Before You Write, Start Reading!

A few weeks back, the Department of Writing and Linguistics brought two literarily acclaimed authors Kevin Wilson and Brock Clarke to Georgia Southern providing students as well as many professors and local residents with an opportunity to listen and learn from two well spoken and, more importantly, well written gentlemen. During the course of their two-day visit, they each held a writing workshop for students who major or minor in Writing and Linguistics. I had the pleasure of sitting in on the workshop held by Brock Clarke, author of many fiction novels and short stories, his latest Exley.  Throughout the workshop students had the opportunity to ask questions and Clarke shared advice that helped in his own writing.

A piece of advice given was that writers should read books with the subjects that they like to write. All writers are readers. We enjoyed reading so much that we were inspired to write, hopeful that our words would one day spark an emotional response to those who pick up our stories. Although Clarke’s piece of advice seems simple it is true. The reading we do is a constant inspiration in our own writing. While we should read often and vastly, not leaving out any genres, if we want to focus on a particular genre we should read. We read until we know what will work and what won’t work. We read until we know our voice and our plot. We read until we are inspired.

If you are looking to write a post apocalyptic novel, pick up The Road by Cormac McCarthy. From there keep searching for post apocalyptic novels and see if it makes your story and your writing more crisp. This advice goes for any genre whether it be Westerns, Love Stories, Parodies, Spy Novels etc. Find what your interested in, what you love to write and start reading!

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What a T-Rex can teach about writing

From time to time, I like to give my students (and, well, myself) exercises in which they re-tell their family stories.  These always familiar (sometimes to the point of overly familiar) stories are good ones for a writer to retell, as they allow us a window not only into how stories are told but also why stories are told. I’ve noticed that a lot of students tell stories in which their parents describe what they were like as children, and many argued that families tell such stories to show us what our tendencies are — especially our tendencies towards bad behavior (and especially bad behavior in public places) — and how to combat and/or correct them.

Golf-course T-Rex and haunter of deams.

Golf-course T-Rex and haunter of deams.

This argument is certainly supported by my own experience. The story my parents most often tell about my childhood involves a nasty incident at a putt-putt course in Panama City, Florida, during which I displayed A Very Bad Attitude towards miniature golf (a side note: somehow, I even managed to find a postcard on the Internet featuring this particular putt-putt course’s most famous feature: a giant and terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex, who still haunts me in my dreams).  A second side note, this one non-parenthetical and necessary for understanding the following story: Emma does not do miniature golf.  Emma does not do miniature golf for a reason.  And that reason is a very important reason: because she is inherently awful at anything that a.) is even vaguely athletic or b.) involves hand-eye co-ordination.  Putt-putt, of course, involves both, and I am, in a word, terrible at it.  Shamefully, shamefully terrible.

Nonetheless, during a vacation to Panama City when I was five or six, I found myself on a Putt-Putt course with my parents.  Needless to say, things did not go well.  Though the details of the story and of my memory are hazy, based on subsequent putt-putt experiences, I assume that it took at least fifteen tries to get the ball through the grinning clown’s mouth, and twenty to even get near the windmill.  It might, in fact, have been the windmill that pushed me over the edge and ignited my five-year-old rage.  Regardless of what hole it was, I realized that things were not going well, and my Very Bad Attitude emerged in full force.  I threw the ball.  I threw down my club.  I threw a fit, and refused to play even one more half-second of putt-putt.

But then I looked up from where I was — which was (again, shamefully) probably throwing a fit on the Astroturf in front of the windmill — and I saw my father’s face.  My father, who is rarely moved to anger, was far, far from pleased.  He would not have me be a bad sport, and he would not have me be a sore loser.  And so he made me pick up the ball, and the club, and walk the seemingly eternal distance to the next hole, where I would try and try and try again to get the ball past the crouching gorilla and up the hill.

And I’m very glad that he did.

I’m telling you this story because I think it’s key to what it takes to be a writer: not giving into the desire to scream, throw down your pen and paper or even your laptop, and give up.  One of the most important — if not the most important — things for me, as a writer, has been persistence, finding a way to play through when it seems like I’m losing every hole, when the rejection slips pile up in the mailbox and the poems themselves just aren’t behaving.

Some time ago, I began to feel very frustrated with my misbehaving poems.  I realized that I needed to push myself, to learn — and to practice.  I began writing a Something a day — a poem, a paragraph, a piece of flash fiction, a beginning, an ending.  It has now been nearly two years since I started my Something a day project.  The process hasn’t been without its frustrations, its humiliations, its moments where I wanted to throw everything I’ve written away and walk away from the game.  But, thanks to my stubborn nature, my fantastic writerly friends, and my always-inspiring students, I’m still playing the game, no matter how under or over par I might feel.  I’ve learned a great deal.  Perhaps more than anything, I learned a lot about my habits — for instance, that, as a friend of mine once told me after a poetry reading, I sure do like lists.  I learned that it’s sometimes essential to avoid giving in to this habit, and sometimes essential that I do give in.  I learned that I do have the tendency to write the same poem over and over, but that I often need to do so, if only to get a subject out of my bloodstream.

And, perhaps most importantly, I learned how important community is in this often-solitary endeavor, and what a blessing it is to not work entirely in isolation — because sometimes, you just need a little push when you’re facing that grinning Tyrannosaurus.

Alumnus Returns to Newton (New Faculty Profile)

With October already upon us, and Midterms around the corner, we are ALL starting to feel the full brunt of Fall semester– what with all the deadlines, essays, revisions, and readings. Time is of the essence, and most days we are grasping for a minute of silence, and maybe a moment where we can close our eyes and take a break from…reading! In keeping with this need, or demand, I will keep this week’s blog piece short. Instead of exploring rhetorical theories, revision practice, the role of psychoanalysis and gender studies in reading Ancient Greek Mythology (don’t ask unless you have a lot of time…and coffee), or the state of publishing in the indie press, I’d like to introduce myself:

My name is Zachary C. Bush. I am a visiting assistant professor of writing (first year writing) in W&L. Just this past June, after being hired by GSU, my fiancee and I moved from the New York City area to Savannah, GA. This was an extremely difficult move for two humans and two cats to make, but it was much easier knowing that I was returning home.

In Dec. of 2007, I graduated Georgia Southern with a B.A. in Writing and Linguistics (Creative Writing). After graduating from W&L, I entered an M.F.A. program at the City College of New York (CUNY), where I studied poetry with poets David Groff and Elaine Equi, and literature with some highly recognized faculty from the CUNY Graduate Center. From Spring 2008 – Spring 2010, I wrote three books of poetry– Angles of Disorder (BlazeVOX books, 2009); At Swan Decapitation (VOX PRESS, 2010); Silence of Sickness (Gold Wake Press, 2009).

After completing my M.F.A., I decided to take my 18+ graduate literature courses even further by pursuing an interdisciplinary doctoral degree in mythological literature. Last summer I completed my course work in the D.LITT. program at Drew University, and I am currently writing my dissertation: “The Epic Hero’s Quest for Wholeness: Odysseus’ Orphic-Inspired Descent into the Underworld.” In 2011, Gold Wake Press, the press that once nominated me for the Pushcart Prize, reissued Silence of Sickness in combination with Donora Hillard’s Theology of the Body under the newly released title, Covenant.

I am currently consumed in writing and editing chapters for my dissertation–very exciting stuff– as well as working on theological / spiritual essays, but I do have big plans for revamping my creative writing in the near future– I hope to find a balance between prose poetry and essay.  Being back in Newton has been an extremely exciting and inspiring transition…and I do not regret leaving the art scene of NYC for Southeast, GA (no matter how crazy my friends from up North think I am for having done so). I am thrilled to be able to share my experience with writing (as both GSU alum and published writer) with some of the most talented undergraduates in America… in a writing program that rivals the quality (and faculty) of many M.F.A. programs.