Saturday, March 6, 2021

My First Zoom Class

This last Thursday, I did my first Zoom meeting, speaking to a class full of college students who'd read my story "Staying Afloat." I was nervous, but excited, and felt kind of boingy about it. :) I didn't get much sleep the night before, with my mind racing with thoughts about what I was going to talk about, how I was going to explain things and in what order, how I'd answer questions, and how I'd explain the assignment I planned to give the students at the end.

I had no idea how this was going to work, on a practical level, which was where some of the stress was coming from. On the whole I felt positive about it, but any kind of stress, positive or negative, can mess with your sleep, so when I dragged my butt out of bed after like two or three hours' worth max, I made myself a mug of high-octane tea and went for it.

There was a last minute glitch that was kind of funny. I had the link to click on to get into the class "meeting," and planned to log in about ten minutes early. Good thing, because when I clicked on the link, it asked me for an access code. Umm, what?

Quick e-mail to the professors, and one of them got back to me in a minute or two saying to hang on, that he'd find it. Couple minutes later, I had the access code, yay! Apparently one of the students, who'd also logged in early, had found it. Dr. Matt said he'd get a million extra credit points, LOL! I'm assuming that if you have a regular meeting like a class, you put your code in once and then your computer or the Zoom system or whatever remembers it for you, so Dr. Matt didn't remember the code from back whenever the semester started. Day saved by a tech-savvy student. :)

 The presentation went great. Looking back, my brain is trying to convince me I spent at least half the time babbling incoherently, but going by the responses from both the students and the professors at the end, that part was apparently all in my head. I introduced myself very briefly, then talked about how I came to write "Staying Afloat."

Dr. Tamara had asked me to talk some about research, so I explained about the Anthology Workshop, what the guidelines were, and how I approached coming up with a story idea that fit the guidelines. A lot of the info I used in the story came out of my head, from a unit we did in sixth grade on the pre-Columbian Latin American civilizations, from my high school freshman science class, and from a college geology class. I explained what I Googled and what I was looking for, and how I used the info I found.

I talked about the writing itself, as well. Apparently a lot of the students are interested in fiction writing, and pretty much all the student questions, which were pretty much the second half of the two-hour class, were about different aspects of writing. So I talked about creative brain versus critical brain, and about how writing six stories teaches you a lot more than writing one story and rewriting it five times. And how "polishing" your story with a copy of S&W or CMS in one hand is a horribly bad idea for fiction writing.

Plus a bunch of other stuff. Nowhere near as much as I'd have liked to mention, but I tried to get in as much as I could in the time allowed, considering there were other things we had to do and only two hours to do it.

I talked about some business stuff too, although not too much, because we just didn't have time.

I got the obligatory question about writer's block, and I answered that as best as I could, explaining about writing block versus project block, and some methods I use to keep writing even if I'm blocked on a project, and a (very labor intensive) method I've used to unblock a project, although it's kind of a pain and I haven't done it often.

In all seriousness, I'd like to just be able to teach a class on this. Not that I'm the most successful or experienced writer in the world, and I'm still learning and always will be, but there's so incredibly much info I wish I had when I was twenty, and I'd love to be able to pass it on, you know?

Oh, and I was incredibly glad I'd grabbed my water bottle before sitting down. I'm not used to talking this much, and my mouth was drying out after like ten or fifteen minutes. We took a short break after an hour, and I refilled my bottle. Definitely got my hydration in that day.

I could only see a few photos of other meeting participants in the window, although there were supposed to be about eighteen of us there. I didn't want to mess with controls in the middle of class for fear of messing something up, so I never did see most of the students, but I did see some folks laughing at times when I'd hoped they would, and I saw people taking notes, occasionally lots of notes, so that felt good.

I'd made up a cheat sheet of things I wanted to talk about, so I could keep kind of on track and hit things in some kind of logical order, but I found that looking over at the cheat sheet -- even after having printed it out in 14 pt. type, for extra visibility -- was more disruptive than useful. I'll probably do it again next time, but now at least I know now to depend on it. Yay for lots of random experimentation and rehearsals -- aside from disrupting my sleep, I spent a lot of time subvocalizing explainations and such while walking back and forth, getting my steps. That meant I'd worked out how to explain a lot of things, with relevant examples and comparisons, in the week or more before the session, and even if I wasn't looking down at my cheat sheet very often, I found the info I wanted was usually in my head, so that worked out.

The assignment I gave them toward the end of class was to download a (fake) anthology guideline, and come up with an idea for a story they'd write to submit to that book. I asked for 300-500 words, just the basics -- who the character was, what they wanted, why they couldn't have it, and what they were going to do to try to get it anyway. Since the class is about climate change in media and literature, I made the anthology about a post-global-warming world, so I said I wanted to know how far in the future their story was set, and what the new normal looked like. I didn't necessarily want the protag to be trying to solve the climate change problem, but I wanted the changed climate to have a significant impact on the plot. I also pointed out that the first thing the protag tries to solve their big problem doesn't necessarily have to be the one that works, and probably shouldn't be the one that works, explaining try-fail cycles and how the improve a story.

One student had his assignment in the next day, Friday, with a very nice note thanking me for talking to the class and saying how much it meant to him. That was pretty awesome, and made me feel good. :) I gave them a deadline of Monday at noon, and I'll start reading and writing up comments then.

Oh, and I said I'd read and comment on up to two story ideas per student, although they were only required to do one. I remember when I was a new writer, one of the huge problems seemed to be coming up with story ideas. Newbie writers seem to think that the one good story idea they have right now is the only one they'll ever have, and that causes a host of other problems, so the point of the assignment was to give them practice coming up with story ideas. I also mentioned the Ursula LeGuin thing about how, when you're writing to a theme, every other writer will also think of your first idea, half the writers will think of your second idea, a few other writers will think of your third idea, and finally with maybe the fourth and probably the fifth, you'll think of some things the editor won't see from a bunch of other people. I've gotten two assignments so far, and they've each had only one story idea. I'm hoping at least a few students take advantage of the opportunity to get comments on more than one. [crossed fingers] 

The plan is to read and comment on each story idea individually, then write some comments that'll go to everyone on the whole mass. I'm expecting there to be some overlap. I told them that if I got the same idea from ten different people, I'd definitely let them all know. :) But the plan is to talk about how editors choose stories for a theme anthology, how subthemes can emerge as you choose which stories you want to publish, how everything has to fit together and how you can end up rejecting some great stories you really love because they don't fit with the other stories you're putting into the book. I've never edited an anthology myself, mind you, but I've watched editors do it in front of my many, many times, so I can at least pass on what I've learned. It's certainly helped me understand the inner workings of anthology submission and response. And now, when an anthology editor tells me, "I had enough good stories for four books, but I can only publish one, and I'm really sorry to reject this," I actually believe them. I'll admit I didn't before; I thought they were just being nice. [wry smile]

Anyway, this whole experience was pretty darned cool, and I have another gig for the fall, when Dr. Tamara and Dr. Matt are teaching this class again. Definitely looking forward to it. :D


PS: I'm filling this under "appearance," among other things, even though I never left home. Because plague times. Close enough. :)


Suzan Harden said...

That sounds like an awesome experience! For both you and the kids. There's never enough time to tell them everything you want to, but it sounds like you made a serious impact.

Angie said...

Suzan -- it was absolutely awesome. :) Now I have to read and comment on everyone's homework. It should be fun, especially since I don't have to do it every day. [wry smile]

And yeah, I could go on for hours on things I wish I'd known about writing and publishing when I was twenty. I'll sneak a few more things into the comment letters, and then I'll have to let it go. :P