This post is another long one, but its a fundamental story in my journey as a writer. A stepping stone to getting published and one day being successful. So I hope you’ll stick around and hear me out.
To begin with, my debut novel took eight years in the making, eight years from conception to publication. I’ll write about that process in a series of posts next month.
That said, when I went to University of West Georgia in Fall 2013, I was eager to learn how to write and publish my novel. My first semester I took a creative writing class called the Creative Process.
Professor N was very laid-back and friendly (and I found him slightly attractive as well). In his class I first learned what workshop was and the first time I’ve had other people read my writing that wasn’t family or friends. I truly saw the value in getting constructive criticism over praise. And that’s a whole thing I can talk about later as well.
So essentially my first semester creative writing course was a very educational and fun experience. I was now for sure an English major with a creative writing minor at the University of West Georgia. I felt like I had come home. I was more than willing and ready to continue my career there.
Professor N left the school after that semester, so all the creative writing professors mentioned after this have nothing to do with him. He’s gold.
Spring 2014 was my second semester at UWG, so I am still a freshman, age 23, and so very excited.
On February 24, 2014, that was the date of my workshop. Not only will I talk about the process of getting The Other Side completed, I’ll talk about how fantasy and sci-fi is viewed at UWG and the sort of reception my work got at the University of West Georgia.
So we’ll start with the professor, who I will call Professor C.
This man is the only person who’s ever made me think I should give up on writing.
Professor C honestly terrified me when I first met him, but it was in a good way. Professor C, he was the first professor I ever had drop the f-bomb on the first day. I liked him as a person a whole lot. He’s funny and cool, new and different. I was impressed by him in a lot of ways. However I quickly realized this man was is elitist and purist (in the worst way) and snobby big time. In his mind, poetry is the only honorable writing there is, literary fiction is respectable and everything else is barely passable.
Except for “genre” fiction. I could go on a whole thing about what genre actually means. Because hello, literary fiction and poetry are also genres of writing. Genre is not a phrase that means formulaic or unoriginal.
Professor C (and the other UWG creative writing professors) think genre fiction is horrible. They made that very clear. Repeatedly.
How does Professor C feel about fantasy though?
He hates it. Detests it. It’s trash.
So back to February 24th, 2014. I’m finally going back to workshop. First I can admit a mistake I made. The creative writing class I was in with Professor C was a creative nonfiction class. I will also admit that I didn’t realize the difference between creative nonfiction and creative fiction. I was a newbie to all of this, as I’ve already spoken about my roots of where I became a writer. I didn’t even know there was a thing as creative nonfiction.
And for that reason, my workshop piece of the class was the chapter one of The Other Side. Now well aware of the power and value of workshop, I came to class eager and excited and nervous to get the feedback and critique and learn how to make The Other Side better than ever.
So…when its my time to get my workshop and my critique, Professor C takes my piece, and throws it on the floor over his shoulder.
ON THE FLOOR.
My heart stopped right then, and I froze. And a part of my heart broke right then and there.
Professor C then proceeded to tell me, and the entire class, point-blankly, like it was fact, that my work was TRASH and it was worthless and horrible and Twilight was better written.
I’ll say it again.
Professor C, a PROFESSOR, who I had completely admired and looked up to, he picked up my work and flung it to the floor.
Along with the words that it was played out, a big fat cliché and other really crushing ugly words.
Then he shrugged, picked it up, and said saying that was easy. He said that the class had to salvage my story because it basically sucked, Twilight had already been done and it was better written.
After that, he moved on with the class refusing to talk about my piece, and just held a completely different conversation.
I did not get a critique, while I sat there frozen and struggling not to cry.
The class tried to find ways to say positive things, and Professor C didn’t look at my work, he didn’t ask me to read out a section like he did the previous workshops, in fact the conversation didn’t have anything to do with my writing talent or delivery or my words or plot, nothing.
I left that class so close to tears, and for the first time in my entire life, I thought about quitting writing. Prior to that day, I never believed I’d ever quit writing.
Writing is in me.
My blood. My passion. My God-given gift, is writing. I always believed I’d never ever want to give up on it, it was impossible to even imagine I’d give up on writing.
Professor C made me think I should stop writing.
He hated my story because it was a werewolf story, which was cliché and bad and stupid. I assure you, he made that more than clear. Yes, I think constructive criticism is very important, and more valuable than praise, but there’s a difference between being constructive and being destructive.
The words Professor C said about my work that day was pure destructive.
I left his classroom near tears and on the brink of deciding to quit writing. His class was a terrible experience and while I think he’s a cool guy, I’d decided to not ever take another class with him again. (Though I did end up having to take his class again, in 2019, and that’s a different story.)
But you know what? I stand here today, or rather I’m sitting here writing this, and I feel not a drop of hate for Professor C. Nor do I feel resentful or angry or hurt. In fact, I’m grateful. Because that slap in the face I got in my first year, the wake up call, the broken heart, it only made me get up stronger than ever. I vowed that no one would make me feel like I should give up on writing ever again.
I honestly doubt that Professor C’s intentions that day was to make me give up on writing. In fact he was only being as honest as he normally is, and cutthroat and ruthless about it. I’ll say that in 2019 when I had to take his class again, he had learned to soften his words and to be quicker to apologize about being too harsh.
But back then in 2014, I was newbie who had stepped onto a battlefield without any weapons. So I got slashed down right away. But seeing as I’m a child of God, I got back up healed thanks to Jesus’s love, with Him and only Him, told me to not turn my back on my dreams, to not give up on the gift He gave me.
So now all of my writing is dedicated to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. The novels I write and publish, they are for me to give my gift right back to him and to further his Kingdom.
I’m a warrior now. I’ve got the full armor of God. Peoples’ discouraging words, distasteful looks, insulting sneers, do not affect me. That’s not to say I’m immune to criticism. If its constructive and valid, I am more than willing to listen. But telling me my work is trash or garbage is not something worth considering.
So that’s the story. Professor C crushed me, and God revived me. Once again, I’ll say that I do not hate Professor C (nor my other UWG creative writing professors who insisted fantasy was trash). In fact I’m grateful. They made me stronger. They sharpened my weapons and hardened my armor.
Their ruthlessness turned me from a weak person into a powerhouse. I learned how to stand my ground, and to stick to what I believed in. I learned whatever I could from them, while at the same time knowing I was not giving up on writing fantasy, and I wasn’t going to let them dictate to me what is “real” writing and what’s “trash.”
All writing is valid and real and worth respect. I do think my creative writing professors were good people, I need to say that. They clearly loved their craft, they did their best impart wisdom and knew how to teach writing. They were just unfortunately elitist and snobby. The creative writing department felt so strongly that fantasy was trash that I came out of my career at University of West Georgia without knowing how to write in the genre I chose. So really, once again I’m self-taught.
I’ll continue to write my stories from the depth of me. My imagination and my creativity from constantly reading is what will fuel me going forward. Because at the end of the day, all I want to do is tell entertaining stories that express God’s message of love in the best way I can.
When readers read my work, I want them to laugh, cry, get angry, and understand that no matter what, God loves you. And yes, I will do this by writing stories about werewolves, and dragons and fairies. Because I love fantasy. And its totally okay to be Christian and love writing about magic.
In conclusion, the work that Professor C threw on the floor is now my debut novel on Amazon. I didn’t give up. And if there’s a Reader out there considering giving up well, I say don’t. Because if you give up, you let the doubters and scoffers and mockers win. And I know that’s not what you want. You will win if you don’t quit. Right? The winners are those who didn’t quit, because quitters never win. I’m not an award winning author yet, but because I didn’t quit, I can be one day. Again, as long as I don’t quit.
So I don’t quit, and you don’t quit. Let’s win together.
And as always, while I write my cat Aomine keeps me company by my side.