Category Archives: Creative writing

My First Date

couple hugging


by David Werner, MFA, Kaplan University Faculty

I was in love.  Or so I thought.  I wanted to ask Patti (not her real name) to a ninth-grade dance but could never muster the courage to pop the question.  Growing up in a very small, working class, blue collar manufacturing town had not prepared me for the “worldly” conversation I thought ninth grade young women expected.

I had to find a way to bring the outside world to me; so I confided in Susan (again, not her real name) who worked in the school library.  She recommended I read Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.  The plan seemed simple.  My friend Jim would call Patti on my behalf and I would whisper his side of the conversation to him which he would repeat to Patti.  I remember, “A kiss is a secret which takes the lips for the ear,” which seemed quite impressive at the time.  Followed by, “All our souls are written in our eyes,” which appeared to close the deal.  It worked.  Patti went to the dance with Jim.

My librarian friend Susan felt my pain and thought I should broaden my horizons with Don Quixote, Hamlet, Robinson Crusoe, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Maltese Falcon, Swiss Family Robinson, and many others so I would have, at least, something to talk about if I ever got a date.

By my Junior year, I had begun dating Susan; which, or course, she had initiated.  One day I found an out of print book in the school’s library entitled The Human Nature of Playwriting (1949) by Samson Raphaelson.  I knew Raphaelson’s credits as a play and screenwriter of such films and plays as The Jazz Singer (1925), the first talkie; Accent on Youth, Skylark, Hilda Crane; and such classics as Trouble in Paradise, The Shop around the Corner, Heaven Can Wait, and many others.

“My God,” I thought.  “This man wrote for some of the best directors of the time, including Lubitsch, Viertel, Cukor, Hitchcock, Preminger, Minnelli . . .”

He also wrote a very controversial play in 1928 called Young Love, which I later adapted into a screenplay.

I devoured his book and everything became clear.  I wanted to be a writer!

When it came time to apply to college, I collected a lot of catalogues and just started to browse the programs and faculty.  When I came to the catalogue for Columbia University, a financially unrealistic choice for an application, I ran across his name – Samson Raphaelson.  He was teaching there.

So I applied and very much to my surprise I was accepted with a scholarship.  Still a teenager, I had high expectations for myself and thought I knew everything I needed to know before moving to New York (of course, teenagers do think they know everything).

My very first class on my very first day was truly a rude awakening.  I was surrounded by top faculty and peers from all over the world who came much better prepared than I in terms of literature, art history, science, music, architecture, and just life in general.

I resolved to spend every day in the library just trying to catch up so I would not be completely intimidated.  The first step in learning is to realize just how much you do not know.

When it came time to enroll for the second term, I wanted to take Raphaelson’s writing class.  No one could just enroll in his course – every prospective student had to audition for him.  For some unknown reason at the time, I was one of a dozen selected.  In my case, however, he had an additional requirement.  He would only admit me if I agreed to take acting classes with the famed acting teacher Sandy Meisner.  I told Raph, “But I don’t want to be an actor.  I get stage fright in just a classroom of people.”

“But,” he said, “There is little difference between acting and writing.  Both actors and writers must be able to expose themselves to the world and stand naked in front of their audience.”  He was right, of course.  I struggled through and learned the lesson.

By this point in his life, Samson was in his late 80’s or early 90’s, he never knew his exact age because his birth records had been lost, and he was quite ill.  We did not have class at the University campus but at his apartment overlooking Central Park West.

You have to imagine twelve twenty-something college students meeting at this elegant apartment with him and his extremely elegant wife; and the two of them were the youngest people in the room.  You could also tell they were very, very much in love with each other.

While Dorothy served us tea, he would question us relentlessly about our observations on life, death, love, sex, marriage, and why we write . . . everything you can think of.  Of course we all wondered what this had to do with writing but it soon became very clear.  I later realized the second step in learning was that human observations cannot be made up or fictionalized.

For some reason, Samson, or Raph as he like to be called by his friends, saw something in me and took me under his wing in a Mentor-and-Apprentice relationship.  I would take him for walks in Central Park and we would sit for hours just observing people.  “Look at the way that woman his holding her cigarette,” he said.  “See how she flicks her ash?” he asked excitedly.  Even at 90-something years old, he was discovering something new every day.  The third step in learning is you never stop learning.

Raph was not one to tell you the answer to anything.  It was a process of self-discovery.  He allowed me to discover for myself the key to good writing is to observe human nature around us.  This part of writing, as I mentioned before, cannot be made up.  Your audience will always know it’s fake and contrived unless it comes from somewhere emotionally authentic.

It wasn’t until several years after his death I continued to think about his question, “Why do we write.”  I did not have a satisfactory answer but eventually discovered it when I began teaching writing and directing.

We write, and read, because it’s our job.  It is our duty to be informed and articulate citizens for the common good.

Thirty-five years later I returned to that school library and looked to see if The Human Nature of Playwriting was still there.  It was.  I looked at the library card and I was still the only one to have ever taken the book out.

David Werner teaches and tutors at Kaplan Univesity


Crazy Writing – National Novel Writing Month

Girl Looking at Laptop

©Jupiter Images

By Melody Pickle, Writing Specialist, WAC, Kaplan University Writing Center

Crazy Drafts – We encourage crazy or bad first drafts as part of the writing process for students. Sometimes, we all need motivation to get the words out on paper as a way to achieve a goal.

Joining National Novel Writing Month or NANOWRIMO is one way to get motivated to achieve a writing goal.  Even if you have never thought about writing a novel, you should try it.

1) It makes you write every day or most every day if you want to reach your 50,000 word goal.  This might actually help you get into the habit of writing . . . the habit of getting your thoughts down so you can write that article or book.

2) It encourages you to join a community of writers, which encourages more writing.

3) It is one of those crazy things for which you can say, “Yep, I did that.”

4) It is a lot of writing practice.  We all need that, right?  Getting words out on the page is a big deal, even if they are not perfect.

5) It gives you are reason to stay up late and write, madly.  Face it; creating something like this might actually be better than your favorite TV show(s).

6) You are afraid to try it.

7) You don’t think you can write a novel.

8) Others are doing it.  As of right now, there are 164,601 people already signed up to do it.   Last year over 300,000 adults participated and 80,000 youth.

9) You can ask your kids do it with the Young Writers Program.

10) You can get Pep Talks from people like James Patterson.

Sure, there are critics that say this is really no way to write a novel.  However, I am a big believer in practices that get us writing.  Anytime we are asking our brains to formulate words and put them on the page, there is communication and writing practice happening.  This includes when we do it late at night eating chocolate and drinking loads of coffee.  Even then, we are still using our inner speech (Vygotsky) and forming words and ideas.  Even if we don’t write and novel or write all 50,000 words, getting words on the page helps us organize and know our thoughts, or at least begin to know them.  This is big stuff.  We can also encourage students to participate in this or other creative writing events.

If you are thinking about doing it, this is your encouragement to sign-up now.  If you have never heard of NANOWRIMO, go to the website and see what it is all about.   Most years several of us in the KUWC and on the WAC team participate.  Let us know if you are participating or if you have advice you tell students when they are up late – writing madly.

Jame Patterson: Don’t Listen to Your English Teacher

Melody Pickle, Writing Specialist, WAC, Kaplan University Writing Center

In this 6 minute interview, James Patterson tells what he has learned so far about writing.  He covers the following ideas:

Do what you love no matter what. (His first book was rejected 37 times.)  He also  explains that one of his English teachers told him to never write again.  Therefore, writers of all types, should not be discouraged by one negative comment.

Reminder – Teachers’ words have a lot of power.

Allergic to Writer’s Block – He says he is allergic to writer’s block.  If he does not like a scene, he scraps it an starts over.  He does not stop writing for two months to figure out a scene.  (I love this phrase!)

Parents  Get Kids Reading – He explains that it is a parental responsibility to get kids reading.  He also has a great website for book recommendations for kids!

Celebrating Freedom with Twitter

Partial flag pictureBy Melody Pickle

Did you know that the British Communication Act forbids electronic communication “for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another , , ,”

When I reflect on my tweets or emails to my brother, I suppose he could have turned me in for the annoyance factor if we lived in Britain.  Good thing we are in America.

As Americans, I think we all know that we have Freedom of Speech, but I don’t think that we understand how much people in other countries are silenced or arrested and thrown in jail over tweeting their opinions.  This is no small thing.

In recent days, multiple news sources have credited social media with giving people strength to organize and protest issues in their countries.   Social media has given people a voice for their stories and strength to pursue their freedoms. This is no small thing.  It deserves our thought, our reflection, and our attention.

Dennis Baron, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Illinois, explored this issue in depth on his Web of Language blog.  He is the one who alerted me to this issue and got me thinking about how much we should value our freedom of speech, writing, tweeting, facebooking, emailing, etc.

When we are helping students learn to write well, we are helping teach students how to exercise one of their cherished freedoms.  This is no small thing.

So, I am going to celebrate July 4th, by tweeting a little extra as I sing the American Anthem, eat hot dogs, and help my son learn more about what freedom means in the land in which he lives.  I want him to have a voice because he, like all children and people, has stories to tell a voice that needs to be heard.  Maybe I will even teach him to tweet today . . . Because a tweet may be short, but, it is no small thing . . .


Help Name the Kaplan University Literary Journal

Kaplan University's New Literary Journal Needs a Name!

Kaplan University's New Literary Journal Needs a Name!

“Seize control of your splendid language. Work your alchemical mumbo jumbo. Mix up your slang. Blow your innumerable horns. Play with feeling.”

-Rick Moody

I wrote this quote on an index card when I was an undergraduate journalism and anthropology student at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the late 1990s. At the time (and still today), I loved what writer Rick Moody had to say about writing and its role in self-expression and creativity.

In fact, earlier this week I rediscovered this quote tucked away in a book as I was dusting the bookcases in my office (antiquated pieces of furniture as they may be … I know so many of you read books nowadays on Kindles, Nooks, and Crannies).

Reading, as many of us know, is essential to effective writing and clear thinking. And I’m very excited to announce that Kaplan University is creating an online literary magazine to showcase excellent poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from thoughtful, creative writers.

Here’s the really fun part, though: This new literary venture needs a name.

You have until tomorrow, Friday, September 30th, to email your title suggestions to literaryjournal[at]kaplan[dot]edu. For more information about this contest, please click here.

Michaella Hammond