On Thursday, I attended a literary salon hosted by Earthwords, the University of Iowa's original undergraduate literary review. Today, Earthwords showcases the literary and artistic work of undergraduate students in an annual literary magazine. Their website also states that the "Earthwords editorial board changes every year and with it the content, style, and length of the magazine, but its dedication to showcasing the best undergraduate work is apparent in every issue..."
Though advertised as an opportunity to have editors critique my work, there ended up being a speaker, Nathaniel T. Minton. He is a recent graduate of the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa and spent some time in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Now, he has returned to the University of Iowa as an instructor, currently teaching Creative Writing for New Media. He describes the class as "a course [that] will compliment the Creative Writing Department's fiction and poetry courses by helping creative writers prepare for the rapidly evolving marketplace of electronic text. It will broaden the scope of the University's current new media courses by concentrating on creative writing and content creation. With practical approaches to creating work for electronic media, this workshop oriented course will focus on student writing in various mediums such as, internet, e-books, video-games, mobile devices and emergent social narratives."
Speaking with a small group of students, editors from Earthwords, and his parents, Nathaniel (whom I believed preferred to be called "Teal") spoke of his experience with creative writing and personal habits. For instance, he spoke of sitting at his computer for two hours, not even completing a single sentence.
"In order to get over this, I look at my watch," he said. "I time myself. I say, 'Okay, for thirty minutes, I'm going to write fifty words a minute without stopping. And I go for it. Sometimes it is complete and utter crap, and sometimes it is something I can work with." We nodded as we listened to Teal, who went on to say that sometimes he has arguments with myself. "I address that inner voice when I'm writing. 'No, you can't do this.' 'Yes, yes I can.' 'NO, you can't.' 'Yes I can. See? I'm writing this. I'm proving you wrong now.' I laugh to myself when I do this, but it works. I do it because it gets me over that block."
And, speaking of writer's block, Teal does not believe in it. He doesn't think that it is some big, mythical beast that comes in and carries away all inspiration. Rather, he thinks that is fear. The author, whomever he or she is, is afraid of something--whether it be characterization, the length, the depth, or indefinite focus. "There should be nothing to fear when writing something," he said. "That's why there is always editing at the end. Don't be afraid to write 'crap.' It happens; you can always go back and fix it later." He then went on to talk about his novel, which was originally longer than 1,000 pages. "It's down to about 600 now, but I won't show it to anyone until it's under 300." Teal stressed the importance of doing whatever it takes to get something out onto the paper. After all, it is not immediately intended for another reader, so we don't have to worry about what someone else will think; we can always refine our work.
Teal also spoke of his experience in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He mentioned that several dozen scripts will be reworked and rewritten before reaching a finished product. "And then," he said, "the director is always going to change things anyway, so you never actually see your work in black and white." One major point he made was that, as a screenwriter, he didn't own anything he actually wrote. "You see, there's a union for the writers in Hollywood. It protects us and our work...but only if we don't publish it. So, for instance, we DO NOT own our writing. The company who buys our scripts owns the work. So, essentially, as long as no one wants to read your script, rewrite your script, buy your script, copyright your script, or film your script, it's yours. For instance, I can remember going to a bar one night and having a conversation with a more famous screenwriter. He asked what I did and I told him, adding that I also do some creative publishing on the side. 'Oh! he exclaimed. So you actually OWN your writing!' I'll never forget that."