I had 30 minutes with about 20 students. Dr. Paulette Sauders, a former professor of mine, simply said to me in her email, “I would love for you to share with the class whatever you think would be helpful for them to know about creative writing”. And so I was very excited to give my first guest lecture on May 1st at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. Grace has a Creative Writing minor that is only a few years old, but growing.

So what did I think would be helpful for them to know about creative writing?
I could have spoken to them about paragraph structure and ending with the penultimate sentence. I could have spoken to them about the power of dialogue to develop character and drive action. I could have talked about the lessons for the writer found in the creative processes of drawing, photography, and sculpture. But I didn’t talk about any of these things. Instead, I told these 20 students the most important thing I could possibly think of to tell them. I told them the one thing that I’d have been negligent not to have said. I gave them the foundational message, the only thing they couldn’t live without.

I told them why they must write every day*.

I told them that writing is what makes them a writer, nothing else. I told them that they can write a novel in 30 minutes a day, but not in 3 hours on Saturday. I told them that their brain doesn’t work that way.
I told them that discussions of talent are a waste of time, that the only thing worth discussing, and the only thing they have any control over is the work.
I told them that they can’t trust what is in their brain. I told them that the process of translating an idea to language will prove or disprove its potential.
I told them to get a pen or a pencil, a piece of paper and a timer and write for 30 minutes, not more and not less. I told them longer sessions and “big” ideas will come later, after they’ve established the discipline. I told them it doesn’t matter what they write. No one will see it. I told them to do it on paper and not on their computer so that they can see and hold their work, delight in their accomplishment, and so they don’t end up spending 30 minutes on Pinterest.
I told them that if they miss a day to write the next day.
I told them to read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

I walked out of room 106 in McClain with no regrets. I wish I’d had more time with the students. I love talking about the process. I could do it all day. But I walked away at ease.
I’d given them the goods. I had accomplished exactly what Dr. Sauders had requested.

*See also post from 23 May 2012.