In April, the film adaptation of instructor Leslie Schwartz‘s novel, Angels Crest, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. This summer Leslie brings her hit class, Fearless Fiction: Techniques for Ongoing Creativity, to the Writers’ Program.
Writers’ Program: While your summer course is new to the Writers’ Program, you’ve taught it many times before. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Leslie Schwartz: Fearless Fiction is one of my most popular classes. And I believe that’s because it’s a lot of fun. Students get writing prompts that are intentionally designed so that each writer can personalize them to write their own fiction. So it’s not like writing for the sake of writing. It’s writing for the sake of finishing a meaningful manuscript. Students also get a lot of feedback which further helps them understand their stories and how to write them. I am a very results-oriented instructor. I want my students to go on and publish and, in fact, many of them have.
There’s a lot of playfulness in this class, a lot of writing, and interaction. It’s a very safe environment for students to write and I believe it inspires confidence.
WP: As an author, what’s it like to see your novel turned into a produced film?
LS: I made a conscious decision not to get involved in any aspect of the production. My agent made the deal for me and I left it to the filmmakers to do what they wanted to do with it. I did not want to be attached in any way to a bad adaptation of my book and I feel that movies are an altogether different creative medium. I did my job. And I was honored that the director loved my book enough to pay the rights for it and turn it into a film. But I intuitively understood that it was now her baby and that whatever she did with it would have no bearing on the original work, except perhaps increase book sales, which in fact, it did. That said, I had never been on a film set before and that was fun. And though I had seen a screening of it and met the actors early on, when I saw it at Tribeca I was really moved. 1500 people waited in line to see the film and not a single person left the theater. It was a very special night.
WP: What are the most detrimental things that keep a writer from getting words onto the page? What can be done about it?
LS: The first thing is that writers worry too much about getting published when they don’t even have a first draft. Or they worry too much about what people will think, especially if the novel is thinly disguised autobiography. Writers should have more fun, and worry less. Secondly, new writers really need to understand that writing is all about revision. And this takes time. New writers get too wrapped up in this feeling that they need to hurry up and finish, rather than participate calmly in the experience of writing, which is so sublime, really, and in some ways, infinitely more rewarding than publishing. Finally, writers must read and they must constantly find a way to improve their work. All of these things take enormous courage and perseverance and I think above all else the people who get published are the ones who just keep plugging away, no matter how hard it might seem.
WP: Apart from being an author and teacher, in recent years, you’ve also pursued an advanced degree. Do you have any advice for students who are trying to fit writing in while juggling a day job and family commitments?
LS: Don’t think too much. Don’t panic. And establish a routine. You have to have a sense of humor too. I try to have fun with everything I do, including teaching, which outside of writing is one of my true passions. Most of all, I take a nice vacation every year where I don’t write at all. It’s very important to drop everything for a couple weeks and lie on a beach. This is very, very good medicine for the creative soul.
Kate Sipples is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Onsite). Follow her writing adventures at http://twitter.com/KateofGoodHope.