Words of Wisdom for the Future MIW Cohorts

dali llama

My advice to those future gateway course students is simple– don’t treat this like just another writing class.  There are no stereotypical “dreary” exercises or tedious papers that carry no significant meaning or interest to your life.  We’ve all had our share of writing or English classes throughout the years where you just “do the assignments” with the primary motivation being to achieve the best grade you can.  If you have chosen to be a part of the writing minor, you must have found joy in some aspect of writing, and look no further: you will get a chance to explore that joy in this class.  Yes it is an introductory course, but there is SO much that you can walk away with IF you have the right attitude.

This class allows the student a lot of creative freedom.  If you treat the assignments as an opportunity to explore a passion and create something that will last (rather than just more homework, and another course to get through) then you are going to walk out of the Gateway with sense of pride and accomplishment.  This class is truly what you make of it– the two biggest assignments have almost no explicit requirements and can be conducted through, quite literally, any medium of written expression you can think of.    Since the dominant portion of the class revolves around these re-purposing and remediation projects, don’t rush the process of selecting an old piece of writing to spend the semester working with until you are confident you can really push the boundaries with the topic.  From my own experiences and observing my classmates in my section, many people have created stand-alone pieces of work in this class they are not only proud of, but will stand the test of time and be worth keeping over the years.  It would be a shame not to take advantage of such a opporunity  by viewing the entire process as “work”.

Future MIW Kids: You’ll Never Really Finish Anything

Seriously. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my first semester as a writing minor, it’s that you will turn in every piece of work feeling as though it’s not done. It could be tweaked. It could be altered. That one sentence in the third paragraph on the fourth page is ever so slightly off, but you turn it in anyways. And you read it proudly out loud in front of the class. Because we’re writers, damnit! And writers are never finished.

And that’s ok. You aren’t alone. The sooner you accept this to be true, the sooner you’ll be able to embrace this experience for all that it is. It’s an opportunity to explore not only your writing process, your language, your structure and tone; it’s a chance to experiment with ideas and words and smash them together until you’re left with a big, beautiful dictionary collage. You’ll write things that are silly. You’ll write things that are much more significant and meaningful than you thought possible. Best of all, you’ll start thinking like a writer.

Thinking like a writer means you read sentences in your textbooks twice and ask yourself whether they could have been formed better. You admire writing in new places, like documentaries, songs, and the menu scribed in chalk at your favorite coffee shop. You become more effective in your own speech, learning how to say more in fewer words. You’ll piss your friends off by arguing about semantics, but that’s ok because now you’re thinking like a writer!

So, my advice to you is to keep an open mind. As someone who has always been told she was a good writer, and I’m sure many of you can relate to that sentiment, learning how to keep an open mind was easily my most important takeaway from this class. I realized I have so much to improve upon and becoming a writing minor was just the first step on my journey to become a better writer and thinker. You can never be done growing as a thinker. So you’ll never be done writing.

A writer is never truly finished.

I consider myself to be approximately three in "writer years." Old enough to be slapping words together but not old enough to be saying anything too profound.
I consider myself to be approximately three in “writer years.” Old enough to be slapping words together but not old enough to be saying anything too profound.
This is a photo of me and my brother (still in little potato form), c. June 1996.

Being Full of It or, How I Feel About Charles Baxter

Here’s the thing: I kind of love Charles Baxter. I mean, how could I not? The dude’s a serious badass. Sure, he doesn’t pistol-whip his foes or go on high-speed car chases (as far as I know), but he writes beautiful, heart-breaking stories about the Midwest that have many a Midwesterner’s approval. This is no small feat. On that note, if you’re not familiar with his work, do your soul a favor and go get a copy of Feast of Love from your local library. They’ll have it; it won a National Book Award after all.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that when I had to pick a piece to respond to for the Minor in Writing blog, I went straight for Sir Baxter’s “Full of It,” expecting to find something that reads both cool and authentic, and leaves me with a head full of new and interesting thoughts.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed, but there were a few times where I found his portrayal of the “suffering artist,” wherein he likens creative work to an “affliction” borne by an artist, a little cliché. I’ve met enough artists to know that the drive they feel to make art is, in some ways, burdensome, and leads to as much trouble as it does good, but I think that it’s worth noting that they make a choice when they decide to act on their artistic impulses, and isn’t the ability to even have such choices a privilege in itself? I guess I just get tired of talented people complaining that being talented is both as much a blessing as it is a curse. I’d like to tell all of these talented people that it’s just a blessing, and that part you’re calling a “curse” is just what the rest of us call life. Sometimes it’s kind of hard.

But besides that one complaint, I’m pretty happy I read this piece. I, like so many other young 20-somethings preparing to leave college and enter the “real world,” am nothing if not a little lost, and to see a writer whom I admire say that “wisdom is simply somebody’s personal prejudice masquerading as truth,” and encourage me to “make my own mistakes the way that I made mine,” is pretty reassuring.  What’s more, I like that Baxter is all about encouraging people to figure their own stuff out, and makes a point to emphasize the value in working through your mistakes because I am just all about making mistakes lately. I also like that he points out that all writers have to be “good noticers,” because I’ve always felt that way about myself. For example, I can tell you that I remember the time I fought back tears while my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. V., yelled at me for talking in class, I remember feeling the corners of my mouth pull themselves sideways while my throat tightened up, and that I saw the moment Mrs. V. started to re-think her choice to shame me in front of everyone in the way her brows pulled apart.

Point is, to hear a writer whom look up to say, in his own words, “Hey Brooke, you’re on the right track to be a pretty decent writer!” is pretty comforting. What’s less comforting, of course, is him following with, “You know those flaws you have? They’re intimately connected to your talent as a writer.” I think I always knew as much, that my love of gossip, tendency to daydream, and unrelenting insecurities were all what drove me to write with the voice I have, and what created that “relatable” quality in my work. Of course, I am not an aspiring fiction writer; at least, not in the same way I think Charles Baxter was at my age. When I think about my future career in writing, I usually think about pitching a T.V. show to HBO, publishing collections of personal essays about my own misadventures, and composing screen plays based on my favorite books. For whatever reason, I’d like to think that this path, the Brooke Gabriel path, will be different from the Charles Baxter path. That in choosing a writing career that involves different media than the short story or novel, I can simply take the good bits that come with this “affliction” or “condition” Baxter and I both suffer from and avoid all the bad parts that come with it.

But of course, I, like Baxter, am full of it.