What a Young Writer’s Brush with Death Taught Her about Life & Writing

Guest post by Jacki Crooks

We’d like to introduce you to Jacki, who has been helping us at The One Year Adventure Novel for the past few months! I (Tineke) asked Jacki to share how her experience of fighting cancer impacted her writing—admittedly a pretty hard question to answer, never mind in under 1,000 words! But it’s a huge part of who Jacki is today.

What-a-Young-Writer's-Brush-with-Death-Taught-Her-About-Writing-and-Life-500px Jacki writes:

Just over two years ago I found myself lying in a hospital bed, waiting for the doctors to bring me news that could only be bad or worse.

After three months of struggling to breathe, the fight getting harder ever day, I had finally gone to an urgent care center. I got an X-ray. Followed immediately by a CT scan. And then a lights-and-sirens trip to a larger, better-equipped hospital. I underwent countless CT scans and tests, and met more doctors than I can remember, and four days later, I was still waiting for a final diagnosis.

Large B-Cell Mediastinal Lymphoma.

Don’t bother looking that up. The gist is that I had a 12-cm mass situated directly on my heart, and it had grown to the point of cutting off my airway and main blood vessels.

My doctor prescribed treatment, and began explaining what the next months and years would look like. Finally, my mom asked the question we were all thinking, but were too afraid to form into words: If we hadn’t come in, how long would I have had?

Two days. Maybe three.

Tineke asked me to write about how my brush with death affected my writing, but the truth is, I can’t. My battle with, and eventual victory over, cancer didn’t just affect my writing, it affected my entire worldview. My writing is different, but only because I, myself, am different and my writing is an extension of me.

I have no formula for how to change your life, or how to add weight and meaning to your writing. Even if there were such a thing, I couldn’t give it to you because, frankly, I don’t have it yet, and however much my journey has changed me, it hasn’t ‘fixed’ my writing, or automatically made it more effective.

What it did teach me is how much our choices mean, and how much our lives mean. What we do with what life gives us—or throws at us, as the case may be—is what changes our lives—but only if we let it.

Facing choices that had no possible right answer, with no one to make them but my own eighteen-year-old self, I looked the terrifying truth in the face and I forged a pathway into the unknown. I looked at the options, weighed the consequences, and made the best decisions I could.

The path I walked—actually, “walked” is a generous term! The path I stumbled down—was long and dark. It was exhausting. I spent days curled up in my room, wondering what I was going to do. How it was all going to turn out. Then I spent days wishing that no one would ask me what I wanted to do. Ever. But they did. Every day, someone asked what I wanted for lunch, or what sounded like fun to me, or when I wanted my next doctor’s appointment to be.

There were sunny meadows on my journey, and picnicking with friends; but there were also rocks and trees across the path, complete with angry hornet chases. The only thing that remained constant was that hiding from the truth wasn’t an option. Hiding from the truths the doctors brought to me would have killed me.

Hiding from the truths we face every day is no different.

As authors, it is our job—our responsibility—to face the tough issues in our lives. There are enough books out there telling sugar-coated, fairy-tale version of the world. We don’t need any more of them. We need honesty, and we need truth.

Life has beautiful moments, and we need to capture and portray those as honestly as we do the harsh, painful ones. Without darkness, light is meaningless. There is nothing to compare it to. If the sun never set, we would soon grow tired of the constant heat and sunshine.

By ignoring the harsh realities of life, we diminish the effect of the beauty in our lives.

If I had to pick only one thing to say that I learned, I would say that it was to appreciate the happy moments, however small they may be; to soak in the warmth of the sunshine, even when the clouds are rolling in.

What is the most difficult challenge you have stumbled through, and what did you take away from it, as a writer? Share a comment below.

Jacki bio photo About Jacki

Jacki Crooks’s love for writing developed while homeschooling on her family farm in southern Wisconsin. She prefers to write about real-life adventures, and gains much of her material from her experiences as a youth leader in her church, as well as life on the farm, which is never boring!

How to Write a Novel with Only 1 Hour a Day

Only-1-hour-day-500px Many people dream of writing a novel. Very few actually do. Why?

One of the reasons is that many writers don’t believe they have the time. If you find yourself waiting for the “right time” to write, or endlessly putting off your writing goals because of your busy schedule, consider this:

You do have the time. But you need to change the way you think about writing a novel.

A student once asked me if it’s possible to write a novel with only an hour a day to write.

Yes.

Truth is, it’s difficult, but it can be done. Many, if not most, writers shoehorn their prose between a primary job, the laundry, and driving the kids to soccer practice. They manage this by learning some secrets about what it actually takes to write:

1. Remember that you’re after a rough draft, not a finished draft. Rough = bad. Ask yourself, Is one hour a day enough time to write a bad first draft of a chapter? Probably it is. As someone once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

The more you write, the better you will become at writing first drafts, but they will always be rough. You must give yourself permission to write badly.

2. Don’t try to write a complete (as in fleshed-out) first chapter. Instead, write a skeletal first chapter with the main action and the main dialogue in black and white. To do this, sit down and imagine what you see and hear as you live the events of the story. Try to capture conflict and unexpected details through the senses (what your hero sees, hears, feels, tastes smells—and thinks.)

3. Find a pace that matches your time. If you can only put five hours into the rough draft of each chapter, then pare down what you put onto paper so that you are writing 20% of the chapter every day.

Sure it will feel rough and incomplete. Yes, you will probably hate it, and it will take practice learning to discipline yourself in this way. But when you are done you will have something to work with that can be revised.

And I think you will find that the story is more compelling–even in this skeletal stage–than you thought it would be.

If it isn’t, then no amount of fleshing out will fix it, and your problem isn’t one of time, but of a flawed story. In which case the less time you spend on it, the better.

Overhaul your preconceived ideas of what it looks like to write and be a writer. Try the real thing.

What is the most important “secret” you have learned about what it takes to write a novel? I would really like to know. Leave a comment.

 

Parent or Patron? – How to Find the Balance

Guest post by Jeff Miller

This week we get to hear from a writer who is also dad to a young writer who uses The One Year Adventure Novel:

Parent or Patron - How to Find the Balance Today’s young writers face so many distractions and pressures. No matter their age, they deal with not only their everyday responsibilities, but also a sometimes overwhelming array of distractions constantly vying for their attention. As their parents, it is part of our responsibility to help our children find balance, learn self-discipline, and instill a good work ethic. But how do we do this?

I am a parent and a writer, and I know the fight against distraction intimately. Even as I readily agreed to write up this second guest post, I thought, “Can I pull it off?” You see, like most other writers, my time and attention are sometimes spread a bit thin.

The Foundlings, fantasy by J. Mark Miller

Jeff’s fantasy novel, published under the name “J. Mark Miller”

I don’t say this to publicly bemoan my situation. On the contrary, I’m happier and more fulfilled with life than at any other time. The reason I bring it up is, well, that’s how life goes. I am constantly learning to navigate this sea of distraction, both as a writer and as the parent of a writer.

Good navigating comes down to striking the balance between being our child’s parent and their patron.

Have you ever seen the movie Amadeus? Though not a completely accurate portrayal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it’s an interesting study of human nature and artistic genius.

Mozart makes his first appearance on screen under the patronage of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. His amazing talent is evident, as well as his less-than-savory character. He’s soon revealed to be prideful and petulant—a man-child who has yet to grow up; and it seems as if he never will. His antics leave the movie’s other main character, Antonio Salieri, wondering why God would choose to bestow such gifts upon a soused popinjay.

Amadeus movie cover - Amazon We learn that Mozart is in reality a tortured soul. When his father, Leopold, dies, Mozart is not only consumed with grief, but also haunted by his father’s specter. Leopold was a harsh taskmaster, a strict disciplinarian who drove Mozart to excel no matter the cost.

The remainder of the movie portrays a life spiraling out of control. Mozart’s finances are in shambles, his marriage is in turmoil, and his health is broken. In the end, Mozart dies, a victim of his own choices, and is buried in a pauper’s grave.

What was to blame for Mozart’s destruction? Surely, he made his own choices; but a study of his life as portrayed in the movie suggests some answers.

Though Mozart was an adult by the time he appears on screen, he thinks and acts like a spoiled child. It seems that many of his self-destructive behaviors stemmed from rebellion toward his overbearing father. In turn, there is also an element of indulgence not only on the part of Mozart himself, but also from the authority figures in his life. Perhaps, just perhaps, if his father had been more of a patron, and his patrons more like a father, Mozart might have lived a longer and less tragic life.

I’m sure almost every parent struggles to keep the balance between nurture and discipline. None of us intentionally set out to raise either a spoiled brat or a mindless automaton. When it comes to having a child passionately involved in something we may not personally grasp—such as writing—the struggle to know how to be both parent and patron is all the more difficult.

Here are a few suggestions from the viewpoint of someone who is both a writer and the parent of a writer to help you successfully wear both hats.

  • Help them learn self-discipline in all areas of their life, not only in their schoolwork and chores, but also in their writing endeavors. Teach them how to manage their time well and establish routines. If possible, get their days organized in such a manner that they can attempt to get alone in their quiet place and write at the same time every day. Insist that they still manage their responsibilities. Writing time shouldn’t take precedence over incomplete schoolwork or unfinished chores.
  • Once you’ve helped your writer find discipline and establish routines, protect their writing time. Do your best to see that they remain undisturbed when they spend time writing and creating. This may even mean becoming more parent than patron at times by insisting that they spend their customary time writing instead of doing something else that might be momentarily more attractive.
  • Teach your writer the concept of opportunity cost—the loss of potential gain from one alternative when another alternative is chosen instead. Time is both valuable and limited, but sometimes we fail to grasp that reality until after the fact. How many times do we find ourselves disappointed that we spent our time on less profitable ventures? Help them see that time stolen from their writing is time they cannot get back.
  • Invest real money into your writer’s dream. Many of you are already doing this by purchasing The One Year Adventure Novel and attending the workshops. Consider doing even more, especially if your writer shows both a real talent, and a genuine interest in writing beyond a hobby. Become a patron in truth. Purchase a computer and dedicated writing software, such as Scrivener. Invest in their environment with good lighting, a proper desk and chair, or a nice lap desk. If your writer listens to music while they write, buy them a quality collection from iTunes or another online retailer, and maybe get them some high-quality noise-canceling headphones.
  • Feed your writer’s book habit. You know your writer has a long list of books they’d love to read. Consider starting a book fund and regularly refresh their reading choices—both fiction and non-fiction. Use it as a tool to encourage them to read outside their preferred genres and challenge them to find and apply practical knowledge to their growing craft.

Fellow parents, I encourage you to join me in embracing the struggle of balancing parenthood with patronage—especially as our young writers get older and grow more intentional about their craft. Not only will we be helping them achieve their writing goals, but we’ll also be setting the stage of our relationship with them as they grow into adulthood.

Let’s hear from the young writers out there. What are some suggestions you have for your parents—and other patrons in your life—that would be of true and lasting benefit to your writing endeavors?

J. Mark Miller, fantasy author About Jeff

Jeff Miller is a retired minister, and a writer, musician, blogger, graphic designer, and something of a self-taught self-publishing guru. His first novel, a fantasy adventure entitledThe Foundlings, is available now on Amazon. Jeff and his family of OYANers live in North Texas, along with several Apple products.

 

Why Young Writers Need Community - Insight from J. Mark Miller, an Author Dad Another post from Jeff:

Why Young Writers Need Community »

Read more of Jeff’s tips and reflections on the writing journey on his blog, “A Writer’s Fantasy” »

Letting Your Novel Be Your Teacher

What I Learned from Writing Runt the Hunted

by Daniel Schwabauer 

Letting Your Novel Be Your Teacher graphic AMG’s release of Runt the Hunted, book two in my Legends of Tira-Nor series, is slated to be released in about a month.

I often talk about how writing a book always changes the writer, even if it doesn’t change the reader. As Tineke so beautifully pointed out in a previous blog post, this is one of the great functions of writing. It enables us to worship God. Selfless worship is transformative. Even though worship isn’t about changing ourselves, pure worship always does. We cannot step into God’s presence without something ugly falling away, and something beautiful clinging. Moses stopped worrying about his stutter and just let his face shine.

Writing Runt the Hunted was a little like that. It changed me.

Runt the Hunted by Daniel Schwabauer

Finally releasing with AMG Publishers in April!

The book is loosely based on the story of David and Saul from the Old Testament. I don’t like disclosing this, because I have tried to take a very different approach to Bible stories, and I fear people will misunderstand. I don’t just mean that they will think of my books as “mouse books.” (Another mouse story? Yawn.) And I don’t just mean that they might be shoehorned into the allegory box. (Not more Christian allegory!) To say that Tira-Nor is an anthropomorphic Christian allegory is, in my opinion, misleading.

It is hard to explain my desire to be faithful to the nature of Old Testament stories without trying to replicate them in a purely allegorical way. Most retellings of the story of David focus on the same highlighted events: his anointing as a young boy, his felling of Goliath, his sin with Bathsheba.

Runt the Hunted by Daniel Schwabauer

Book One, available from AMG Publishers

But these parts of the story do not demand to be retold in and of themselves. For a story to matter, it must matter to someone. When writing, that someone must first be me.

There must be something beyond the action and the characters—something relevant to the here and now. I never begin writing a novel until I have discovered what this point of relevance is. To put this another way, I never begin letting a story change me until it has already changed me.

And the Bible has never changed me in a way that I might have expected. It is the most unpredictable book in history.

Runt the Hunted grew out of an obscure detail from the story of David that I hadn’t notice in roughly twenty years of reading.

So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place.

1 Samuel 23:13 (NIV)

Looking back on the moment this verse jumped out at me, I recall that it was the number that intrigued me, not the plain meaning of the sentence. Six hundred? But I thought it was four hundred. A few moments of puzzled backtracking led me to 1 Samuel 22:2, where this section of the story essentially begins. Sure enough, David only had four hundred men. So what’s the deal?

Rather than quote the whole Bible story, I’m going to sum it up in bullet points, because all blogs need bullets.

The backstory:

  • David has been anointed king of Israel by the Billy Graham of the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel.
  • Unfortunately, there is already a king in Israel, King Saul, and Saul is not happy about the idea of a backup king. Saul tries to remove David’s anointing by removing his head.
  • David removes himself to various hiding places, and ends up in the cave of Adullam.

So now the story begins, and I’m going to show the beats of the story as I might write them in a story outline:

  • 400 people show up at David’s cave. Apparently there are still some people in Israel who can tell the difference between a good king and a bad king, an old anointing and a new one. Of course, they are basically all losers, but David can’t afford to be picky.
  • Saul is mad that David got away, so he kills a bunch of innocent priests to make sure everyone is in agreement about what constitutes a good king.
  • The Philistines take advantage of Saul’s distraction and attack the fortified Israeli city of Keilah. Saul doesn’t really care, because, let’s be honest, Keilah is basically the Des Moines of the Middle East, except that it has walls.
  • David hears about Keilah and asks the Lord if he and his little band of 400 losers should save the city since “saving the people of Israel” falls under the job description of king. God says yes.
  • David and his little band of 400 losers save Keilah. (Fuzzy on the details here, but this part would probably make a great battle scene.)
  • Keilah throws a party and tells David he is awesome and they will be loyal forever. (Wait, that won’t work. Not enough conflict and way too easy). Someone in the city informs Saul, who suddenly remembers how to find Keilah on a map and brings an entire army to arrest David and his little band of losers.
  • David asks God, “These people aren’t seriously going to turn me over to the king who wouldn’t save them, are they?” And God replies, “Everybody loves a backup quarterback until he takes the first snap. Look out the window, David. That cloud of dust on the horizon is the exhaust from 10,000 horses. Time to move back to your earth home up in the hills.” (I’m paraphrasing a little from the original ephod.)

And this is where we get the odd number of followers in 1 Samuel 23:13. This is where David and his little band of six hundred losers leave Keilah.

Apparently 200 citizens of Keilah had a sort of spiritual epiphany. They looked at both kings and figured out something really important, something really dangerous, something that might get them killed, but might also be worth dying for.

Somehow, these 200 were able to put aside all the external differences between David and Saul and see the internal difference God had tried to warn them about years before, the difference in heart.

Differences in heart are always expressed most clearly under pressure, which is often the point of applying it. Saul used his anointing to serve himself. David used his anointing to serve others.

Here is what I learned from the 200 outlaws of Keilah who left their homes to follow a rogue: I have no excuse to not do what I’m called to.

  • Lack of resources does not disqualify me; it might be a mark of God’s approval.
  • An absence of supporters does not signal failure; it might mean I am on the right path.
  • Being loved by losers is better than not being loved at all, and betrayal by one’s friends is much preferable to the approval of one’s enemies.

David acted like a king before he had the king’s resources. He defended Israel before he had an army. He dispensed justice and mercy before he wore a crown. He found ways to expand the kingdom in his spare time, from a makeshift office in the cave of Adullam.

In short, David was a good king before he was a king at all.

Runt the Hunted forced me to ask myself the question I was trying to brush off onto my story hero, JaRed son of ReDemec, a field mouse with more courage than I will ever have: Who do you think you are?

Like David, we’ve already been told. The oil was poured out on our heads when we were ruddy and young, when our friends and family didn’t believe. But we knew. We were called to a royal priesthood. We have been given the privilege of adoption. We have been called to be kings and priests.

Now we must decide what we will do with this anointing.

Will we be good kings before we are crowned?

Why Fancy Word Arrangements Don’t Make a Story

We have a guest post on the Teach Them Diligently blog today, telling the “story behind” The One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN).

Read about what led Daniel to create OYAN »

Words vs Stories - Guest Post on Teach Them Diligently blog

Help, I Have Writer’s Block! – A Different Perspective on the Monster

Guest post by Emily Tjaden

Emily, a long-time student with The One Year Adventure Novel, recently experienced a breakthrough in her struggle with writer’s block. We asked her to share it with us—because, let’s be honest, we all wrestle with this monster sooner or later!

Help I Have Writer's Block! graphic

If you’ve been writing stories for long, chances are good that you’ve come into contact with the bane of every author’s existence. If you haven’t, the odds of escaping the clutches of this mind-numbing beast are definitely not in your favor.

Yep, I’m talking about writer’s block. Everybody deals with it differently, but often, it’s a story-halting disaster. You can’t write. Not that you don’t know WHAT to write. You just can’t. Period.

All you hear is the antagonizing whisper in your mind, “You’re stuck. Your powers don’t work here, Author!”

I’ve wrestled writer’s block for weeks before. I mean weeks. And not because I didn’t have anything to work on. I had a novel, outlined and ready to go, but motivation was out the window and on a shuttle to Mars. This depressed me to the point of questioning my identity as an author. Should I even be doing this? What if storytelling isn’t for me?

How many of you know what I’m talking about?

This frustrated me, and I began looking for ways to fight back—to beat writer’s block. I searched Pinterest; I read articles, blog posts, and comments; and virtually every time, I hit the exact same phrase: “Just write.”

“Awwwww, wut???” These people make it sound so EASY. As if hearing “just write” summons magical bursts of inspiration from above. Because it doesn’t. In fact, the words “Just write” make me feel like doing a face-keyboard.

I began to wonder what was keeping me from “just writing.” It wasn’t as if I was out of ideas. Quite the contrary. So what was it? Why did trying to find motivation feel like walking across a hard floor covered with Legos? (If you’ve ever done that, you have my condolences.)

What Is Writer’s Block?

Calling a friend, I asked, “What is writer’s block?” Because, essentially, I didn’t know. So far, my experience amounted to, “You know that incredible urge people get when staring at a blank screen to just…put words on it?…..I don’t have it.”

“Why can’t I just write?” I asked.

“Well, maybe you’re just over-intellectualizing things,” he answered.

It was the last response I expected.

After some thought, I came up with what I believe is a somewhat different “take” on the monster that we call writer’s block. I realized that I spent more time thinking about writing, than I did actually writing, which led me to conclude that maybe “writer’s block” isn’t what I’ve always thought it is.

What if, instead of a lack of creativity, it’s an overloaded thought process? The strain of trying to logically work out how to get from point A to point B in a scene was draining me so much that, by the time I read those “how-to-defeat-writer’s-block” inspirational posts, my brain was like, “Just write? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” The over-thinking was essentially killing my creativity.

I realized that I had a habit of skirting actually writing by telling myself, “Well, I’m just pushing my creativity,” or “I’m searching for motivation,” when in fact, over-intellectualizing the story was stealing both of those things. I couldn’t “just write”, because I was too wrapped up in the details. Really, I needed to tell myself, “This is a first draft! It can be messy.” Creativity flows best when it flows naturally.

Complex storylines often increase the temptation to intellectualize. It’s at this point where you have to realize what is and what isn’t over-thinking. There’s a line between creativity and intellectualizing.

Over-thinking a story is like trying to force creativity down a certain path when maybe it’s not even the best direction. If you worry too much about where things are going, you  can miss valuable ideas that could’ve made your work better. 

Setting overly-ambitious deadlines also aids and abets writer’s block. I set them because I want to motivate myself. However, this usually backfires and I end up with writer’s block, because I can’t sort the story out in my head.

Realizing this explained why the words “Just write” made me freeze up and want to take a baseball bat to my laptop. All of those articles and blog posts were telling me what to do, but wouldn’t explain why I was dealing with writer’s block in the first place.

Understanding the problem is the first step in finding a cure.

I imagine that the phrase, “Just write” works fine when you’re out of ideas. After all, you’ve just got to release a new stream of creativity. It’s when you’ve got too much to deal with that you begin to over-analyze the story, and it becomes real writer’s block.

Once I understood that I was over-intellectualizing my work, the mental blocks all made sense. I couldn’t write because I was blocking my creativity.

It’s a First Draft!

I’ll be the first to say that I have problems with writing first drafts. Why? I’m a perfectionist. Majorly. Thus my over-thinking issues. But the truth is, you can’t go about fixing something unless it exists. My writer’s block stemmed from the fact that I was trying to “fix” my story before it even hit the paper.

First drafts are about feelings; emotions. They’re for scoping out your story and exploring it. All the tedious intellectualizing can be saved for draft two. As my friend so aptly said, “Seriously, don’t think about it. Your first draft can look like a kindergartner wrote it.

And it’s true. Something has to be real before it can be beautiful.

Know Your Writer’s Block

In conclusion, this isn’t meant to be another “how you beat writer’s block” post, so much as “this is what I think writer’s block is.”

Saying “Just write” doesn’t help. It’s identifying some of the reasons why you’re struggling that will help you. Everybody has a different experience when it comes to writer’s block, and knowing what you’re dealing with can change everything.

How do YOU fight the “writer’s block monster”? Got any tips for the rest of us? Comment below.

Emily Tjaden author photo About Emily 

I’m an eighteen-year-old homeschool graduate from southern Missouri. My passions include music, art, and, of course, writing—which drastically improved when I took The One Year Adventure Novel course during my sophomore year of high school. I’m the oldest of five, and have a part-time job as a freelance editor, as well as my aspiring career in novel-writing. I blog at www.dreaminghobbit.com.

“I love to write. What should I study in college?”

Guest Interview with Erynn Besse

Many young writers wrestle with whether or not to study creative writing (or professional writing, or English literature, etc.,) at a college level. We asked Erynn Besse, winner of our 2013 Novel Contest, to tell us about her college choices. Erynn is a gifted writer, deeply invested in her craft, but also passionate about other fields of study.

On choosing a major and the uses of tardigrades:

I Love to Write - What Should I Study in College? graphic Erynn, you are not an English major. Is this something that surprises people?

Yes! Last fall, a new acquaintance asked me what I’d be doing over Christmas break.
“Oh, I’ll be in Kansas for a writing workshop.”

She replied: “Oh, cool, so you’re an English major!”

Well, no, I’m not. I’m studying for a BA that combines the Chinese language with a business administration degree.

Tell us a little bit about your college search. Was it straightforward?

I don’t think I could ever classify the college search as straightforward. However, I had it perhaps easier than some. I applied to several schools. I applied to one school specifically because they had the oldest and one of the best creative writing programs in the United States. Had I chosen yet a different school, I would have likely been an English and pre-law double major. I waffled between these two schools. They had interesting programs but subpar foreign language classes. A third school had a great Chinese program but really wasn’t a top-choice school. As the decision deadline drew closer, it became clearer to me that I desperately wanted to study Chinese. Here I am. At what was once my third-choice school. And I could not be more grateful for that decision.

What would you say to other young writers who are strongly considering majoring in English?

For the average high school writer, my drive to study something completely separate from English may not be a point of conflict. Do you love writing?—No, not just love it. Do you live and breathe your words? Do you dream of doing nothing but study the written word and craft stories and characters and worlds? If so, study English! I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many English majors. They’ve gone on to do a wide variety of things—everything from working in human relations, to studying in seminary or law school, to writing for a living.

Have you yourself found English classes helpful?

English classes have taught me so much. A creative writing class honed my ability to write short stories and flash fiction. It pushed me to be more open to writing about myself and focus less on prescribed emotion and fantasy exploration.

I love the Asminovs and the MacDonalds and the Sandersons and the Cards: all fantastic authors that you likely won’t hear too much about in a classical intro-level English class. As much as I love reading and writing, the seeming obsession English departments have with classic literature made me want to dig my eyes out with a spoon. Be that as it may, the college-level English class that focused on seminal American classics helped me understand why classic literature is so loved. That class taught me to appreciate a genre of English I had previously despised.

Yes, English classes will be helpful in the furthering of your knowledge. You will read until your eyes are sore and write until your fingers want to fall off. You will love some of the pieces you read and hate others. Your writing will be torn apart, and, when you come out on the other side of the degree, you will have learned so much more than what you once expected to.

What would you say to teen writers who aren’t sure whether to go to college at all?

Classrooms and writing communities can offer so much to the aspiring writer. If you are serious about writing but not sure about pursuing a college degree, take a few journalism classes at a local college or some online courses. Identify an area of English that you may not know well and find a course in that area. Maybe the course will disappoint, but I’ve found it actually more likely that courses such as these can change your entire perspective on writing.

While I certainly understand the decision to not attend college, I advocate strongly for any aspiring writer to pursue a degree, be it in English or another field.

How has choosing to study something besides English impacted your writing?

Some people assume that I no longer write because it’s not a central focus at this point in my life. I may not be called to be an English major, but in no way does that mean I have stopped writing. In fact, I believe my personal style of writing has been enriched by the study of things typically outside the realm of English.

While an English degree will drastically affect your style, I’ve found that my non-English classes have had a huge effect on which topics I choose to pursue. Right now I am writing a language-centric novel comparing and contrasting different cultures as they interact for trade purposes. You might imagine the conversations I get to have when people ask me what I do for fun. Also consider how vital an impact my chosen field of study has had on the development of this particular idea. Without the lessons on comparing cultures, in-depth language studies, and trade principles, this novel would not have much backbone.

What is your perspective on the general requirements you have to take?

Oh, I love them! I have had the great joy of studying at a liberal arts college. Yes, that means a lot of general educations requirements. Many people despise them, but I’ve found them to be the blood and life force of my writing.

Granted, introductory classes may not be the most fun, but there is always a way to find something that works for you. If you struggle with math, don’t take the Calc 1 class for the mathematically minded; instead, look at a math appreciation class about the Fibonacci Series or how sine and cosine functions control musical theory. If you are not a scienc-y person, look at all the interesting things Bio 101 has to teach you. If you need a second science credit, maybe take a class on animal functions.

Did you know that there’s a creature, a tardigarde, capable of surviving nearly at absolute zero degrees, live in the vacuum of space, and go for ten years without food? I learned about the tardigrade thanks to a gen-ed requirement, and just think about the application for story ideas! And that is just one example of the many fantastic things I’ve learned.

Gen-eds give you the opportunity to explore so many things outside your major. Sometimes these things are so outside of your frame of reference you’ll find your whole life turned inside out and playing a game of cricket with the answer to a problem in the story you’ve been fighting with since ninth grade!

Never say no to the opportunity to learn something new. You never know what interesting place that will take you.

If you could say one thing to your fellow writers facing college choices, what would it be?

If you are in any stage of the college application process or are attending college but still questioning your major, let me just say this: the only way for you to hurt your writing is to do something that you do not truly love. Go study your passion and the words will follow.

Thank you, Erynn. We’re looking forward to following your creative journey!

Have YOU invested in something that seemed unrelated to creative writing that ended up enriching your stories? Please share in a comment!

Erynn Besse bio photo Erynn Besse is a long-time student with The One Year Adventure Novel. Ever since learning how to read, she has been inseparable from books in any and all forms.

In 2013, her novel Blue Sky Burnt won The One Year Adventure Novel‘s novel contest. The story assessed the effect of a severe mental disorder through a unique perspective. The novel is Erynn’s attempt to capture her passion for fostering understanding about the misunderstood—part of her drive to communicate stories about topics that ask and answer harsh questions.