Writer’s craft and talking cats

I once had a writing professor tell me that writer’s block is a myth. Feeling stuck, and needing to constantly re-draft, are natural parts of the writing process, not some kind of anomaly. The more I think about writer’s craft, the more I agree.

This semester has, so far, been all about the writing process. In the fall, I was absorbing; reading multiple books a week, digesting critical material, writing source-heavy pieces. And now, I’m producing. My classes are less structured, more about workshopping and experimenting than about responding to critical material. While I do miss having lengthy, challenging reading lists for my classes, I’m learning a lot from this more freeform approach. My ‘homework’ is just to write. And that’s hard.

Over the last few months, I’ve been challenging myself to write as much as I can every day. At first, my fingers felt stuck – I was so concerned with the quality of my writing, how it might be perceived by others, that I couldn’t relax. But I’ve been learning how important it is to just write, no matter how bad the writing is. Some days, my writing stagnates; other days, it flows freely. Some of my ideas stick, some of them don’t. That’s just how it works.

In this spirit of free writing, I’ve been allowing myself to experiment with genre. I’ve always considered myself a nonfiction writer because I love memoir and journalism and creative-critical writing, but I’ve realized there’s a lot to be gained from the intersection of nonfiction and fiction. For my assignments this term, I’m playing with fictional elements. Sometimes, autofictional writing actually feels ‘truthier’ than the strictly nonfiction stuff. Working in a looser genre allows me to draw out emotional significance without feeling tethered to a specific timeline or sequence of events. A year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be seriously invested in a story about a talking cat, but here I am.

My writing is evolving, and this makes me feel so grateful for the RMJ fellowship – I have the time and money to experiment. I’m not just learning how to write, but how to think like a writer, deeply and fluidly. Hopefully I can carry this mindset with me, no matter what I do next.

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