many who love Pnin, who think it is a good read, but I ask you: Would its contemporary equivalent be a bestseller today?
But I couldn’t ask any of these questions during the lecture, because I’m too insecure to raise my head above the parapet and be seen as some kind of philistine, who’s only interested in learning how to write great books that people want to read. I feel my aspirations should be more lofty than that, and I’m worried.
Visit the official IWSG page here, and offer your support to some more insecure writers today. And thanks for listening 🙂
- Insecure Writers Support Day – October (the-view-outside.com)
October 3, 2012 at 10:35 am
Was sitting here replying to comments when your post hit my inbox Jo 🙂
Firstly I want to offer HUGE virtual (((((hugs))))) There, now we’ve got that out of the way 🙂
Wow! See, now that’s what put me off the BA in Creative Writing, too literary, and that’s not me, and I guess is why I only lasted a year. I have a friend who did the MA and she was very frustrated, because, she wanted to write Sci Fi, but there was no allowance for that on the course.
I’m so sorry you felt like the class dunce, no one should have to feel like that (and as you know from my post, is kind of what I’m dreading) but, please hold onto the fact that you have written a very GOOD book. A book that is successful, getting great reviews, and that people WANT to read! 🙂
I don’t think there’s any thing wrong in wanting to learn how to write great books that people want to read, I feel EXACTLY the same!
I hope the next class is better Jo, and please don’t worry….how many books have all the others in your class written that people have bought huh? You are definitely NOT a dunce honey, just probably a bit overwhelmed 😉
ps-thanks for the Pingback!
October 4, 2012 at 7:08 am
Hi Vikki, thanks for the hugs 🙂 I needed that.
It’s astonishing that your friend wasn’t allowed to write Sci Fi on the MA course – I imagined post graduate study should be about widening your horizons, not narrowing them. I’ve still no idea what I’m going to write for my ‘masters’ novel – I’ll probably try something completely different to see how it goes.
Thanks for the support Vikki (feel the fear ..) xxx
October 4, 2012 at 8:06 am
I know 😦 She did manage to finish the course but felt that her writing was being moulded into an unnatural voice, if you know what I mean 😦 she got through it, but don’t ever bring up the subject, she’s still smarting lol
I am right behind you honey….oh definitely! 🙂
October 3, 2012 at 10:39 am
Aw, Joanne, don’t feel insecure 😦 I know what you mean, but you will have knowledge and experience that many of your virtual student peers don’t have. It sounds like you’re starting off with a theory-dense module. I too am studying with people who have English and/or Creative Writing undergraduate degrees, so I feel like I’ve got some catching up to do. I am slowly (very slowly!) reading through some of the lit crit and lit theory books and even started with an A-level one during the summer as preparation! I agree about the arguable value of studying literary techniques used in ‘older’ texts. I find them very interesting to learn about as I’m a newby writer and love language, but then, like you, I want & need to write in a way which will make people want to publish and buy my novel. Vicky 🙂
October 4, 2012 at 7:10 am
Thanks Vicky, your comment made me feel much better. I did a bit of self-reflection yesterday, and I realised I’ve always been like this – everything I do there’s this little voice in my head going: Yes, but what’s the point exactly? 🙂 I need to relax into it, and trust the point will become clear somewhere down the line. Jo 🙂
October 3, 2012 at 10:45 am
Reblogged this on Jay.
October 4, 2012 at 7:11 am
October 4, 2012 at 8:36 am
October 3, 2012 at 11:53 am
Hi Joanne, I just had to visit your blog after our Twitter communication. I’m not at all convinced that university courses are the way to go for those who love to write and want to be read. Ask yourself this: Why do I feel the need to do a masters in creative writing? (I think I may have the answer, and I’m sure it’s complex.) You do not need to do a masters in anything to be a writer of books that people want to read and love reading.
October 4, 2012 at 7:16 am
You’re probably right Wendy, and I did a lot of soul-searching before I went ahead and applied for the course. Timing-wise, and with fees about to go up soon for masters courses, it was now or never for me. Which reminds me of when I applied to be an air hostess when I was 29 – I saw an advert and the upper age limit was 30, so I thought: it’s now or never! But until that point I’d never even wanted to be an air hostess, in fact I hated flying! Anyway, I went along for the (very rigorous) interview, and when they told me I’d passed I thought: Eek! I’d better give it a go then.
I lasted 4 weeks.
But this isn’t quite the same 😉 x
October 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Sorry you’ve had a less than satisfactory experience, Jo, especially at this early stage of the course. You definitely shouldn’t think of yourself as the class dunce, but I wonder how many others have gone away feeling something similar! Are there any opportunities for people to interact with each other individually? You might find others sharing your doubts and fears.
Presumably, you have writing modules as well as reading modules, so you might feel better when it comes to those. I wrote the first draft of my novel ‘Unravelling’ when I was doing my MA and the feedback was invaluable. It made me think much more clearly about readers’ responses to my work. So, hang on, I’m sure there will be things you like and hate about the course along the way.
October 4, 2012 at 7:17 am
Thanks Lindsay. You were one of my inspirations for doing the MA, as I’d read about how you wrote Unravelling during yours, and you know how much I love and admire that book. x
October 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm
How extremely brave just doing that course! It all sounds way above my head as well. I suppose the task is that if you can deconstruct prose, you can then go on to construct it. Why you can’t deconstruct something more relevant though is beyond me. I’d definitely be in trouble there. Can you talk to your tutor about how you’re feeling? Hopefully when they’ve finished this very pompous session you will then be in your element and will shine as we all know you can 🙂
October 4, 2012 at 7:19 am
Yes, it’s the relevance that struck me too. Or at least, if what we leaned from deconstructing Pnin could then have been applied to more recent, and successful, novels. Next week Anthony Burgess, Time for a Tiger. I fear I might not feel in my element there either!
October 3, 2012 at 4:25 pm
There’s a place for literature. We can learn from it and that’s great. But, you’re absolutely right, would it sell in today’s market. What the past writers didn’t have to compete with are movies and t.v. shows that have caused readers to want action fast with a taste of description. Apply what you learn to today’s market and enjoy the ride. If someone thinks you aren’t worth your salt, just remember, Einstein flunked math. He was too advanced. In a sense, we writers are far more advanced than our former peers. Be encouraged, hold your head up, you are the only you.
October 4, 2012 at 7:22 am
Nancy, that is such an excellent point, and I hadn’t thought of that. Also, even seventy years ago people were very impressed with erudite authors – now education is more widespread and readers are more sophisticated, and much harder to impress. The kind of writing we are studying in parts of this module wouldn’t stand up today, and that is frustrating. Of course, I could understand the point if this were an MA in Literature …
Thanks again, Nancy x
October 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm
I can kind of relate to your story, since I’m taking a master’s-level YA Lit class in Information Science, and I haven’t liked some of the books on the reading list (both required and choices to pick from). When I’ve loved books on the list, I’ve really loved them, but others I haven’t been so keen on, and I said that in my write-ups. We were discussing one of the most overrated books of modern times yesterday, and I didn’t want to speak up and say my true feelings on this certain book. The professor will definitely know, though, when she reads what I wrote about it!
October 4, 2012 at 7:23 am
Hi Carrie-Anne, that made me smile 🙂 Good for you – you’ll get your chance to say what you really think. What was the book? (Just curious) x
October 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm
It was The Book Thief. My dislike of it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter (since I also write about the WWII/Shoah era), but everything to do with the writing style. It was impossible for me to get lost in the story because of things like periodic infodumps, too much telling, and the narrator constantly butting in to give away the ending.
October 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Aaawww, sorry to hear you had a tough time – but hopefully it won’t put you off the entire course. I remember that our best lecturers on literature at university weren’t necessarily the best writers and vice versa. It’s a different skill set. And you should trust your own feelings, your own instincts. Just because the rest of the world deems a book to be a masterpiece (and I don’t think they do about Pnin – maybe some other Nabokov, but that?), doesn’t mean you have to like it!
October 4, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Thanks Marina, that makes me feel better too! It’s just teething problems, I guess – I’ll stick at it, and hopefully have something more positive to report next week 😉
October 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm
Going back for your Masters – good for you!
I might be in trouble as well. I’m not a big fan of literary fiction and don’t tend to analyze books that deeply.
Just believe in yourself and keep at it!
October 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm
Hi Alex, thank you 🙂 I’m not a fan of anything obscure and difficult to access, but I’m going to stick with it and see where it takes me. Good luck too x
October 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm
More power to you for going back to get your Masters, Joanne. It’s on my bucket list, but honestly I’m not jumping at the idea these days. Nabokov always stuck me as extremely depressing, course I didn’t read all his books. But why else did he look so cranky? I loved Tolstoy’s War and Peace though.
October 11, 2012 at 10:32 am
That made me smile 🙂 Yes, Nabokov does look cranky!
October 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm
Sorry, clicked post too quickly. I’m #192 on Alex’s IWSG list.
October 11, 2012 at 9:53 am
Hi Joanne, I can certainly relate. When I was doing my BA in English Literature I felt very similar to how you are feeling now, and between to talk and not to talk – the first is always the best option. You are there to learn and express your ideas and part of learning is asking questions. You find your own voice as you hear it so don’t be afraid to speak out. Keep me posted 😀
October 11, 2012 at 10:04 am
Thanks Maria, and I will keep you posted. This week I was a bit more confident – Burgess wasn’t as intimindating as Nabokov! – and I even managed to make a joke. 🙂