The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Back to School– Day 26

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Want to learn how to hit a baseball? I learned through research and practice five years ago that you should be swinging a bat 100 times a day. Want to improve your jump shot? Shoot a hundred a day–and according to David Robinson, it would help if you did 200 full-court layups each day (100 righted-handed, 100 left-handed). A photographer I dated once told me that you don’t take your first real picture until you’ve taken 10,000 pictures. Where am I going with this? Simple: If you want to understand how fiction works and dramatically improve your ability to write it, handle 800 pages of fiction manuscripts over the course of a month.

I hadn’t really thought about the number until I was wrapping up my last few manuscripts yesterday. My neighbor walked passed my room and stopped to comment that every time she sees me, I’m laying in my bay window studying a manuscript. That gave me pause, and after some quick math I told her that all told, I’ve handled 800 pages of fiction manuscripts this month. Damn.

This is not a complaint. The manuscripts took a lot of my time here at The Skids, but it was what I felt I had to do to get where I wanted to go with my fiction skills. I realize now, too, that given how quickly I wanted to do it, it couldn’t have happened any other way. I wouldn’t want it to happen any other way. It would have taken me years to handle the same amount of material through standard university coursework, or in a writers group. Here and now, there’s a lot to be said for the overwhelming amount of paper, the repetition, for creating a routine, for putting effort into someone else’s writing, and dumping a lot of tools into your writer’s toolbox all at once. When you live and breath writing for an entire month, this is what is going to happen. I think I paid a fair price for it, and the dividends will continue to pay off for as long as I write.


It’s not all been about writers and writing at The Skids. First thing upon showing up on July 3, I met a group of 4 high school art teachers who were here on 5-week fellowships. They were a nice, smart group. It helped to have being a high school teacher in common (not many other teachers in the writing program) so when I got burned out eating three meals a day with writers, I could hang with my art teacher friends. It’s a rare day when I look to other teachers as a group I can escape to since I’m more often wanting to escape from many of them (my close teacher friends aside), but that didn’t seem to interfere with our collegiality.

Those artists served another function, too. I’m endlessly fascinated by how the artist creates, so it was worthwhile to hear them talk about their projects, their art and teaching philosophies, and how they help students gain an appreciation of art. They invited me to their studio, and it was quite an experience to see the work they had talked about over the past few weeks. Also, that experience helped exercise another part of my brain by verbalizing my thoughts on their paintings and sculptures, and hearing them talk about their visions for their work. To me, it’s imperitive to think about why a certain artist would want to work in a certain medium, and what they hope to accomplish by working in it. Having artists in my immediate company allowed me to ask those questions. I think they have the same curiousities about writing–why would a writer want to write a poem, a personal essay… whatever. What do they hope to accomplish by working in their chosen form? That may be the ultimate question a writer (or an artist) must answer.


So it’s all over now, except for the packing and the drive home. I’m shoving off late morning tomorrow, and will be back in Chicago on Tuesday. A stop in New Jersey and another in Indiana will delay my return, but I’m not in any particular hurry anyhow. My friend Joel asked me before I left if I will be a changed person upon my return. I told him then that I didn’t know, but I do now: Yes. June 28 was a long time ago; I haven’t seen friends or family since then. I’ve managed nicely, but there’s a lot to be said for being back home. It seems now that I was living a different life before I left. I haven’t had many stresses or worries here, and that has been most beneficial to expanding my writing schema. But I’ll be back home soon, back to paying bills and cleaning the bathroom and petting the cat; back to lesson planning and parent phone calls and grading papers soon enough after that. It will be up to me to hold onto and continue to develop my new skills. I can already tell you how that is going to turn out: Mission Accomplished.


Written by seeker70

July 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Good work, Burd. Now I know who to come to after I write an 800-page manuscript that needs editing within a month.

    This is your curse. Your blessing. Who are you? You’re Burd.

    Stranger Danger

    August 4, 2011 at 12:43 am

  2. […] was so self-conscious about my sloppy handwriting when I was digging through piles of manuscripts at The Skids in ’11 that I started using pencils.  Now they are indispensable to me when I edit.  And my students are […]

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