Michelle Wittle On The Three Most Influential Books

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Every writer is a reader. That’s why I think it is important for every writer to take a good look at his or her bookshelf and figure out why are those books there? For me, I have books that I read and give away and then there are books that I keep around. Mostly a book will stay because I have a strong connection with it. Maybe the writer used cool words or the character and I really meshed.
But for me, there are three books that I think I will always have with me and I wanted to share them with you now.

First, the book, “Catcher in the Rye” has a great meaning to me and my life. The character Holden basically recalls his very own down fall. Everyone around him sees it coming (well, his parents don’t really) but no one can stop it from happening. Holden crashes and burns. But there is hope. He talks to us from a place of healing and not one of destruction. He falls but he gets up and is able to talk to us and tell us what happened. This book is one I reread a lot and think about. That is a mark of a wonderful book.

Second, “The Bell Jar” by my idol Ms. Plath. No one shows us the destruction and deepening pain of a little girl lost then Plath. I turn to this book over and over again because it tells the honest tale of someone in the moment of falling apart. Plath has that simple kick of showing you her pain and demanding you to feel it, too. Again, another mark of a great writer is one where you have no choice but to follow them.

Lastly, “Running with Scissors”. This book showed me that you can tell your tale without being a whiner. Burroughs does not ask us to feel sorry for him, he just asks us to listen to his story. At the end of the book, he looks to NYC and says that he will go there and he will make it. There is no room for failure. I love how Burroughs sets his mind to something and just plows through it and never accepts failure.

Those are my books.

As this is my last blog for the year of 2008, I would just like to thank you all for reading and supporting me. I have made great strides in my career and I owe a lot of it to the support I found in my readers. Thank you so much and I look forward to reporting more to you in 2009,

Michelle Wittle On Fighting Two Careers

Michelle Wittle On

First, let me just say that I am very sorry for not writing in a really long time. I blame the new job really. I have never had to write such detailed lesson plans in my life and I am slowly get used to everything. I am mad at myself because I know that I want to keep focusing on my writing, but I just get sucked into teaching and it just takes over.
I am really sorry and I promise to really work on not letting that world take me away from my other true love (no not him…writing).

With that being said, let me talk about my novel a bit more.

For those of you who have been following me, you know that I have a novel drafted in my computer and I have been very reluntant to go back into it. My novel is another thing that will suck me in and I just don’t have the time to do it. I can’t loose my focus on teaching, nor can I loose it on writing. It is more difficult then I though to juggle both of these careers. They truly are two very demanding careers and I don’t know how others can handle being in the classroom and being a writer. I feel like I can’t juggle the two of them. When my writing career is going great, I feel like I am not giving my students my all. Then when teaching is all smooth sailing, my writing career sits on the back burning silently fuming because I put it aside once again.

Sure, teachers have winter and spring break. We also have the summers. But this winter break, I have only lesson plans running through my head. Spring break I am going to Chicago and the summer…well, I want to continue filling my bacnk account, so who knows what I will be doing.

My fear is I won’t be writing.

So, what do I do? Am I just making a mountain out of that ol’ mole hill? Am I freaking out because I am not in the pattern of teaching again? Will things settle down once a get my teaching flow going?

I don’t have answers to my questions and I know you don’t either. I think I have a lot of factors working here and maybe this is all a test of my will power to become a writer. Maybe this is all the writer god’s plan to make sure I really want to become a published writer.

I know that when I wasn’t working, I kept praying for a job that would give me the stablity I need to do the things I want to do. The only job I got was this teaching job. So maybe that in itself is an answer to my question. I need to settle into teaching again and practice what I preach. No matter how I am feeling that day, I must sit down and write. Even if it is just about my day or a TV show I watched, I have to keep writing.

Resolved:
No matter what, I will continue blogging everyday:)

Ps…I know I was suppose to talk about my novel…but this is just a prime example of what I was going to talk about…you start off with one thing and the words just take you someplace else. The joys of being a writer:) I’ll talk about my novel tomorrow.

All Eyes on Me #4

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For some reason the whole “should I get an MFA or shouldn’t I” debate seems to be coming up fairly frequently these days. Many of these queries get lobbed in my direction, so, for what its worth, these are my thoughts on the subject.

First: Know why you want to get an MFA. It is expensive. There are programs that offer stipends and scholarships, and if money is an issue, start with those programs first. But before you even begin applying to school, you really need to know the answer to that question. If all you want out of an MFA program is to become a better writer–if you have no plans to change your career path–then consider saving your money and joining a really good writer’s group instead. That is not to say that being in an MFA program won’t make you a better writer–it should. But so will being in a writer’s group and reading a lot of great books. If you’re independently wealthy, or just really like school–then I say go for it! I loved being in school and if I had the money I would just earn one degree after another…seriously, I would.

Second: If you think you might want to teach college, you are a creative writer, and you don’t think you have the time or the patience to earn a PhD, then the MFA is for you. Just be warned–you will be an adjunct for a long time–maybe forever–and you will have to teach a lot of comp classes. This is not to say that there aren’t things to be learned from teaching comp at 8:00 AM, but sometimes it’s hard to remember what. The one really great thing about having an advanced degree in English is that there are a zillion English classes out there to be taught by non-tenured faculty. Don’t get all dreamy-eyed thinking that you’re finally going to get to lecture on your favorite novel, or run the perfect poetry workshop–these luxuries are left to the full time folks. There are sections of creative writing out there, and I’ve been lucky enough to grab my share. But I’m not kidding myself–luck had a lot to do with it.

If you think you might want to seriously teach college full time, if health benefits and not spending half of your life driving from campus to campus is what you’re really after, then suck it up and get a PhD in Rhetoric and do it before you’re 30. I know this may sound a little bitter, and I don’t mean it to at all. I love teaching. Period. But these are the facts the way I’ve experienced them. Folks who won’t give you and interview for a full time job will not hesitate to call you two weeks before the beginning of the semester and offer you three sections of comp at a fraction of the pay. This is the reality that is academia in these economic times. But experience is experience and you get to add it all to your CV.

If I were ten years younger I would get a PhD with a creative dissertation. This would mean I would have to leave the Philadelphia area, because none of the 130 or so schools in the region offer a creative dissertation. For me, the time and energy it would take to write a book length academic work is just not worth it. I’ve got novels to write, and that takes every ounce of energy I’ve got left in me.

As for my own MFA experience I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I knew I wanted to teach college and I knew the only way I was going to get to do it was to get an MFA. I already have one Master’s degree (in music) and knew that I would love being in a class room again. This is why I chose a resident program as opposed to a low-res program. My bachelor’s degree is in music and so I had very little literature in my background. I’d spent years in a well-known writer’s group, workshopping stories and novel chapters so this was not what I went back to school for. And I will say that I learned more about writing in those lit classes than I did in workshop. Not that my workshops weren’t great–they were–but the lit classes! Reading books and authors that I would have never forced myself to on my own, being able to discuss technique with experienced professors who were also writers, this was invaluable to me.

Frequently in workshop the facilitator will assign published stories for the class to read and discuss, and they never bother getting around to them. This is a shame, really. What we learn in workshop from reading and editing each others work is invaluable, but it is really all about editing. What we learn from reading work that’s already been edited and published is craft. I pushed myself to try new things as a writer within the safety of my MFA program. I experimented and thought to myself, you are nuts! You’re not this kind of writer, and then I found that I could be that kind of writer, If I wanted to be. Could I have figured this out on my own? Plenty of people do, but I don’t think that I would have.

My MFA experience changed my life in unexpected ways. Half way through my program was when I began my weight loss and fitness journey. I believe it was the confidence, and happiness (I know–that sounds a little crazy!) that I experienced in school which gave me the push I needed. I finally was ready to have my outside match my inside. (To date I’ve lost 103.5 pounds.) But for me, the financial burden has bee worth it. I’m exhausted but pursuing a profession I find incredibly rewarding and I’m wearing a size ten!

Michelle Wittle On Revisiting an Old Friend

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

Someone suggested that I keep going with my novel. They said they liked what they read so far and it sounded like a great teen novel. I was told not to give up and continue to look for a home for it.
Well, I will be honest, the idea is very tempting. However, then the excuses start following. The book stinks. The ending is horrific. It starts at the start of a school year (which is a big no-no). BDoub’s mom is a hot mess and I need to clean her up a bit.

Then I have the more practical excuses. I am teaching again and that is taking up a lot of my time. I’ve been sick ever since I started teaching again. I have to plan lessons and activities for a grade I never taugh before ever. I need to make more money, so I need to find a second, third, and tenth job. (However, the need to make more money is purely selfish reasons. I want to travel more. I want to go back to London. I want a historical house and a new car.)

Basically I am filled with excuses. I promised myself when I went back into teaching I would not forget my writer self (and what am I doing? Forgetting my writer self).

I have to find the real issue here.

The first is, of course, Meredith never leaves me alone. I am afraid if I start working on her story again, she will bug the heck out of me and I will never sleep. I can’t deal with a new job, a new class of ten year olds with no sleep.

The second is, what if I am seriously good at this whole writing thing? Is it possible to find your purpose in life? What do you do when you have found your purpose? Does that mean time is up and you die?

In a nutshell I am afraid of being rejected, but I am more afraid of not being rejected. It doesn’t make sense, I know, but it is how my mind works.

I know that my one purpose in life is to teach. The proof is in that one giggle I haven’t heard in about two years, but I know it is still out there. But what if my second purpose is really to be a writer? I am so used to struggling for everything that I can’t possibly imagine a life in which I have it all. What would I do then?

So, I am left with about 250 pages of a novel sitting in my computer just waiting for me. I am a curious person by nature, so I know that will go back to it and start revamping it. However, I am basically afraid.

It sounds so stupid as I write it, but it is what it is.