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Scott Lax Blog


What could Finn be looking at? What else; who else? His mommy.
I'll be posting soon about my upcoming writing class in the Chagrin Valley -- in the heart of the Village of Chagrin Falls. It's a new venue for me, but I'm back to teaching part-time after a respite of two-and-a half-years. The class begins in January.

The reason I took this break is pictured to the side of this post. Finn Scott. And the look on his face is what I hope to teach my students: how to look at the world with wonder, with awe, with innocence...and then write about it in a new way, taking into account all the baggage they have gathered along the way. Those two things seem opposite, don't they?

With Finn, so much is new. I look at the world through his eyes. Through my own, too, and therein lies the conflict and paradox of a writer's journey. How do you meld the two visions together. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

This is true of any good writing. This is what I will try to teach my students. This is what any decent writer must, should struggle with.  Read More 

Why I'm No Longer Teaching

While I still speak to organizations and schools, sometimes as author-in-residence, I've made the decision to stop teaching on a regular basis.

There are two reasons. The first is that I have a lot of writing to do, and in multiple genres. I have a novel at market; a book of short stories in progress; a nonfiction memoir in progress; two magazine columns; anda screenplay in progress. Not to mention other writing assignments.

The second reason is that world of higher education has slammed the door on accomplishment - e.g. being published, excellent teaching evaluations, and teaching skill - in favor of the acquisition of degrees, of M.A.s, M.F.As and Ph.D.s. I have a B.A. and that's it; and in the 2011 world of higher education, that's that.

Degrees are a wonderful thing; they're difficult to get, and are an achievement I admire. But I went another route when I began writing. I learned from great authors, I studied on my own, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, producing hundreds of published columns, essays and features, a literary novel, a produced play and a produced feature film. I've taught hundreds of students, if not more. (You can read some testimonials below.)

In 2010/2011, this is not enough to get my foot in the door of the academy. One university professor said to me a few years ago: "Do you understand why you can't get in the door?" I said no. "What do you think we sell here?" he asked me. "An education?" I replied. "No," he said. "We sell degrees. How do you think it will look if a guy with a B.A. is teaching students whom we want to get masters degrees?"

I cannot tell you how many times I've heard the same basic message, including from three university presidents, two deans, a headmaster, and a number of English Department heads. This is what they say it's about now, in our post-post modern era: "Accreditation." That means degrees; that means money to universities; that means you pay to play...or to teach.

I've taught for other organizations, literary organizations and such, and in general, it was a wonderful experience, especially with the students.

And I've taught for my own Chagrin Valley Writers' Workshop, which I loved. But I acted as administrator and teacher. It became too much, and took too much away from my own writing.

To my students whom I've taught over the past eight years or so: thank you. I enjoyed working with so many of you.

So a final few words. If you want to be a professional, full-time writer, my suggestion to you is to write, to study good and great writing, to be humble, and then to write some more. Then wake up and do it again, and realize that writing is a difficult career choice, but an immensely rewarding one in the sense of expressing your mind, heart and soul. Write cleanly and from the heart. Don't get cute. Don't be clever. Just tell a story.

If you want to teach, especially at a college level, I strongly advise you to get as many degrees as you can and teach the children well. But if you want to be a writer, as well as an academic, try not to let those with lots of degrees and little talent discourage you, or otherwise damage your writing. I've had numerous former M.F.A. students ask me to help them undo the damage from accredited courses they took that were taught by hacks.

I'm sorry the academy has gone in this direction, but it has. As my old Bread Loaf acquaintance, and a special teacher and writer, David Huddle, once said to me, as I was getting in my car for the long drive back to Cleveland from the Green Mountains: "Good luck with your writing. And good luck with your life."

And so to you.  Read More 

Last Class I'll be Teaching for at Least a Year

It seems that this blog gets quite a few more hits than the other pages on my site, so if you're interested in taking the last workshop class I'll be teaching for at least a year, please hit the Educational Services link, above. After this workshop I will sometimes be available for manuscript consultations.

Knowing that the Effort is Real

When it comes to teaching, I like what James Baldwin said: "If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real."

That's all I try to do in my teaching: let students know that their effort is real. Sometimes they realize they don't want to make the effort. That's okay, too.

Most of a student's success comes because he or she has some talent, works hard, stays humble, takes some advice and throws out the rest. Creative writing teachers should guide their students' efforts; they should helping students find their stories, and find their voices in order to translate and shape those stories into the written form.  Read More