Tag Archives: Guest Post

On Writing: A Love Story

Rachel Kwon is one of our new writing group members, and a woman who I’ll always associate — fondly — with LaSalle Street, fake parades, and Batman, and she is much more interesting than that will give her credit for. I’m happy to welcome Rachel into the group, and to present her guest post.

This is a guest post from Rachel Kwon, a member of this winter’s Online Writing Group:

This is my love story to writing.

As a child, I wrote because putting pen to paper in itself was thrilling. Of course, as a new human, I had no frame of reference, so peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and automatic soap dispensers were also thrilling. But writing was like time travel — I could write about something, and then minutes or hours or days or YEARS later, somebody could read what I wrote and connect with me on some level.

The first story I remember writing was when I was six years old. I wrote about a six year old (how original) who had AIDS, and also came up with a cure for AIDS, but then died before she could benefit from the cure. You know, casual kindergarten topics.

In my teenage years, I wrote mostly for practical purposes. Essays for school. Notes to my friends. Letters to my relatives thousands of miles away. I didn’t think about it as a creative endeavor. I didn’t think I had anything to say, really. Although computers were becoming a THING, I still preferred to write with pen on paper.

I hit my twenties, graduated from college, and started medical school, then residency. Writing for fun took a bit of a backseat, but I wrote lab reports, sure, and convoluted analyses of clinical trials. I took extensive notes as a study aid. I made endless lists in an effort to organize and prioritize my life. As a doctor I wrote endless notes about patients’ histories and physical exams, progress notes, interim notes, all to document that I was taking care of them. I sometimes felt like I was doing more documenting than actually taking care of patients, which sort of made me hate that kind of writing. But my favorite was still just to pick up a pen and some paper (or a bar napkin, or my own forearm) and simply write out whatever was in my head.

Now, in my thirties, I write because I finally have things to say. I write because it’s the only way I can say what I need to say without being interrupted. When I left my career as a physician, I told all but my closest confidantes (to whom I told to their faces, because some things can’t be communicated in writing) by writing a letter. It was important to me to tell my story the way I had lived it.

My relationship with writing evolves as I do. Maybe, in the future, I’ll be writing into the air thanks to holographic technology, as I pet my robot dog and prepare to ingest a savory meal delivered in pill form. But I’ll still be writing.

 

Thanks, Rachel! The letter you wrote about leaving medicine was poignant, and it made me happy and sad a the same time. I have a feeling you infuse that same wonderful, emotional complexity into all of your writing.

Come back on Monday, readers, to see our goals for the final week of our winter writing group. Until then, write on!

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This Is A Writer

Sarah Ruthven is a colleague of mine in MCC’s Art Department who first joined in on our Summer 2016 writing group. She is one of the group’s academic writers and brings diversity to our updates. She’s also the person who first introduced me to curriculum mapping in a faculty development workshop I attended back in 2008, and for that, I will be forever grateful. (I bet you’re thrilled with how you’ve changed my teaching life, aren’t you, Sarah?)

This is a guest post from Sarah Ruthven, a member of this winter’s Online Writing Group:

I am a writer.

My first time through graduate school I did not think this about myself. Despite the fact that for two years I wrote paper after paper culminating in a rather long master’s thesis, I did not think of myself as a writer. When I decided to go back to graduate school again, my biggest fear was that I had not been writing and I was sure my skills had become rusty.

sarahs-workspace

I took another picture of my writing space, minus the laundry basket but it felt like a lie. I am a writer and mom; there is always a basket of laundry somewhere.

When I became a full-time faculty member, I thought I would read all the time and write, publish even. But then the reality of teaching set in and I just never found a writing groove; I wasn’t a writer anyway. In my eleven years as a faculty member I wrote numerous Action Team Declarations, draft after draft of contract language, and a million letters. But still, I just didn’t see myself as a writer.

But something clicked in graduate school the second time around. I started to see it when I wrote to my classmates in discussion boards and when I would hit the page length on a paper, realizing I still had things to write, ideas to get out. Then I joined the summer writing group. I had seen the invitation to join before but I wasn’t a writer then. Things were different, I was different.

I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She recounts her struggles when writing, and I saw those same struggles in my process. Holy shit, I had something in common with Anne Lamott, other than a significant amount of unexpected swearing. But of course we have something in common: we are both writers.

Whether it is swagger or efficacy, something about really seeing myself as a writer has changed the way I write. I am forty-eight pages into a sixty-page paper that will be finished in exactly eighteen days. I sit down to write and struggle. Writers do that. But I don’t stop, I try again. Writers do that, too.

I want to write more after graduate school is done. And while I will likely spend a semester reading everything Nora Roberts has ever written just to take a small break after two and a half years of graduate school, I will not stop being a writer. My work flow will just need to change so that I can teach and write. I am not sure how I will do this, but I have never felt so confident that I will find a way to make that happen.

For my thesis I am writing about the photobook Events Ashore by An-My Le, and recently went to see Moholy-Nagy: Future Present at the Art Institute of Chicago just before it closed. These are the things that I feel so strongly about I had to write about them. They helped me realize I am a writer.

Sarah at the museum

Me at the museum

 

Thanks, Sarah! If you’re writing — writing anything — then you’re a writer. Embrace it. Give yourself a high-five. And now, get back to work.

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Driving

Anne Humphrey is a colleague of mine in MCC’s English Department who first joined in on our Winter 2016 writing group. I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne H., because, in addition to being a fellow grammar nerd, ardent defender of the Oxford comma, and my office neighbor, she is also a fellow alum of DePaul’s MA in Writing program.

And, like me (or like I used to be), Anne is used to commuting quite a distance to and from work. Here’s what Anne has to say about taking advantage of driving for her creative endeavors.

This is a guest post from Anne Humphrey, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

This past week, I was on a road trip to Connecticut and back. I love driving. and I love road trips. On the way back on this trip, I was so excited to work on some of what was discussed at the conference, and from seeing old friends there, that I drove all night without getting tired.

But I love to drive in general. Driving for me is not mainly about the trip itself, or the act of driving, but the way driving makes me feel — I am DRIVING as in accomplishing, moving forward, going to a next step.

I commute over an hour, each way, during the school year. Sometimes, people express concern or pity. But I say “I don’t mind. I make phone calls. I listen to podcasts.” To people I know better, I say, “I rehearse for class; I think through various problems.” Some people who correspond with me frequently know that I even manage text and email communication while driving (don’t worry, just at stop signs).

But what I rarely have admitted to anyone is that driving is for me prime writing time. Admittedly, I’m usually working out carefully worded emails about delicate situations, but I’ve worked on my creative writing too, quite a bit, while driving.

We’ve been spending time in this group discussing our writing space, and I am working on a new space in my house. But my main writing space for about thirty years has been in the driver’s seat of my car.

There are things I’ve tried over the years: a pad fitted for the dashboard (people commented on that quite a bit, but it was not really that exotic — my mom got it for me at Walmart); carrying a camera (now can just use my phone for this); carrying a voice recorder (now I can use phone and even voice recognition the same way); and recording phone calls (legal in Illinois if the other party knows you are doing it) — I would use these to talk through writing ideas with my mother or one close friend who is also a writer.

Most of the driving-writing has been inadvertent; ideas just flow for me in that environment, so in thinking about my WIP, ideas would come. Or random new ideas would occur from the stimulation of the driving. However, some writing I have assigned myself as an objective for the road trip.

On one occasion about twenty years ago, I had a novel almost finished but could not work out a central chapter. I knew what needed to happen, and where I wanted it to happen, but I had skipped over the chapter when drafting because I felt intimidated by that piece somehow. So, I said “I will work on that during this trip.” I was driving from St. Charles, IL to Cincinnati. In northern Indiana, I had to stop to replace my voice recorder, which, under the heavy use of this project, chose the first half of that trip to die completely. I forged on. I wrote the chapter. I even thought it almost was good, or at least as good as the rest of the book (which was not very good, but still).

After that, I gave myself many purposeful assignments for during specific trips, both long road trips and my commute. This summer, I had the idea for the “Prince poem” and wrote about half of it on a road trip back from Lake Erie a few weeks ago. On the overnight trip last Sunday night (action photo above), I worked on a different short something and wrote the whole thing. It’s just a short something. I’m not going to say “poem” because in the past few weeks, at two early music conferences, I’ve sat in a few talks about poetry that made me realize that I was not making poems. So for now I am calling them short somethings. Anyway, the Prince short something is still only half done. But I finished the “Midnight Blindspot in a Rearview Mirror” short something, while driving, on an overnight road trip.

I did it using text messaging, texting single lines or couplets to myself. The technology changes, but my method only changes slightly.

MORAL OF THIS RAMBLING STORY: I’d say, when it comes to writing, we should simply do what works: “Just do it.” Get the equipment, be at least somewhat intentional, and do it. Also, the writing space is where you are/where I am. So we should just start writing.

Notwithstanding this strong pitch, I’ll try to finish and post about my in-house writing space for our end post. I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I want the space to be so perfect for my needs that it lures me in, to writing.

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Anne (R) dressed as her alter-ego, Grammar Girl, helps me (L) and our colleague Starr (C) recruit students on MCC Night, 2014

Thanks, Anne! Although I don’t promote texting in the car (Trevor can attest to this, since I harangue him if he even looks at his phone while he’s driving), I love these ideas and wholeheartedly agree that writers can capitalize on driving, both for quiet, alone time as well as for brainstorming. So next time you’re stuck on an idea, get in the car and drive!