An Education

I attended NorWesCon42 this year, and while there were a number of amazing panels, insights, readings and friendships, what I want to talk about is education.  Specifically, an education in writing.  I have not had a formal education as a writer, and often at my lowest, I feel like I have had none.  That is a lie. My education is pieced together from a thousand places, and disseminated this way, it is easy to overlook it.

I attended a really helpful panel this year on where writers come from with authors Craig Laurance Gidney, Kat Richardson, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Yilin Wang. All of them had different backgrounds in their writerly education, and the most important thing they stressed was that there is no correct path to a career as an author.

And because it has taken me so long to accept that I am not alone, that I have built an informal education for myself out of conventions and books and time in the chair writing unpublishable nonsense, I want to pass this key on to you, whoever you may be.

However you got here, whatever method you used to learn your craft, and wherever you are on the path right now YOU ARE VALID.

Fanfiction is valid. Writing books are valid. Workshops are valid whether they last one hour or six weeks.  Your friends who read your work and give you feedback, whether or not they are also writers; they are valid resources (and golden and beautiful souls and you should hug them next time you see them.) Writing awful things and tearing them up and making them into new things is valid and necessary.  You are learning.  You will never stop learning.

If you have been waiting for someone to give you a certificate that says Now You May Write Because We Have Decided You Are Educated Enough To Do So, stop waiting.  There’s no certificate as important as the next finished story.  Because writing in itself is an education in writing.

(and so is reading)

 

I’ve read some really great things lately, so I’m going to share three of them.

Holly Heisey’s article on medium sparked the thought behind this blog post, and my time at NorWesCon only fed the fire. Speaking Up (When You’re Not Perfect And Never Will Be)

I got to hear Carolyn M. Yoachim read the first part of her story The Archronology of Love at the convention, and I just managed to read the rest today. It was beautiful and the construction was so clever and I need other people to read it so I’m not the only one holding all these feelings.

And while I did not get to hear Chimedum Ohaegbu read her story Toothsome Things at Norwescon, Erik did, and he told me as soon as he saw me that I was going to love it. I did. It’s frightening and quick, and it mashes up all the stories you know into something so much bigger. He knows my tastes so well.

 

 

 

Personal Cannon: The Ten Megan Classics

Once upon a 1909, Dr. Charles Eliot put together a compilation of literature in trustworthy forest green boards with serious gold type and called them The Harvard Classics. These were meant to provide any person who read them with the elements of a liberal education, but reading them still won’t qualify you for a supervising position at Target.

Of course, now it’s 2016 and the very idea of cannonical literature holds as much water as a sieve: Whose cannon? Why is this book important? What do you mean English 101 kids are reading Gardner’s The Art of Fiction but not Barry’s What It Is? (Both are brilliant books on writing, but I prefer Lynda Barry’s because it’s got all sorts of pictures and is less interested in academia than the occasionally heavy handed Gardner.) There are so many ways of learning, so many important books, that it is impossible to read them all. But I do like the idea that a set group of books can provide a single person with the elements of an education for… whatever, so I’ve drummed up a personal cannon that when read will give you the elements of a Megan education.

Rather than the 51 classic books provided by Dr. Eliot, I have limited this list to a ten book summer course. If undertaken, these ten books will provide you with an introduction to Megan, and you will be well on your way to all of the neurosis, excess coffee, and indecipherable reminders written at 3am that she enjoys on a daily basis. Alas, you will still be unqualified for a supervising position at Target.

Half Magic by Edward Eager: Thinking deeply about the proper way to word a wish will extrapolate itself to thinking deeply about every word said, until you’re not sure you should ever say anything! And Katherine fights Sir Lancelot, that’s fun.

Matilda by Roald Dahl: This will provide a counterpoint to Eager, when the Trunchbull gets away with her atrocities by never committing any act by half. All in, until no one will believe you, Miss Honey.

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress: My first introduction to Hugo winning SciFi by a lady type. The sheer idea that it could be done was well formative. Likely, you will bond with your future husband over all the hobbies you’d both aquire if you never had to sleep.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud: you have already read a few comics as a prerequisite for this course, and now you will understand their language.

The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera: Story as music, explained by the son of a student of Antonin Dvorak. (Not that Kundera’s life as an expat Bohemian living in France is any less interesting than his connection to Dvorak.) All art is intersectional, all story has the capacity to be Art. Which is the excuse you’ll give when caught humming O Mangum Mysterium while you read.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal): Art as a novel.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry: Visceral and ugly, looked at so hard that it becomes beautiful. You’ll still need to take a shower after this. You’ve been warned.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: I loved this book so much that I made a shirt with her map of Annares on it. I. Made. A. Shirt. I expect you to make a shirt after reading this.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Science fiction is fantasy, fantasy is real, genre is whatever you want to make it. This book is scary and amazing, and Onyesonwu is going to rewrite your world. Extra credit: follow Okorafor on Twitter for delightful animal pictures!

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: Read this at any age, the wee men talk funny but it’s Tiffany and her grandmother’s understanding of the world that is Real. If you want to be a witch, read the Tiffany Aching books. (Obvs you want to be a witch. Who doesn’t?)

List is reflective of the order in which these books were read.  Extra credit: read Half Magic out loud while following your dad through the garage, and then read the chapter What Happened to Katherine another twelve times.

 

So what is your cannon? What ten books would make a you?