A Personal Note

donna_performanceI was born and raised in Natick and Wayland, Massachusetts. After high school, I moved to California to attend the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At the College I majored in literature and writing, minored in visual art. My main professor was the late Marvin Mudrick, a very funny and very sharp critic, known best for his essays in The Hudson Review. Mudrick loved literature, especially Chaucer. One bright Spring day, he spent his lunch hour at the old picnic table outside our converted army barracks, reading to us from The Canterbury Tales, in Middle English, interpreting as necessary. I found out in college that I learn from this kind of spontaneous giving and enthusiastic love of subject far more than I learn from dead animal dissection, poem pinned to board, just barely twitching.

After the College of Creative Studies, I attended the San Francisco Art Institute for nearly three years. I recommend drawing to all writers. A story or poem often begins as image, not as word. Sometimes I hear students and writers searching for the right word, as if a single word will make up for all that has not been visualized or otherwise sensationally experienced. Once we sense the image clearly, the right word or description often appears simultaneously. My years of making visual art helped me enormously when I returned to writing.

After college, I worked as a gardener, I taught art to children and to adults, I ran a daycare home for young children, I was the executive director of a cultural center and then in 1990, I began to teach creative writing. For a couple years I kept my day job, then decided to teach, write and perform on a full-time basis.

There are two vital aspects to creative writing. The first is the desire and ability to turn experience into language in a spontaneous and fully felt way. The other, sometimes called editing or re-writing, is the willingness to look back at what has been written and to correct, clarify, beautify, and dramatize the spontaneous writing. Even if a writer outlines extensively, knows the plot etc., there still comes a moment when he must release words in a spontaneous way; on the other hand, if a writer is full of spontaneous snap and sizzle, there still comes a time for slow and steady consideration of each sentence.

Due to this twofold aspect of writing and the fact that most classes are only two hours long, I teach two different kinds of classes. In one, we write spontaneously; in the other, we consider each sentence. I almost always recommend that beginners take several classes that encourage spontaneous expression because the practices prove that one has what it takes to write a poem and/or a story. I create my own practices which are usually more elaborate than a simple prompt. The practices act as guide into literary form and as encouragement to the imagination.

Many people think of re-writing as some kind of punishment for being a writer—I don’t understand the idea of re-writing, it’s all writing. I write until the work is complete and all through the editing process, I rely on the spontaneous appearance of the right words combined with the usual understanding of English grammar. I prefer to work in the critique classes with writers who have decided to complete a manuscript, often for publication or with people who are clearly dedicated to writing. I am also available for private consultation with writers at this level.

I am continually changing as a writer and teacher. I like to experiment with my own work; I regard classes as another type of experimentation. For better or worse, I don’t teach to the popular market nor am I opposed to the marketplace—it is simply outside the realm of my classes. I still believe that there is something called creative writing and to keep it alive, we each need to experience our own words and finally, to love language for both its beauty and its mystery.