“Shitty First Drafts” by A. Lamott

To break down Lamott’s advice to us, it’s basically to understand your writing as a process. Being patient and just doing the writing portion to create a rough draft is a good way to gain access to the best version of your writing. Like math, the writing process is similar to a “trial and error” concept. I did like the last paragraph of the essay because it summed up the tips Anne was giving us into three steps or concepts (she mentions some of this terminology is from her friend): 

The first step or concept is the “Down draft”. This is getting your thoughts down on paper to actually have something to analyze for editing later on (this would be your shitty draft as Anne says). The second step would be creating your “Up draft” which is fixing up this first draft. (this would be your second step, which would consist of going back to your first crappy draft and making your writing more concise. Last is your “Dental draft”. You would be checking every “tooth” for its condition. This would mean, in the writing process, probably cutting down your essay from something like 6 pages to 4 pages. Picking out something or a few things to take your lead on.

This relates to fiction because when writing fiction or any other writing, you can apply this process to make things easier and flow for you when you aren’t sure what direction you would like to go. Especially for me, sometimes when I write, my process comes to a halt for various reasons. I think considering something like Anne’s essay could be beneficial for overcoming this issue. Like Anne mentions in the essay, there are authors that have been able to make a living and are well off from their writing. But we do have to remember, many of them do go through the same writing crises we go through (even as students in a creative writing class). Anne explains in her essay how she had been reviewing food and restaurants for many years but when it came to the writing portion of her job, panic would set in everytime. Even though fiction has little limits, we can still apply this great process for growth as writers. Practice can make improvement.

In relation to fiction, I thought about this essay and how difficult the writing process can be for many people. I recalled our very first writing assignment for this class which was about drafting a one sentence story. (Like “The Dinosaur”) In my opinion, I think exercises like these can be difficult for the simple fact that we don’t want to have a shitty draft. Even if it is the first thing we write, we want our writing to be good. Even if it is one sentence or an entire novel. So, for someone who may not be as familiar with Anne’s idea of the writing process, the idea of having a crappy first draft is not attractive – it may not be something they are comfortable with just yet. However, this process is still important to obtain some clarity on how to better your piece of writing. I think considering advice like Lamott’s can be insightful for new and accomplished writers. It could encourage writers to be familiar with the idea of “it’s just a first draft” opposed to thinking “this is not written well so I’m a bad writer”. 

I think this process could switch someone from being stuck in a fixed mindset into a growth mindset regarding the writing process. Like Lamott says, you do have to trust the process. So, understanding writing can become better with revisions, time and thought is key for mastering this concept. The first few incomplete drafts are what can lead to some of our best work in the end.

Writing Elements

I believe when it comes to writing elements like plot, setting and character development, I don’t think they can be arranged hierarchically. I say this because these are important elements to have when writing or telling a story. If you were to have something like a great plot and a well thought out setting with all flat, boring characters, your story may be less likeable. This would be the same for the rest of the elements, too. Including well rounded characters but having a plot with too many holes could also be confusing for your reader. So in my opinion, I can’t really organize these elements in order of importance because I believe they all serve each other in a way that is crucial to stories. With one of these elements falling flat, I think it affects a story in a way that can be unattractive for readers. 

In “On Setting and Craft” by Laurie Ann Doyle, I couldn’t completely agree with Doyle’s point when saying one element was more important than another. Of course, Doyle gives us great points to think about but I would have to stick with my reasoning as stated before. I would love to see a story or movie that could influence me to maybe think a little differently. I hope I am interpreting Doyle’s point appropriately and I would love to hear more opinions about the entire hierarchically organized elements in other individuals’ writing.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – My Opinion

I have to say, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino was not my favorite book. This continuous theme of conquest of cities and the parallel of conquest of women was definitely not my typical go-to book. Honestly, this book was repetitive when analyzing the form and seeing how you don’t really have events in this story that truly carry with the rest of the story or actually progress it. I think if you opened the book midway through, the reading would still make sense and you wouldn’t have missed much. With that being said, I found it difficult to find motivation to actually read this story. Though this book is not like many I have read, I don’t think I would want to have another reading like this one. Overall, I did not take to this story. I do like to broaden my horizon when it comes to literature but I feel like this kind of text could have been left out. I do not hate this story but I didn’t find it worth reading. 

This kind of reading simply reminds me of how people tend to make women out to be objects and how some people treat us as conquests like these cities. To make, had the book not been related to this ugly parallel, I may have enjoyed it more. But since these two are connected, I think that it is the most unattractive thing about this text. Not only is the writing style or form something I am not as familiar with, but this obvious parallel is also why I found Invisible Cities a laborious reading. I look forward to my classmate’s thoughts on this reading and to see what a student may think about this. I know an educator may perceive the message of this story differently from how I have but I would like to see what others think.

I also decided to read a summary/analysis of this text about halfway through and I found it helpful to understand the book more. I’m glad I had this resource open to me because I feel like I needed some guidance when examining the text to make sure I was actually understanding what Calvino was trying to convey. Overall, it’s not my favorite book but hopefully our discussion on Tuesday can change my mind.

“Flat” and “Round” Characters

I think the text, by E. M. Forster, “Character” was insightful and pretty straightforward. I liked that Forster gave us examples throughout the text about different authors using “flat” and “round” characters. Honestly, I was not familiar with all of the examples Forster used but I was able to understand the majority of the point. Regarding round characters, phrases like “they have already been defined by implication and no more need be said.” are helpful when I try to identify them on my own. I would think flat characters are simple and, like Forster said, easy to identify. I love that Forster includes on the first page  “One great advantage of flat characters is that they are easily recognized whenever they come in—recognized by the reader’s emotional eye, not by the visual eye, which merely notes the recurrence of a proper name.” I really like the distinction of the “visual” and “emotional” eye. I think this metaphor helps me explain what I would use to identify a flat character and it also gave me a new way of thinking about how to identify them.

I believe I even learned about flat and “round characters when I was in grade school. An example of a round character would have to be Tiana from the Princess and the Frog. We’re able to see her inner thoughts, with lots of variety. We can easily identify this because we can see how complex Tiana’s overall character is. In contrast, a flat character would have to be Tiana’ mother. Her mother is a great character but we do not see much of her. Her interactions with Tiana actually reveal more about Tiana than her mother. We still know Tiana’s mother loves her and wants the best for her, but her mother’s thoughts/desires are not revealed to us.

“Character Motivation” Thoughts

I think the idea Aimee Bender presents in “Character Motivation” was truly a concept to think about when she states “you shouldn’t be able to boil a story down, the elements of fiction should expand rather than contract.” First, I would like to say I like that the concept is short and sweet. I think this allows the reader to be introduced to her idea without the “fluff” and losing our attention. In my opinion, I don’t like authors who can’t just get to the point in their writing. Secondly, I agree that in fiction, writers should be stretching the theme throughout the story from start to finish. If there is a narrative being written, what exactly would be so important, written outside of the theme, that we should include? The “fluff”? I think that can be a waste of time so I would have to agree with Bender on this idea of the theme stretching all through the story.

In addition, I would like to note that I enjoyed the example of comparing fiction to religion when reenforcing the theme in your writing. Bender includes quotes from “Mystery and Manners” by Flannery O’Connor when Bender states, “O’Connor is arguing that religion is not something that can be reduced into a list of things to do; like fiction, it is complex, expansive, and mysterious.” I think this quote alone can sum up what Bender’s point is in her writing “Character Motivation”. I thought comparing religion to fiction was inappropriate at first. But when I read the previous quote, I was sold. I do believe that the two could very well be compared regarding the commitment and execution of it.

Lastly, I also liked that Bender said authors do not need to know their character’s motivation when they plan on writing or begin their writing process. I thought that it was interesting that she brought up writing your story first and then defining the character’s later to allow for the writing to let it flow naturally. I really liked this approach and I will probably think of this when I’m doing my own fictional writing. I believe this reading was insightful and I was able to accumulate a tip for my very own writing.

The Perfect Explanation

I would like to simply say that the article, “The Perfect Gerbil” by George Saunders was extremely helpful when trying to understand Donald Barthelme’s short story, “The School”. Saunders helps us understand that “The School” is a great example of ” …a perfect, Platonic example of Action (Rising)…” which would be the rising action (the building drama) in a story when referring to the Freitag’s Triangle. This triangle demonstrates the basic method that stories are typically told in. We start with an exposition, then we are introduced to our conflict. From there, the author should deliver the “rising action”, which can be a series of events. Next, the triangle continues with the climax, descending action and resolution. 

Saunders points out that the rising action is the most difficult part for many writers. Saunders does a great job at outlining what Barthelme’s motives could have been for including his “gas stations”. Saunders uses the example from “The School” when Barthelme includes a gas station at the beginning of paragraph seven when Barthelme suddenly switches from the “Dead puppy, we leap to Dead Korean Orphan.” This was a great example of the “gas station” use. This keeps his readers engaged and looking forward to the next one as the story goes on. Barthelme has plenty of gas stations in this writing piece. For me, I do not think I would have ever truly understood “The School” the same way I do now without Saunders’ great explanation. 

Two Themes of “The School”

I would like to begin with saying how much this short story surprised me. “The School” by Donald Barthelme was definitely a rollercoaster of events that continued to captivate us as readers. I have to say, Barthelme understands how to deliver a story that will make his reader continuously double-take and want to revisit the text. For example, a theme that can grab many reader’s attention is death. There is a constant issue that has “cursed” the school, causing many, many deaths. For instance, many things that are connected to the school tend to simply die. From objects like orange trees, an herbal garden, a puppy, a snake and more. Sadly, this theme even affects people. Student’s parents and grandparents at this school have been passing away at a significant rate along with the adopted Korean orphan.n

I believe this theme of death is very interesting to readers because we do not associate a school with it. School is a place of growth and learning, a foundation of life. It’s quite odd for an environment for dwelling has turned into a cemetery. I truly think this theme alone is very engaging for a reader when it is applied in an area, like a school.

In addition, a theme I was also able to identify, in contrast to death, was life and life’s meaning. I say this for a few reasons. One being the consistent possession of adopting and caring for other things and/or individuals. Nurturing someone or something in need is sort of giving it life and then opportunity to do well, even though that is not completely the case in this school. However, the idea of life is present, in my opinion, even if these plants, animals and people still face death at some point in this short story. Another reason I say life could be a theme is because of Barthelme’s ending, when the students asked about where the dead go and if death was the meaning of life. In short, the students do not like this idea and ask for Edgar to make love to Helen. Sex is procreating, sort of like the original of life forms. The students understand this as their “assertion of value” (p.312) Of course, Edgar refuses this demonstration with Helen but does tell the students that they shouldn’t be frightened and that there is value everywhere. This was enough to give them a new outlook on life, giving them a sense of purpose in life.

Many themes stand out to me but these two are very important to understand. I think when you associate these two themes with this story, you can identify the balance between the two very easily. Overall, this narrative was, as stated before, a rollercoaster of events that just keep giving you more and more to look forward to as you read. The consistent deaths through the story feel like you’re in a “rising action’ section the whole time. But I believe the ending was still pleasant. Though a suggestion of “sex” in a school with children is wrong in every way, it simply shows the curiosity of the children (which I believe to be another theme). Through all of this death, the students looking for a purpose in life is not outlandish.

Thoughts on “Bobcat” by Rebecca Lee

To begin, I believe “Bobcat” was a great short story because this narrative did a good job at foreshadowing the main future conflict at the end. Toward the end of the story, it was very well implied that John was cheating on her. I really thought this was an ironic twist to the end because the protagonist spends the entire story criticizing her friends at her dinner party. From the beginning, we have the protagonist speaking negatively about his relationship with other women. On the fifth page, we are introduced to John’s book and the fictional women characters that his protagonist has sexual relationships with. Lee’s protagonist instantly compares herself to these women and explains how she has little in common with the others. This was the first example of her expressing her insecurities to the readers. When I first read this, I thought nothing of it, it seemed harmless. But throughout the story, this theme persisted and I think the ending of the narrative showed us exactly what the author was preparing us for.

I really liked this ironic turn at the end because this short story was mainly focused on the guest at the dinner party and their imperfections that she’s addressing to the readers. It was surprising to me to see the protagonist in a different light that finally acknowledged what was going on in her personal life. I think the author does hint a little more at this when the protagonist answers the question on why she got married. The protagonist’s response was sort of cold and not really what you would expect a happily married woman to say. Little things like this stood out to me after I read the story.

At the end of the story, I had even considered that the new woman that is familiar with John could be the protagonist’s Bobcat. In this narrative, the Bobcat is represented as a hardship that Susan had endured and was able to overcome. To this day, that altercation with the Bobcat has literally scared Susan and changed her life. Susan’s life would never be the same, of course. Susan took the creative approach and wrote about the event that has now altered her life drastically. So toward the end, I found myself comparing the protagonist’s current situation to Susan’s Bobcat attack. I asked myself, “was this new woman, (who I assume John is having an affair with) the protagonist’s “Bobcat”? Was this going to be the event that could potentially change her life forever?” From the beginning, I believed the Bobcat signified something deeper just what had attacked Susan. Susan had lost her arm and gained trauma and scarring. Was our protagonist going to lose her husband and have to raise their unborn child separately? I’m sure of course but these were just my thoughts on the ending.

A little about me…

Hello! My name is Ismaela Shabazz but you can call me Izzy. My pronouns are “she/her” and I’m a Middle Grades Education major at the College of Education and Human Development.

As a kid, I liked reading fiction like many other children. I loved reading stories that consisted of mythical creatures, super heros, Disney characters, etc. that would have my brain running all over the place. As an adult, I still like these things but I understand them differently now. I prefer fiction in the forms of poems, narratives, movies, and many more. I enjoy the limitless possibilities that awake when you read a fictional story.

My favorite authors as a kid were Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. As an adult, some of my favorite authors are now Ta-Nehisi Coates, J.K. Rowling and Malcolm Gladwell. Currently, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker is my favorite book. It’s a classic that never ceases to amaze and entertain me. I occasionally do like to read poetry. I do like dramas and comedies, however, nonfiction is my preferred reading genre.

I do not write as frequently as I would like to. I am hoping this course will allow me to take some time out to do so. I do sometimes journal on weekends as an activity to take care of myself and let things off my chest. Usually, I simply write things I am either thankful for or struggling with. This kind of writing is for myself but I share with others when the time comes. As for this course, I look forward to writing more often and hopefully I can become a better writer by the end of it.

I have read “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott and I did enjoy the essay very much so I am excited to see how that piece of writing will be incorporated into this class.

For this class, I am nervous about falling behind or not taking the recommended time out to blog but I will do my best to get as much down as possible.