What Do YOU Write?
Written by MVWG Member Christy Wopat
I am an educator by trade—my day job, as we call it. I teach 4th grade now, but in my more than 20 years of teaching, I’ve taught English as a second language, middle- and high-school French, and all the core subjects.
When I took a job teaching 4th grade after spending 8 years teaching middle school French, I was, quite literally, at a loss for words. I remember going into my new teammate’s room after we wrote our lesson plans for the first week, and saying, “Sarah? I know how to teach, I swear, but I’m looking at where it says, “Stop and jot” and I just … can you give me the actual words that I should use when I teach that? I know what stop means, and I know what jot means, but I’m not quite sure what this is getting at.”
Thankfully, she laughed and has always been a very kind and gracious teammate who helps me through things, and so she sat me down and explained it to me, as well as where I could find explanations for things like this. She did this with math, as well—we’d eat lunch as a team, right before math time, and we’d practice teaching this newfangled common core math. We’d watch YouTube videos of other teachers explaining it, and we’d practice teaching each other.
Another 8 years later, now, and I can tell you that I’m a pro at stop and jot, as well as 4th-grade math. It just took me a little time and some elbow grease.
This is exactly what writing in different genres is like. I think there are writers out there who could write in any genre they please, and as long as they put in the work, anything they touched would be gold. All they need to do is be willing to learn and grow.
Creative non-fiction is my go-to. It’s where I feel the most comfortable. My first book, a memoir about grief and infant loss, was my first real writing experience. I found a local writing group through an online meetup and showed up with my first chapter in hand, nervous as ever.
Without this group, I don’t think I ever would have kept writing. Knowing I had to have something done for Saturday was the push I needed. I also LOVED how many different genres were represented there. Romance, science-fiction, bible stories, mystery, and even sci-fi-erotica (side note: I swear I always followed that writer. So we’d go from Alien erotica to my stories about babies dying).
The first time I went to a writing conference, there were tables set up at lunch and you were encouraged to sit at the table marked with the genre you write. Should I go to memoir? I wondered. Or creative nonfiction? The first question you’re asked by someone new is, “What do you write?”
My answer now is, “Oh, I write a little bit of everything.” I just published a (fiction) humor story in a journal! I love working on personal essays. I have a middle-grade fiction in the works and a picture book that is on its 3rd draft. I just love to write. And when an idea or something inspiring pops out at me, I take it and go.
I tell people all the time that if you are a great teacher, you can find a way to teach anything (within reason: nobody wants me teaching physics, ok?). I would argue that the same goes for writing. If you want to write in and around genres, you should. Read in that genre. Practice. Make a hybrid of genres if you want to. You don’t even have to define it.
Whatever you do—just keep writing.
Christy Wopat is a 4th-grade teacher and writer from Holmen, Wisconsin. She serves as a board member for the Mississippi Valley Writer’s Guild, and loves to celebrate the written word. You can find out more about Christy at www.christywopat.com.