Writer’s Notebook, 5/9/12: Writer’s Block (sort of), Saints, and Learning the Craft

We’re traveling this week and next.  While I’m able to keep up with the blog, I have to “let go” on the novel.  Which is fine.  I’m mentally “stuck” and am not sure what I should do, and a road trip is a welcome interruption.

This whole sanctification business is, for Catholics, a process of being refashioned within the mystery of the Incarnation. In becoming the the daughter of God I am meant to be, I’m becoming the writer I’m meant to be.  But something in my writer’s brain – or heart – has not yet been “clicked on.”  It’s that something that’s I feel holding me back right now.  I do not have the ability to press forward and just tell the dang story.

(Then again, I’m getting “writer’s brain” in other ways.  All sorts of things give me story ideas.)

I have been asking for the intercession of writing saints:  St. Peter,  St. Paul, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Bl. John Paul II.  But that’s not all.  I also have begun to ask for the intercession of writers (and one poet) I figure have a good chance of being “up there”: O’Connor, Tolkien, Lewis, Austen, Chesterton, Belloc, and Hopkins.  They’d understand my dilemma.

A few weeks ago, I asked for your advice on the best way to learn the craft – the techne – of fiction writing.  I have no formal training in this; everything you read on this blog is me struggling to figure this out.  I’m reminded of the Avett Brothers song, “Ten Thousand Words,”

“Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about”

which is perhaps the perfect aphorism for how things roll at A Naptime Novelist.  Ahem.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of ideas that I’d like to share.  If you have any more, please shout ‘em out.  Open to the Holy Spirit, we are.

Option One: Formal training, i.e. “school”.   Now, I’ve been out of school for nearly a decade.  I have a toddler.  God willing, we’ll have more kids soon.  So going back to school isn’t exactly at the top of my list.  However, writing is important enough to me to make the sacrifices of no sleep, no time, and a less-than-perfect house, should I decide to return to school.  So far, these are my options:

Classes at the college where my husband will be teaching, come fall.  This is an obvious choice.  Faculty members have, as part of their benefit package, tuition benefits for themselves and their families (the percentage paid by the college increasing with the number of years of employment).

Two foreseeable problems: One, getting into a class.  The most popular writing instructor is just that – popular.  Registered students get first pick, of course, so I may have to enroll as a post-bacc student.  I’ll have to ask if they do this.  Two, the cost.  Until my husband’s put in the number of years necessary to bring down the cost, I’m afraid it may be too expensive for our family.

UC Berkeley’s Post-Baccalaureate Writing Certificate. I’m excited about this possibility.  Berkeley’s extension program offers two certificates:  one in writing and the other in editing, all online.  It’s designed for people like me, people who didn’t study writing as undergraduates.  The cost seems reasonable.  I don’t know anything about the quality of the program, but, so far, I’m intrigued.

Oregon State University.  Oregon State is perhaps not the first school people think of for writing programs, so let me explain.  I went to Oregon State for two terms and have a good handful of English credits hanging out there, unused, because St. John’s doesn’t accept transfer credits.  Oregon State offers a writing minor through their online program, and they encourage post-bacc students to apply in order to add majors and minors to their degrees.  They are all set up for students like me, and it’d be nice to apply those unused credits to something.  The cost is reasonable.

Option Two: Writing Workshops and Conferences.  I’ve mentioned these before.  And there’s this one.  And then there are the in-my-dreams workshops, here and here and especially here. Anyone love me enough to pay my way to Oxford?

Option Three: Writers’ Associations. My friend Roseanna shared that she has found much support for her writing through participation in writing associations.  She suggested American Christian Fiction Writers and Oregon Christian Writers (Roseanna herself writes Christian fiction).  I’ve also looked at The Catholic Writers Guild.  Do you know of any – religious or non-sectarian – that you’d recommend?


  1. says

    If you really want to go back to school, by all means go. However if u are on the fence, here’s my two cents. Some of the greatest writers of all times bucked the system. Either they didn’t have education or they defied it. They worked long and hard and developed into a new fresh voice that stood out as spectacular because it wasn’t “classically trained”.
    My artwork has always been praised. I paint with passion and accuracy. But I have not been schooled in it. If you learn all the techniques everyone else knows, then wouldn’t your novel end up sounding like everyone else’s?
    Again, I don’t mean to be negative, if that’s where your heart is – find a way to go back to school. I believe, however, that you have everything u need right now to complete that novel!
    Writing can’t be out on a schedule or rushed. The inspiration washes like waved on the sand. When it comes, ride it high! When the waters are still, be patient and attentive! The smallest wave could turn your story into brilliance!
    He mind cannot for e creativity, but needs space, peace, & no pressure to bring it about! That and lots of herbal tea! ;-)
    You are a gifted child of God! In my humble opinion you don’t need more school, just patience with yourself!

    • says

      Hmm. On the one hand, I sort of agree. On the other, what I’ve read tells me that writing is as much a craft to be learned as it is an art form. The defined “structures” of writing provide the framework through which art can be born.

      I’m thinking of the movie “A River Runs Through It” (can’t remember the book). The brothers learned to fly fish “Presbyterian style” – by the time of a metronome – because “grace comes by art, and art does not come easy.” Nearing the climax of the movie, the younger brother (Brad Pitt’s character) “breaks free from our father’s instruction, into a rhythm all his own.” And both his brother and their father recognize him as the artist he had become. But he had to pass through formal instruction, through years of practice, until his fishing and his soul merged in their mutual execution.

      I suppose this is what I’m thinking when I’m looking at formal training. So much can be learned through discipleship under a master teacher. Fortunately for me, I have many different types of options for pursuing that discipleship.

      • says

        Sounds like you know what you want! Great!!
        I’d only add one word of caution on writers’ associations/ groups. I was a part of one in St Paul, MN and the critique and exchange was cumbersome to say the least. Everyone evaluated everyone else’s work through their own style and opinion. but – ahhhh – there’s my artist’s spirit coming out! To hell with the grammar let the book bleed with life of a thousands souls! And I’d have some idiot next to me demanding my punctuation was inaccurate. Really? Did you not read what I wrote and you’re asking me about punctuation?? LOL! Clearly, I’ve had too much of the writing education! ;-)

        So, I guess I’m not one to say don’t “get schooled”, since I’ve been there and broken through… ;-) I did major in English Literature/Writing as well as Catholic Studies.

        Oh my, sorry for the rant, but after going through it, it’s like really? That’s all you got?

        Well, everyone has to explore for yourself! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! It’ll give you the framework for the real inspiration to create the genius behind your work!

        happy writing!!

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