The Meditations is a curated series of reflections on writing and storytelling from contributors to the thirty-third issue of Going Down Swinging. This reflection comes from Eric Yoshiaki Dando on his piece ‘The Novel Teacher’.
Steven King and Kurt Vonnegut have both written about their jobs as writing teachers and also about whether writing can actually be taught. These writers writing about writing offer some very good advice for writers just starting out, such as: read as many books as you can and be economical with language and don’t be a wanker and so on.
I learnt a great deal from my writing teachers Antoni Jach and Ania Walwicz in the 90s. I really enjoyed the Professional Writing and Editing Course at RMIT. It was just good for my self-esteem and it was good to meet other writers who could also write well. I wrote a lot of short stories and began my second novel. It was a very fertile and productive time. I think I learnt a lot about writing from hanging around and talking to other writers about writing.
Of course, my piece ‘The Novel Teacher’ is almost completely fictional, however I think the strength of the story lies in the integrity and humour of the voice and posture of the narrator. It rings true in that regard.
I believe you can capture the essence of a character in a novel or a short story in one sentence. You can write it on a t-shirt. It doesn’t have to be a complicated sentence but it does have to ring true in that true voice that is instantly recognisable and believable as the truth. Then all you have to do is write a lot more sentences just like that one and before long you will have a poem or a short story or a novel.
When I was working as a writing teacher in 2005 I often found I didn’t have anything left when I got home. I was afraid that my students’ bad writing would somehow infect me like a disease. They were all aliens, mutants, vampires sucking up my valuable time, my chutzpah, my creative juices. I had lost my mojo – the novel I was working on was going nowhere and I had started another one.
Sometimes I find it hard to finish. I’m not good at endings. I don’t really get writer’s block unless I am in an “input” period instead of an “output” period.
One day I was so exhausted from teaching novel writing that I did not write the things I wanted to write and instead drew this schematic of my novel writing class, which was taking up 100% of my brain.
It was the beginning of one of those epic “input” periods. I had to go out into the desert and listen to a lot of stories and read a lot of books and look at a lot of pornography on the internet. Then I came back and finished writing all the things I had started writing one by one – I was driven.
Sometimes I will leaf through diary entries in old journals and seize upon something I have written and be transported back there to just that moment in time. It is something concrete to build on. That is what happened with ‘The Novel Teacher’. I wrote ‘The Novel Teacher’ quite quickly along with another story in a three month period almost seven years after working as a novel writing teacher.
I don’t find writing hard to do. I look forward to writing each day and if I can’t do it I will become distant and irritable. I really love writing. I love reading what I have written the next day and making changes. I am in love with my own writing. You finish books by putting in the hours and most of my success so far has been from just turning up for work each day.
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