Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Jean-Paul Reflects on Taking Classes With the First and Second Years

Posted by JeanPaul Bass On October - 11 - 2012

73000961 eeb19145e2 n Jean Paul Reflects on Taking Classes With the First and Second YearsAhhh, second-year-itis has set in for me. I have a class with all of the Writing for Children first years and I can’t help looking at them with knowing fondness. To be a year younger, starting an MFA program, with so many possibilities ahead of me. Oh, to be young again!

It wasn’t until my second semester of the MFA program that I realized I didn’t belong in Fiction. Over the summer, I switched to Writing for Children and now in my third semester, I can’t help but think of the time wasted working towards something that didn’t really fit me. Now I am in one class with the second years and in another class with the first years. I didn’t get the chance to form a bond with anyone that first semester because in Fiction, every class is with new people, so it takes a while before you can get to know someone. But in Writing for Children, those first two semesters are with the same people for every class, so it’s as if the program created a group of writing companions just for you.

Already, the first years know what everyone is working on, who is really good at line edits, and who gets their writing and what they’re trying to do. The second years also have a background with each other. They know who is working on what, the history of certain characters and why one is acting a certain way that baffles me when I read a later chapter in a story, and probably have a general idea of who they want to work with in their peer groups next semester.

Of course, in Fiction it’s rare to start any semester with more than two people from a previous class and each workshop is filled with stories and characters you’ve never met before and will probably never meet again, but Writing for Children is not the same. The people you meet in the first semester are what you get, unless someone drops out of the program or switches to a different genre. Or switches into the genre, as I did.

I came to the school not only to improve my writing and my chances of publication, but also to develop relationships that will last beyond graduation. I envy the first years who already knew each other by name in the second week, while I still barely know them by face. And while I have become friends with the second years inside and outside of class, I do wish I had been there with them from the beginning. I feel like I am in-between since I have classes with both groups, but as I look towards next semester and what comes after, I sometimes think I may have the best of both years. I already have friendships within the second years and now I have to the potential to get to know and make friends with the first years. My community of writers is growing, and that can only make me a better writer in the long run.

Am I glad I switched? You betcha. Even if I sometimes feel like I’m in a class all by myself.

Image courtesy flickr/Wysz

Post-MFA, Sona’s Busier Than Ever (And Writing!)

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On June - 26 - 2012

wordcount 285x300 Post MFA, Sonas Busier Than Ever (And Writing!)So many times before on this blog, as I posted, I sadly reported that I haven’t been writing at all. That work has just been too crazy (which it always has — and continues to be), that life with a toddler keeps me busy (yup, still happening), and that I’m actually a relatively social person (who has a hard time saying no to a fun invite).

But this time, as we do our post-MFA check-ins, I’m happy report that I have been writing. In fact, I wrote 4,000 words last week. Yes, of fiction. Which is not to say I’m writing 4,000 every week. But thanks to my awesome crit group — made up of my former classmates, although it sounds so weird to say that — I’ve still got deadlines to get me motivated.

And I’m really excited to continue working on my thesis project, which clocked in at about 80 pages when I turned it in. Granted, even with the regular bursts of additional pages, I’m only about a third of the way through. But the story is working for me, it’s something close to my heart, and I’m really interested in the characters, who keep taking new and fascinating turns when I least expect it. It’s actually fun to write.

I’ve also been reading a lot — about a book a week, which is huge, given my schedule. I’m trying to make more time for it, because a) I love to read and b) it’s so important to get out of your own head and learn about storytelling from the work of others. Besides books like The Fault In Our Stars and Allison Winn’s The Song Remains the Same (yes, I actually read adult fiction, too), I’ve been enjoying my said former classmates’ latest, as many of them are on to new projects as well. And I’ll get to enjoy a lot of their own works as actual, fully bound books in the near future as you see a rash of TeenWritersBloc.com contributors books on bookstore shelves near you in the coming year. I’m super-excited for that.

So here’s to bigger and better, but staying a close knit community with my fellow recent MFA grads. As much as that chapter may be over, a new one begins — and hopefully, the cast of characters will remain much the same.

Jean Paul Notebooks 600x506 Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Reflections on Her First Year in an MFA

Reading everyone else’s thoughts on getting an MFA, I thought about why I am in the program at all. Because, you see, I made a giant mistake when I applied to The New School.

The mistake began years before I even thought about getting an MFA, before I even thought about being a writer. It began in the summer before I entered the tenth grade, when I wrote a story in a green notebook and then promptly threw it away. That green notebook contained the first story I had ever written and without even finishing it, I was convinced the story was no good. So I got rid of it.

Fast forward a few years to when I dropped in and out of three colleges, sometimes simultaneously attending one while in the midst of failing classes at another, as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I thought about being a linguist, a teacher, a paralegal, a museum curator, a librarian, studying medieval history, owning a bookstore, basically anything except writing. But I never forgot about the story in that green notebook and when a friend suggested I write something instead of picking apart the bad writing in a book I had just read, I did it. And when I shared the story with my friend, I was amazed that she liked it, and everyone she showed it to liked it. That’s when I revisited that old story, and even though I had forgotten most of the details, I decided to finally finish it.

Over the course of six months, I stayed up until four and five in the morning, writing because I couldn’t sleep at night. My brain raced with new ideas and I would lie awake in bed, begging my mind to shut down so I could sleep but also excited about all of the scenes I couldn’t wait to write. So I would crawl out of bed and write until the sun came up.

Eventually I finished the book and after sharing it with a few friends, I put it away because I felt it just wasn’t good enough to be published. And I continued on with my life, but by then I had decided to finish college with a degree in English and Creative Writing. In my writing classes, I focused on literary fiction, or adult writing as I call it, because no one in my classes read or wrote YA novels and I didn’t feel comfortable submitting anything that wasn’t adult-orientated. So my YA novels and ideas were put on the back burner as I concentrated on my adult stories even though I didn’t much care about them. I just wanted to write and be around writers.

When it came time to apply for an MFA program, I picked The New School because of the writing for children concentration. I thought it would be great to work on fiction and writing for children but I only applied to the fiction program. I looked at the YA novel I had written and the other YA ideas I had started but never finished, felt none of them were ready, and prepared my fiction submission.

My first semester in the fiction MFA program left me feeling lost. I didn’t care about what I submitted, and dreaded my second year and all of the expectations that came with it. What would I write about during my thesis semester? What would I read at the final student readings? None of the my adult stories were special enough for me to want to keep revising or showcase them and I had no new ideas.

But I had tons of YA stuff I could write and polish. In my second semester, I took a writing for children seminar and I finally felt like I belonged. Here were people who took children’s books seriously, who didn’t treat genre like the plague, and I finally had the chance to share some of my YA ideas and characters with people who could understand where I was coming from and why these characters and their stories mattered to me.

As the semester ended and it came time to choose classes for the next year, a sinking feeling settled into my stomach and I realized what I had done to myself. By not applying to the writing for children program, I had once again thrown away my green notebook. I knew I had made a giant mistake that would haunt me for years, just like the story I had been too scared to finish writing, and I knew I needed to make a change. I finally realized why I didn’t apply to the writing for children program: because writing for children is what matters to me. Fiction was easy; I almost didn’t care if one of my adult stories was rejected. But to put my YA novel out there frightened me. I couldn’t bear the thought of someone saying my YA novel wasn’t good enough and so I didn’t give anyone that chance.

Once I admitted the real reason why I didn’t apply to the writing for children program, I did everything I could to get myself in there. I talked with the program director and began meeting up with my writing for children classmates so that we could start our own workshops and attend writing for children events together. And I sent out the first few chapters of the novel I wrote based on the first story I had ever written in that green notebook for my classmates’ critiques.

I had almost given up on the MFA program because I was getting my degree for all of the wrong reasons. I still struggle with having confidence in myself and my writing, but I know I am getting better, better at writing and better at staying true to myself. And I owe it to the green notebook. Even though I threw it away all those years ago, the memories of writing my first story in there have never left my mind. I used to be embarrassed at my teenage attempt at writing, but now I look back with fondness and inspiration. It is because of those memories that I feel at home in the writing for children MFA program and am glad that I fixed my giant mistake.

Guest blogger Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all. She is currently working on her MFA in fiction and writing for children at The New School.  If she could finish her memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, before graduation, then she would be quite satisfied with herself. 

Photo Credit: Jean-Paul

Steven’s Ode to the Most Expensive Piece of Paper He Owns

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On June - 3 - 2012

diploma 300x225 Stevens Ode to the Most Expensive Piece of Paper He OwnsDear Most Expensive Piece of Paper I Own,

I often admire the black frame you rest in. It’s not ostentatious, nor is it too obvious. Some of my friends have their diplomas sitting in obsessively large frames that take up most of their walls, atop a fancy schmancy drawing of their respective campuses, or a medallion, or some sort of plaque of honor. Not you. I quite like your understatedness. It blends in with the rest of my space, yet still says, “I’m here and I’m proof that you have an MFA.”

For six months you sat in the padded cardboard envelope in which you came. I apologize for that. Truth is, I kinda forgot about you. I got you in the mail a month or so after commencement (which I didn’t go to), and for a solid 2.25 days I was ecstatic and showed you off to every passerby (which was basically my mom, aunts and/or grandmother). But then I put you on a shelf in my closet and kind of forgot about you. I had all intentions of going out and purchasing the best frame the $25 I had in my wallet at the time could buy, but WalMart frames just don’t say, “This is the Most Expensive Piece of Paper I Own.” The only reason I have you framed right now is because my kind, intuitive mother bought me a frame for Christmas. (Thanks, Ma).

I’m glad I have you, though. In a world of unpredictabilities, I can always count on you to be right where I hung you: directly over my DVD case between my closet and door. Often times, we (universal “we”) spend obscene amounts of money on material things and have nothing to show for it. But not you. I spent between 50-60k on you, and I look at you with pride. You’re so clean and shiny. The glass that separates us is so sparkly. You’re always unchanging and dependable.

Kind of.

Well, you got me my current job, so that’s a plus.

It’s been a year since I earned you, Most Expensive Piece of Paper I Own, and I’m so happy to have you in my life. The experiences I had on my quest to obtain you have all but vanished, retreated into memory banks reserved only for educational purposes. I am still agent-less, and the strict writing schedule I had while taking classes in order to have you is gone, but I’m not unemployed. At least. For now.

Sometimes I wish I had just bought myself a house with that money. Would I have finished my book? Would it be the book it is now that I love? Would I have self-learned all that I learned in the program? I don’t know, Most Expensive Piece of Paper I Own. Neither of us can answer that.

Will I eventually get an agent? What does that have to with you, exactly? I’m not sure, but hopefully you’ll aid me in that quest, and other writing-related quests thereafter.

If not, at least you look nice on my wall.

Love Always,

Steven

Steven Reflects on the One Year Mark

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On May - 22 - 2012

One year mark Steven Reflects on the One Year MarkI can’t believe it’s been a year. It feels like yesterday that I was at the Super Scary Student Reading, doing my best not to pass out in front of all of my professors and peers while reading one of the more emotional chunks of my novel. I kept singing Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” in my head and somewhat convincing myself that this would make or break my career as a writer. Yes, I had delusions of grandeur. Yes, I was convinced that the raw power of my words would move an agent or editor in the audience to approach me and sign me on the spot. Instant Contract: Just Add Steven.

I was approached by countless people – fellow peers, professors, randoms I’ll never see again – and complimented on my reading and saying how “powerful” it was. But no agents. No editors. At least none that I know of. (And no, my thesis adviser doesn’t count.)

As Regina George once said in Mean Girls, “Whatever. I’m getting cheese fries.” Translation: NEXT.

I didn’t even go to my own graduation. I went out to dinner instead.

I didn’t really get proper closure. And now that I’m employed at a college as an adjunct professor in writing, I feel as if I haven’t actually left school. Technically speaking, I haven’t. The only difference is that now I’m not doing the writing.

I think that’s been the biggest obstacle-slash-difference. Not writing has hindered my emotional spirit and well-being. I miss the days of deadlines, of being pushed to achieve my best, of thriving to outdo myself each week, with each workshop. I don’t answer to a professor; I am the professor now.

They say, “Those who can’t do, teach.” For me it’s more, “Those who teach have no time to do.”

In April, I had a reunion in New York City with my old college roommates. It’s been nearly four years since we all had been together, but it seemed as though no time had passed at all. All of our old inside jokes still held strong, all of our crazed college stories still rang true, and we picked up right where we left off, all fitting together and filling the void that has been gaping wide open since May of 2008.

It’s kind of like that now, one year after graduating from The New School with my MFA. Only, it’s not like that at all. Yes, it feels like no time has passed at all, but the only void is the one left open from not writing every week.

No, I can’t believe it’s been a year, but I really can’t believe that I’ve lost my dutiful writing schedule.

Here’s hoping I get that back.

Photo Credit: Roberto Mangosi

Jane’s MFA Take-Away: A Thicker Skin

Posted by Jane Moon On May - 8 - 2012

boy cheering1 Janes MFA Take Away: A Thicker Skin

I can’t believe it’s almost over. How did two years go by so quickly? When I first started the program, I didn’t have any real goals in mind. I think all I was really expecting, as the thesis requirements stated, was to have “a manuscript of 50 to 70 pages of stories or other fiction or nonfiction, or a completed children’s book in a state appropriate for publication.” (I also noticed that the term “state appropriate for publication” is only specified for the Writing for Children concentration. The others are only required to have a novel or book in progress.)

Was it worth it? And if I could do it over again, would I do it differently? Some parts would be yes. I would have written more. I would have been more active in going to the weekend workshops and other writing events. But the parts I wouldn’t have changed were the people I met. Our class was filled with talented people who also became great friends. We had amazing authors and editors who taught our workshop and seminar classes. Just the awesome people I got to know made it worth it.

There are two things I would love to take with me after I graduate. The first is the connection with my classmates. Not only do I value their opinion when they comment on my work, but they’re pretty cool people to know. Of course, anyone who follows Teen Writers Bloc would already realize that! The other is having a thick skin. One thing I’ve learned from the past two years is that some comments about my writing are going to be positive and others will be pretty harsh. Don’t let the bad ones discourage you. When it comes down to it, listen to them all and weed out the ones that will benefit you the most.

So I’ll admit my thesis is not something that’s ready to be published. But working with my peer group and hearing their critiques was a huge part in helping me to improve it. I hope, someday, you’ll be able to find it on the shelves of your nearest bookstore.

Image courtesy of: Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

new school Guest Blogger Ghenet Myrthil Responds to Marys Question of Low Expectations

I’ve followed Teen Writers Bloc pretty much since its inception, and what I’ve loved most about it is the variety of perspectives the bloggers provide on their experience as writers and MFA students. I graduated from The New School Writing for Children program in 2010, and it’s been fun to read their posts and reminisce about my own time there.

The question the bloggers are tackling this month has to do with whether this MFA program is worthwhile. After reading Mary’s response, I realized how different my experience in the program was compared to hers.

Some things haven’t changed. The program still has its benefits and drawbacks, which I’m sure is true of many graduate programs. Like Mary, I didn’t find the adult literature class I took to be very useful, and I was equally offended by the administration’s assumption that children’s literature writers aren’t real writers unless they study adult lit. What a load of crap!

Also, like Mary, the main reason I loved the program was because of the writers I formed a community with while there. The support I receive from them even now, two years later, is invaluable. Not all twelve of us keep in touch anymore, but the five that I do keep in touch with are awesome.

One point Mary made in her post gave me pause:

“Finally, there’s the problem of low expectations. If you wanted to, you could graduate from the program without ever having completed a novel. The thesis requirement is only fifty pages. You could literally write only fifty pages in the entire program and still graduate.” 

Here’s where I respectfully disagree, and where my experience in the program differed.

I agree that MFA applicants need to decide what their expectations are before entering a program like this, because a lot of it is what you make of it. However, I don’t agree with the idea that if you don’t complete a novel by the end of the program, your expectations are too low. It’s not so black and white. The creative section of my thesis was only seventy pages (18,000 words). I certainly wrote way more than seventy pages over the course of the program (since I started several projects before deciding to focus on one), but I didn’t complete an entire novel.

There were two main reasons for this. One was a lack of time. I had a full-time job while in the program, and was also planning my wedding, so I found it hard to write every day. Along with all of the other program requirements (reading a book a week, critiquing several submissions a week, attending readings, and of course attending class), it was a lot to juggle. Second, I had never written a novel before. I entered the program having only ever written short stories.

 

My personal expectation for the program was to learn more about kid lit (through the literature classes), improve my writing (through the workshops) and get as far into a novel as I could. I would have loved to finish an entire novel, and I wrote as much as I could, but a completed manuscript wasn’t in the cards.

 

Despite that, I was so proud of my thesis! And I’ve since finished and revised that book. What I really wanted out of the program was to kick start my career, and it did just that.So while I agree that you do have to think about WHY you want to get an MFA and WHAT you want to accomplish, it’s okay if you don’t end up completing a whole manuscript. In fact, I was one of many people in my class who only submitted portions of manuscripts for their theses and completed their books after the program ended. At the time, none of my classmates had agents or book deals. Many of us (myself included) are still working toward that goal. None of us are unmotivated. We were just at an earlier stage of our careers while at The New School. We took our time getting the pages we wrote for our theses right.

One thing that’s very clear about the Class of 2012 is that they are a very motivated and productive bunch. I’m seriously impressed by how they’ve supported each other and pushed one another to write so much. I’m sure they’ll have long and successful careers, and I feel the same way about my old classmates! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from getting an MFA, and being a writer in general, it’s that everyone follows their own journey and writes at their own pace.

Thanks, Teen Writers Bloc, for letting me share my experience!

me Guest Blogger Ghenet Myrthil Responds to Marys Question of Low Expectations

Ghenet Myrthil is a 2010 graduate of The New School Writing for Children program. She’s currently seeking representation for her contemporary young adult novel. You can find her blogging at www.ghenetmyrthil.com and tweeting @ghenet

Covers Race in YA from a Biracial Perspective    Guest Blogger Jean Paul Bass Weighs in on the IssueI grew up reading Barbara Park, Louis Sachar, Baby-Sitters Club, S. E. Hinton, Paula Danzinger, Beverly Cleary, the American Girls series, and Lois Lowry. Some of my favorite books from childhood are The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Just as Long as We’re Together and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume, the Anne of Green Gables series, Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, and Betsy Byers’s The Summer of the Swans. So I had a pretty eclectic taste in books, but one thing never varied: pretty much all of the books and authors I liked focused solely on white characters. If there was a non-white character, s/he was usually around to teach the white kids a lesson on race or tolerance or just a peripheral character who happened to be ethnic, but usually not the main character. (Some of the authors/books/series mentioned above did feature non-white characters, but that was pretty rare and even rarer for the main character to be non-white.)

So I know I should be lamenting the lack of diversity in the books I read as a kid and how it made me think less of myself, but honestly, it didn’t bother me or affect my self-image growing up. I never read books looking for characters that were just like me because I didn’t want to read about me, a poor, biracial girl living with an abusive white mother in an economically-depressed and uneducated black neighborhood who was made fun of for attending mostly-white private schools. I knew that story inside and out and didn’t want to read about it while I was still living it. Books were my escape, my chance to see how normal people lived because my life was very abnormal.

I grew up seeing myself as neither black nor white, but as a mixture of both, and so it didn’t matter what race the characters were so long as they took me away from the problems of real life. But now, as an adult, I realize those books did have an impact on me. As a writer, it’s so easy for me to fall into the default white trap. Creating racially diverse characters is a conscious effort and I have to actively work to make sure that my stories represent people of all skin colors.

When I come up with a new idea, I generally don’t think about race. As I start writing and getting to know my characters, sometimes a light bulb goes off and I think, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if everyone was black or mixed-race like me? But why do I think writing a book about non-whites is a novelty? It all comes back to the books I read growing up. Even though I wasn’t bothered by the lack of diversity as a child, it subconsciously left an impression on me and made me prewired to assume my own characters are white, which is troubling since I’m not even fully-white myself.

In my own writing, I sometimes get a bit heavy-handed with my character descriptions. I feel like I have to shove it in the reader’s face that these characters are not white because if it isn’t explicitly stated, then people will just assume everyone’s white. And, frankly, I’m tired of reading stories exclusively about white people as if people of color don’t exist. We do, and our stories need to be told, too. I now recognize the importance of including a racially diverse cast of characters. Nowadays, I get excited when I find a book with a biracial main character and if the character is female, it’s even better. It feels good to be represented in literature.

Guest blogger Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all. She is currently working on her MFA in fiction at The New School and writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.   

Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, HarperCollins, Viking, Dell Yearling, and Puffin

Caela’s Tips for Making an MFA Program Work for You

Posted by Caela Carter On May - 2 - 2012

 Caelas Tips for Making an MFA Program Work for YouAs we reflect on our time at The New School this month, I am predicting a repeating theme: yes, this degree and endeavor was worth it for ME personally, but I wouldn’t say it’s ALWAYS worth it.

In the course of my time at The New School, I managed to finish three complete drafts for three separate novels and start countless others; I landed an awesome agent, Kate McKean; and I sold my first book in a two-book deal to Bloomsbury. I am 100 percent certain that this would not have happened if I had not taken the plunge, moved across the country and gone back to school. However, I also don’t think I would have reached these goals, and certainly I would not have reached them so quickly, if it weren’t for my classmates. And that’s the problem. Who you end up in class with is completely luck, right?

Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be. When I think about it, our class did practical things that lead to it’s effectiveness. So maybe we should talk about actual steps that will make an MFA, especially The New School Writing for Children MFA, worth it.

1. Write WAY MORE than required. You’re only going to be submitting every few weeks, but you need to write everyday. In my first semester I imposed a two hour a day rule on myself and I was disciplined. I would come home from work, turn my phone off, disconnect my internet, and set an alarm. Then I would sit at my computer until the alarm went off.  By the time I was required to submit my first ten pages, I had close to 80. When it was time for me to submit, I would then go back and edit the ten pages I was going to send. I would have a much better sense of the shape of the whole because I had so much more written. This made it much easier to weed out the helpful criticism during critique.

2. Find a small group of serious writers from within your class and form an extra critique group. Meet regularly and be dedicated to it. Sona, Corey, Dhonielle, Amy and I did this for the first two semester and Sona, Corey, Alyson, Dhonielle, Lenea and I have done this for the final semester. This has been incredibly valuable to me because I get more written with more deadlines, because I get to have a dialogue about my work, and because I get invested in voices outside my own. It’s easier for me to have a realistic (and not overly negative) opinion of my own work when I’m very invested in others’ as well.

3. Start a project together. I think we would all agree that Teen Writers Bloc helped us to become a unit. It also gives us a way to stay connected to each other and our writing after we graduate.  And, when at times we were perhaps a bit frustrated with some select teachers, Teen Writers Bloc helped us feel supported and reminded us that there is a larger purpose to our writing than what’s happening in class.

4. After the first semester, your classmates are going to know your writing better than your teachers do, because they will have read more of it. Find the voices from your classmates that are helpful to you and listen to them. Listen to your teachers, but remember that they’re only with you for a semester. So you also need to find helpful critiquers among your peers.

5. Find the classmates who really know the business and talk post-drafting. Talk about query letters, agents, publishing houses, promotion, and other aspects of the business. Share agent stories. Share queries. (Heck, Sona basically wrote my query for me, and Mary helped me land an agent.). Get invested in each others’ careers because different people have different strengths. Use yours to benefit the entire class, and then tap on others’ shoulders.

6. Trade full manuscripts before your query. You need someone to read from beginning to end, not just in little spurts, and your best bets are going to be the people in your class, provided you have invested in their writing and careers as well.

7. Become friends. Go for drinks or coffee. Take a walk. Throw a holiday party like Corey did for us first semester. Ultimately, this was a positive experience of most of us, but with a huge side of frustration, disappointment, and lack of control. That’s what happens when you’re really passionate about your career. You will need your friends to commiserate and celebrate with, because no one else will understand what you’re talking about. And because sometimes you need to get a good gripe out before you can get back to work.

Photo Credit: Institute Childrens Lit

Professor Shaw? The Other Side of the Red Pen

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On March - 1 - 2012

britney spears shaved head headlines Professor Shaw? The Other Side of the Red PenShaw. Professor Shaw.

That’s my new title. Okay, well technically my title is Assistant Professor Shaw, but Professor sounds so much cooler. I can finally thank The New School for that master’s degree — that $40k piece of paper that hangs on my freshly painted bedroom walls. It feels good.

I’ve known for many years now that I wanted to teach. That’s half of the reason I decided to go to The New School (the other half was to improve my writing so that I could get an agent and get published. Ahem … Earth to agents. This is for you. Ahem!), so it’s nice to know that I am finally teaching.

Where: The College of New Rochelle.

What: Writing 102: Critical Research Essay

When: Why am I telling you this? So you show up and slaughter me on my way to class?

It’s a required freshman writing course geared towards showing students how to write a well-developed research paper.

Typically, the thought of writing is one that makes students want to scream. So you could imagine what writing a research paper must do to them. That’s why I’ve decided to take a mass media/pop culture spin on the proceedings.

What do Facebook, Britney Spears, Suzanne Collins, South Park, Saved by the Bell, Modern Family, People Magazine, The New York Times, Drake, Lady Gaga and Beyonce, Don Henley, Chuck Klosterman, Dove, United Colours of Benetton, and many, many more pop culture references have in common?

They’re all a part of my class.

Example: On the second day of class, we listened to a few songs about fame and media influence, like Drake’s “Headlines” and Lady Gaga’s “The Fame.” My first essay assignment had my students compare Britney Spears’s “Piece of Me” to Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” and discuss what each says about the media’s influence. I’m also having them read Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games because of what it says about our reality TV-obsessed culture. (Does anyone think Hunger Games is basically one giant commentary on Britney’s head-shaving, paparazzi-umbrella-attacking breakdown?)

Not your typical run-of-the-mill writing course, eh?

Exactly.

It’s weird being on the other side of the red pen. But it’s natural. I come alive during class time, and I live to create assignments. My goal is to foster a fun learning environment that provokes discussions that ignites my students’ creativity, hopefully gives them ideas for their writing, and helps them dive deeper into their own thoughts. Last week, I had them read a study on online gender-swapping. Then I had them use Facebook to study a member of the opposite sex and write a few paragraphs on gender construction.

I’m employing everything I’ve learned in my career as a writing student (and that of a writing tutor) to kick ass as Professor Shaw.

We’re entering the fourth week of classes, and so far I have a wonderful group of students who really seem to respond to the material. We have our first writing workshop on Monday.

Stay tuned for more stories and lessons from The Other Side of the Red Pen as they develop!

Photo Credit: The Daily News and New York Post

pixel Professor Shaw? The Other Side of the Red Pen
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