Moving from Story to Book: Cathy Day’s Take

January 18, 2011 § 5 Comments


Writer/teacher Cathy Day has a pretty fun and funny essay on teaching and pedagogy up at The Millions this morning, including a hilarious mock syllabus, and some humorous pokes at creative writing teacher and student alike, but she also has a serious underlying point, true for those of us who teach short fiction as much as it is for those of us who teach the essay and essay-length memoir.

Here’s an excerpt, outlining her excellent reminder to those of us who teach the short form:

… I think a lot of what comes out of creative writing programs are stories that could be or want to be novels, but the academic fiction workshop is not fertile ground for those story seeds. The seeds don’t grow. They are (sometimes) actively and (more likely) passively discouraged from growing. The rhythm of school, the quarter or semester, is conducive to the writing of small things, not big things, and I don’t think we (“we” meaning the thousands of writers currently employed to teach fiction writing in this country) try hard enough to think beyond that rhythm because, for many of us, it’s the only rhythm we know. We need to teach students how to move from “story” to “book,” because the book is (for now, at least) the primary unit of intellectual production.

Day’s full essay CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE.

Meanwhile, how many of you who teach stick to the short, easily-workshopped form, and how many of you tackle the Herculean task of teaching the writing of a full book?

Sound off.

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§ 5 Responses to Moving from Story to Book: Cathy Day’s Take

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cynthia Closkey. Cynthia Closkey said: RT @daycathy: Thank you Dinty and Brevity "Moving from Story to Book": Cathy Day's Take: http://t.co/EV53P6v […]

  • I do teach novel writing, but I call it novella writing (which may say something!). The notion is no workshopping whatsoever. Write 40,000 words in a semester after spending some time using the tools (including ofof screenwriting) to “construct” a basic plot plan. Students are urged to come back the next semester and spend that time revising.

    The problem with writing a novel in a traditional workshop is the workshop part. It’s too close of reading and disrupts the writing of an original draft. If it were to work, you’d have to have the draft written first. Instead get that bad draft on paper in a class.

    Oh, we read a lot of models while we’re at it…

  • I guess that makes me one lucky MFA student. I’m in my second six-month work period at Antioch Los Angeles. Mentors listen very hard to what we hope to accomplish over the two to three-year program. I came thinking I’d just dash off a book about the difficulty of gaining advocacy for chronic pain patients, but they’ve taken me deeper. I’ve found out I don’t have to apologize or validate my purpose for writing. A writer writes what she must. Although I’ve yet to meet a prof I didn’t like, my deep thanks for this goes especially to Steve Heller, program director, whose vision is just that. Antioch is a pedagogical bully-free zone!

  • […] don’t know Joe O’Connell, but he responded to a post by Dinty Moore on the Brevity blog, and I thought what he had to say about his teaching was really […]

  • […] don’t know Joe O’Connell, but he responded to a post by Dinty Moore on the Brevity blog, and I thought what he had to say about his teaching was really […]

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