My Alumni Words of Wisdom: I Never Took Creative Writing

So I had a wicked good time in Boston this week visiting my alma mater, BU. It was a lot of fun with a heaping dose of déjà vu mixed in. I sort of had that feeling you get when you visit your old high school or grade school and everything seems smaller than you remember. This is a significant considering that Boston University has a campus large enough to hold 30,000-plus students—nothing’s actually small. Yet the sensation was oddly comforting.

As part of my two-day extravaganza, I stayed at the Hotel Commonwealth (built where the very classy Super Socks and Rathskeller grunge bar used to be). When I checked in the hotel gave me a warm moist towel and an orchid. And I had a view of Fenway from my room. Jealous?

Then I got a tour of the College of Communication (COM), my old stomping ground. It looks almost the same except for the giant antenna missing from the roof. It hadn’t worked in decades, but it served to help to differentiate the school on campus (like “Look, we’re a communications school! We have an antenna and everything!”) The coolest part was seeing some of the student’s photojournalism stills hung the walls. The pictures looked straight out of National Geographic (Iraq, the Presidential Primaries, you name it). Very impressive.

My event was hosted by COM and Alianza Latina, and held at the new Howard Thurman Center in the GSU. The space is very loungey and decked out with photos of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Fun Fact: Did you know that MLK graduated from BU? Yup, he got his Ph.D. degree there.)

So I spoke to students and alums about the road to publication. I gave them my tale of woe (like the first book I ever wrote, which didn’t go on to sell). I gave them my inspirational tale (about the psychic who predicted I would write children’s books). And I gave them the fun bits (like how my book sold while I was at Mardi Gras in New Orleans).

Then I answered questions. I told them how the broadcasting skills I learned at COM helped me make my book trailer. I told them that my lowest grade was Intro to Environmental Science where the entire course was based on fill-in-the-bubble scantron tests (I suck at those). And I told them that you can enter the publishing realm from every discipline.

I was a reporter before I became a novelist. Many people don’t think those writing experiences are very applicable. But I disagree. YA authors strive to maintain the attention of teenagers, so you won’t find a lot of purple prose about how the cheerleader’s “flaxen hair sways like straw on a summer day in Iowa just as the sun is about to set, streaking with sky with ribbons of gold, yadda yadda.” We keep it simple. And in a way, this is similar to journalistic writing.

But I also told them that I’ve never taken a creative writing course. Ever. Not one. Not in high school and not in college. So this means that I’ve never had a teacher grade my creative writing. I’ve never been taught how to “properly” structure a novel. I’ve never been instructed on how to write dialogue. I’ve never even written a short story as an adult.

I just sat down one day and wrote a book.

Now I’m not saying these courses aren’t valuable. I didn’t intentionally avoid them. I just didn’t know I wanted to be author until later in life. Had I gone into college with that goal in mind, I probably would have taken the courses. But my point is, you don’t need official training to write a novel. There are no prerequisites. You just need to write well, write often, and write what you know.

And in other news, Go Terrier Hockey! We’re ranked No. 1 for the Men’s National Title. Sieve, Sieve, Sieve, Sieve!!


I’m shopping for a new house, so it’s become inevitable that my life now revolves around watching programming of other people shopping for houses. This leads me to “House Hunters.” Have you seen this show? Because if you live in the Northeast or California, I’m guessing you find it as depressing as I do. I watched an episode where a couple was purchasing a place in Dallas in the $120,000 price range, where the homes included updated kitchens, four bedrooms and bonus rooms. Are you kidding me? For $120K in Center City Philadelphia I think you can either get a parking spot, or an apartment in a neighborhood you’ll get shot. And don’t even get me started on NYC. I don’t even think you’d get a hotdog stand for that price. I need to limit myself to only watching episodes from L.A. or San Fran where the home values make me feel better about myself.

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