Classy Talk with David Schmader

Posted Thu, 1/09/2014 - 6:45pm by  |  Category:

What is the title of your class? 
Brainstorming, which is sort of a catchall term for my method of answering two questions that will forever face a writer with a story to tell: “Where do I start?” and “What do I do now?”

People should take this class if… 
…they ever feel overwhelmed by writing, overwhelmed by the work of getting their idea for a story (or poem or essay or performance piece) out of their heads and down in words that will make sense to someone else. The class is pan-genre —students have included novelists, memoirists, poets, playwrights, performance artists, songwriters, bloggers, speculative fiction writers, even grant writers. For any writer, this class will provide a method to break down the largest, most amorphous task into digestible bits, and acquaint them with the raw material of their stories in a way that hopefully makes them able and even excited to get to work.

Can your students connect with you on social media? If so, how?
Sure. I’m on Facebook and on Twitter @davidschmader. 

Are any of your works online and available to the public?
Yes. Since 1999, I’ve been a staff writer for the Seattle newsweekly The Stranger, and there are a number of my essays and features — plus 14 years’ worth of my weekly pop-culture-and-politics column “Last Days” — available in their online archives ( And a film of my solo play Straight is available for rent at Scarecrow and On 15th Video.

What’s your teaching philosophy?
There are two components that create “the class”: the two hours a week we spend together in the classroom, and the many hours the students have on their own between classes. Most classes end with students being sent off with a short writing assignment, and begin with the sharing of new work. (I’m a die-hard proponent of reading out loud, and I make sure there’s time for each student to read his or her work aloud to the rest of the class.) The hard and lonely work of writing is done outside class, with class time reserved for exercises related to brainstorming principles and group discussion/commiseration of the work being done. As for my teaching philosophy: Writing is hard, so be kind.

If you could only bring one novel, story, or poem to a deserted island, which would you bring and why?
The books I love most (Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge, Mark Merlis’s American Studies, Joan Didion’s essays) I’ve already re-read to near-memorization, so I think I’d aim for some fat, widely beloved novel I’ve not yet read, like Middlesex or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or A Suitable Boy.

What are you currently working on?
I’m getting ready to write two quick-turn plays for the 14/48 theater festival at ACT, I’m creating a new short theater piece for this summer’s Northwest New Works Festival at On the Boards, and I’m working on turning my trilogy of autobiographical solo plays — Letter to Axl, Straight, and A Short-Term Solution to a Long-Term Problem — into a memoir.

If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring writer, what would it be?
Write as often as you can, and when you sit down to write, assign yourself a time limit. It can be 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whatever. The important thing is freeing yourself from any sort of mood- or inspiration-related internal prompting before you get to writing. If we all waited till we felt inspired to write, we’d write very, very little. So commit yourself to a schedule, and a time limit — say, an hour of writing, five times a week. Some days you’ll emerge from the hour with several hundred words you love and feel like a hero. Some days you’ll emerge with a couple dozen words you hate and feel like a failure. On the most memorable days, you’ll emerge with a mere handful words and feel like you conquered the universe. Your feelings are beside the point. What matters is putting in the time, no matter how you feel, and letting whatever complicated feelings you have inform your mandatory hour of writing.

What do you like best about Hugo House?
It’s introduced me to a community of writers I can’t imagine I would’ve found otherwise, a good couple dozen writers around the region wrangling challenges similar to mine, which is undeniably helpful and heartening. Beyond communing, I’ve been exposed to a lot of great work there, and not just from writers. I’ll never forget seeing Ellen Forney present an early draft of what would become her graphic memoir Marbles or hearing Tomo Nakayama sing original songs at the Literary Series. Also, Hugo House has been really supportive of my work, including me in the 2008 Literary Series, commissioning me to turn my lit-series piece into the solo play A Short-Term Solution to a Long-Term Problem, then producing the show in their theater. I love that.

What are you reading now? If you could pair it with a beverage (alcoholic or otherwise), what would you choose?
A Tale of Two Cities. My mom recently told me it was the first book she ever read and loved, and I’d never read it, so I’m rectifying that. Beverage pairings: 6 a.m.-noon: coffee with cream. 3-8 p.m.: mint tea. 8-10 p.m.: opaque golden beer with citrus wedge.