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Feb. 14th, 2006 @ 11:33 pm valentine's day massacre
Current Mood: tense (but growing calmer)
Current Music: Cake - I Will Survive
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Whoo. This Valentine's Day has been rough, and for reasons that have nothing to do with love.

I think today may have been the first day I spent all day writing. As in, literally all day, from after my 9:30am class to my workshop at 7, with half an hour for lunch, eighteen minutes for dinner, and an hour or so for gift preparation and delivery. That "read a story a day, write a story a day" plan didn't really work out, and I paid for it today with much biting of nails and pulling of hair. The Writing Madness spread to my brain and beyond, and now I can barely think in sentence fragments (let alone complete sentences). It's a miracle I got everything done in time--I honestly wasn't sure I could do it. Going to need a change of plan for next week. I can make this workload managable if I try. It's just going to take a lot of good planning and a lot of willpower.

CRWR 320 is intense. CRWR 110 (the freshman level fiction workshop) made a point of showing people it was not something you take for an easy three credits--churning out two stories and a reading response every two or three days was a real time commitment. CRWR 201 kicked it up a notch--the work was about double, and your classmates were the people who put in time and effort in 110 (the kind of people who were recognized as Outstanding Writers in high school), so you couldn't get away with writing crap for workshop.

But 320? 320 is crazy. Your classmates are the proverbial cream of the crop, the best and most dedicated folk from 201. The ones they let into the major, in particular. Nearly every one of them has enough talent and willpower to be published someday (which, if you've taken 110 with fifty people, you come to realize is a very rare trait). The mere act of reading one-page stories aloud--a reading, not a workshop, in which no one is allowed to snipe at you with constructive criticism--is harrowing, as any one of your classmates can and will pull a powerful, witty, moving work of art out of her ass at a moment's notice. It's impossible to not have grand delusions of inadequacy after the first two classes, and it chills my lymph nodes to imagine what actual workshop will be like.

And the workload is, compared to previous workshops I've taken at Oberlin, pretty damn challenging. In 201 you were expected to write paragraph-long analyses on maybe three or four out of five short stories every Tuesday, and write a two- or three-page story or exercise every Thursday. In 320, you get seven stories to read, and you have to write up notes on all of them. In addition, you have to write either seven parts of a story or a five-to-seven-page story, and another one-page story that will be read aloud in class (so it can't suck). Of course, you have a week to do it, so it doesn't seem so bad--but imagine having a five-page paper due every week, and, well, things get hairy. Especially if you aren't good at managing your time. And at the end of it, you have a three hour class to look forward to. These days, three hours of anything is pretty grueling. It is a trying experience on all of our attention spans, including the professor's.

But I supposed there's no other way to learn discipline. Anyone can write a page a day if that page is due tomorrow; not everyone can write seven pages (plus one plus reading notes) a week. Books don't get written when writers slack off, and considering that 500-page novels often get written in a timeframe of 365 days, that's a pretty difficult lifestyle to get used to. It's easy for a non-writer to dismiss writing as a simple art to master, as there are no advanced theorems or complicated formulas or higher concepts--the main difference between a 300-level workshop and a 100-level is the quantity and quality of work. But the weakest kicks you learn in taekwando are also the strongest, and the only difference between a white belt's feeble granny-hop and a master's spine-shattering strike is thirty years of kicking things over and over. I guess writing is not much different in that respect.

I think I finally understand the point of workshop now. It's the same process by which writers become writers without workshop--lots of reading, lots of writing, lots of practice, lots of experimentation. The main difference is that workshop accelerates the process by a factor of ten. You find yourself reading and writing more in one week than you usually do in a month. You have work written, critiqued, and edited in a cycle of one week instead of ten months. Like the little Shaolin boy punching his fist raw against a brick wall for four hours a day, you are taking the short road to mastery, theoretically accomplishing in a semester what would take less dedicated people years. The catch is that you must push yourself to superhuman limits, going far beyond what any sane person would be willing to commit. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way. But that's the idea.

The problem for me is the double major. I am concurrently taking Linear Algebra, which is a mad crazy time commitment for me because math is mad crazy hard for me in general, and CS 280, which has so much busy work that I'm not sure I would pass if I didn't do anything else. Today's all-writing marathon follows hot on the heels of yesterday's all-math marathon (I switch halves of my brain when I get tired, it works out), and pretty soon every day is going to be an all-programming marathon. It's going to be like exam week for me every week, and God have mercy when actual exams come along.

But let it not be said that I'm afraid of hard work. Yeah, I cracked last year, but I made it--more than I can say for many of my friends (who also gave their best). And I'll do it again if I have to. I've found, to my great surprise, that I'm actually pretty resilient against work stress--hell, man, I've been drilled and bushibanned for much of my life; I'm used to work. I just tend to attract a lot of it.
About this Entry
toroko
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From:judgewargrave
Date:February 15th, 2006 04:45 am (UTC)
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Wow, dude.
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From:soullessthinker
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:32 am (UTC)
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I'm so excited for that... 201 is not killing me, actually. But i'm Indestructable Aries.
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From:erf_
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)
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201 never came close to killing me, actually. Though that might be because I didn't take any hard classes that semester.
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From:soullessthinker
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:33 am (UTC)
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Actually, my initial comment was "SHIT. You like the masochism too."
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From:erf_
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC)
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You're a freshman, right?

Exactly one of my friends from freshman year made it to junior year.

Scared?
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From:soullessthinker
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
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You can't scare me, bub. I've gone jello wrestling with my demons and written the pornographically tacky, angst-ridden crap to prove it.


Still, that's what the odds say... look left, look right. one of you will make it to graduation.
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From:erf_
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:52 am (UTC)
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That's the spirit. ^_^
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From:user_undefined
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:52 am (UTC)
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Wait, was I your friend freshman year? Or was it not until last winter term?
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From:erf_
Date:February 15th, 2006 05:53 am (UTC)
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No. I think we met first semester sophomore year, when you were Bess's roommate.
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From:erf_
Date:February 15th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Sophomore year, also, I think. I honestly don't remember how we met. You're just kind of there.