Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer, Skyhorse Publishing, A Herman Graf Book 2011, 344 pages
A Handbook for Young Writers (of All Ages)
*Note: Gordon Mennenga teaches creative writing at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This review came to us in the form of commentary on how We Wanted to Be Writers might be used in writing classrooms.
Every year undergraduate creative writing programs open the doors for young writers. The question I always get is, “Now what?” Most undergraduates have some idea of what the creative process is all about. The next step is a big one for our students who want to keep writing, keep growing as writers.
Many of my best writers have little idea of what an MFA means. I’m sure this is true of other schools as well. When the subject comes up, there are few resources for them to explore. Yes, there are lists of programs and rankings of programs but little of the nuts and bolts of the MFA programs. We Wanted to Be Writers fills the gap, presenting a vivid overview of the program at Iowa, an overview that certainly is applicable to most programs across the country.
Students will find the “what’s it like” information invaluable. Young writers will find the “What Possessed Us?” especially comforting because many of them are at that stage. To hear testimony from established writers will speak to young writers in a voice they understand. WW2BW does a good job of covering the arc of a writer’s life—from the wanting stage to the getting stage. It is a road map, an adventure story, a cautionary tale, a celebration of creativity.
My best undergraduate writers have no idea how they might fit into the larger world of writing and publishing. They have dreams and talent but little information of the longer view. My students will especially enjoy the discussion of success and failure—it’s something they need to hear early in their writing careers.
The book offers encouragement, plain talk about what it means to be a writer, and a stirring introduction to how successful writers think and speak. And write. The complications of making art are thoroughly discussed.
For undergraduates, this book is akin to sitting in on a coffee shop discussion of the highest order. My guess is that most students who read this will hit their keyboards with a stronger sense of purpose and clear sense of what lies ahead for them as they move to graduate programs.
If nothing else, they will see how attitude plays a role in their future. WW2BW‘s strength is that it is a discussion, not a lecture. Opinions vary; that’s a good thing. It suggests that there is room for many opinions.
The value then is simple: what is it like to be in an MFA program? This book provides so many answers. It is about much more than the Iowa experience. MFA programs abound and they share many of the issues presented in WW2BW.
Undergraduates thirst for advice and this book presents that advice in spirited conversation. My students who have read it quote passages to me; WW2BW is their bible. We Wanted to Be Writers will guarantee lively workshop discussions about all aspects of the writing life. This book IS the moveable feast.