Last weekend my daughter Jessica and I explored the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA). Jessica is pursuing a degree in costume design and UNCSA, a university devoted entirely to the performing arts, is one of her top choices.
As we toured the UNCSA facilities, we passed students painting murals, practicing dance moves, sewing garments, and creating wigs. The entire school buzzed with energy. It was contagious. A Disneyland for theatre geeks. The last time I’d seen this much excitement and energy from creative people was at UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies’ Writer’s Institute. It got me thinking.
What if there were a university for writing?
I know many universities, including the University of Wisconsin, offer MFA degrees for writing. While these are excellent programs, they’re not the schools’ sole purpose. The University for the Writing Arts would be entirely focused on writing and writing careers.
What would that university look like? Here’s what I’m thinking. The university is open to all writers ages 12 and up. Students have the option to use the school simply as a place to write, or to dabble in a few classes, or to get a full-fledged degree. Like UNCSA, which is divided into five schools (design & production, dance, filmmaking, theatre, and music), the University for the Writing Arts has five schools.
The School of Fiction offers classes on characterization, structure, scene, specific genres, and more.
The Nonfiction School has classes on research, essay writing, self-help books, travel writing, and book proposals.
The School of Poetry explores lyric, narrative, and dramatic poetry.
The Playwriting and Screenwriting School overlaps with the School of Fiction and has an emphasis on formatting, pacing, and dialogue.
And the Book Business School deals with querying agents, marketing, book launches, and building author platforms.
Like UNCSA, there’s a fantastic library at the University for the Writing Arts. There’s also a coffee shop, “The Ink Stain”, where writers create independently or meet with their critique groups. A 21-and-older pub, “The Imbibing Scribe”, has weekly open mic nights and offers literary-themed drinks.The campus restaurant “The Literary Berry” serves dishes created from students’ cookbook recipes. Its kitchen is available for demonstrations and taste-testing.
At the University for the Writing Arts, there are rooms with incredible views for those who need the inspiration (like me). Or soundproof rooms with no windows for easily-distracted writers. Students can arrange their schedules to come to the school every day for an hour or more just to write — the school is their office.
Authors and actors record and produce audiobooks in the sound-proof studio. Playwrights’ plays are performed in the black box theater. The campus movie theater hosts film festivals and shows award-winning movies for classes to dissect and discuss. And there’s a small radio station for students to interview authors and guest lecturers for the university’s radio program and podcast.
Guest lecturers include best-selling authors, award-winning poets, expert marketers, editors, agents, publishers, actors, and film producers. Panel discussions on everything from creating characters to self-publishing are offered. Book clubs meet on campus to read manuscripts and give authors feedback.
Prompt clubs, poetry clubs, and spoken word clubs are popular. There are field trips to places like police stations, courtrooms, jails, and morgues.
There’s an annual book fair at the university showcasing the latest releases from students and recent graduates. Book release parties are regularly held on campus. A student-run publication showcasing student’s poetry and short prose pieces is published every year. Students who publish a book can use the free book review service. And legal services are offered to help students understand their publishing contracts.
One week each semester is set aside for the most important thing — writing. All classes, tests, and deadlines are put on hold that week so students can devote the entire time to writing.
Okay, there you have it. My University for the Writing Arts. A Disneyland for writing geeks like me.
What ideas do you have for a writing institution? I’d love to hear them!
What I’m Up to This Fall
Revisions! My editor, Tim Storm, sent me his comments on The Runner – Book Three in the Devil Particle Series. The manuscript needs a lot of work, as I expected. I’ll do some revisions and then push on to finishing book four.
As I tell newbie writers – don’t spend all your time on the first few chapters. Instead, finish the book! You won’t know how it starts until you’ve written those last few words. Once you’ve completed the book, you might not even use that first chapter. Likewise, I need to finish the rough draft of the last book to know how The Devil Particle Series all comes together.