Embracing the Writing Challenge
The art of writing fiction is too often taught with the same approach as writing a term paper. Which is why, upon accepting her position at Ball State in fall 2010, Cathy Day, author of two successful books, set out to show her students firsthand how innovative that process can—and should—be.

Students in her Advanced Fiction Writing course accepted her challenge to participate in an annual national writing experiment known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal of the project? To write a 50,000-word novel (about 175 pages) in 30 days. Day wanted her students to understand what it means to be a writer, to get away from constant revisions to their work and to embrace the process of writing on a daily basis.

“Some students said they stopped seeing their daily writing sessions as homework. Instead, they felt like real writers,” says Day, an English professor. Working on her latest novel, she added, “I joined in writing with them, because I wanted them to know there was no difference between us in the process. Everyone made tremendous progress on the first drafts, and most students reached their goal of 50,000 words.”

Day also incorporates new technology and emerging media into her students’ writing assignments, such as telling stories with the use of digital media. “I encourage them to use software like PowerPoint, Google Maps, and Blogger to create stories, poems, and essays that can be easily shared,” Day explains. “New media creative writing isn’t ‘self-absorbed’ or ‘fooling around.’ It’s real writing that counts.”

The veteran writer is a big believer in sharing real-world experience with her students as well by discussing topics such as how to query an agent and submit work to editors. Day says her teachers focused on craft alone, not professionalizing oneself, a skill she had to learn on her own.

Day explains she was attracted to teaching at Ball State because “it’s a place where people are actively thinking about the future, and I wanted to be a part of that—a really innovative creative writing program at a forward-thinking university.” Her formal introduction to the university came with an invitation in 2009 from Ball State students participating in a Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry seminar. With Day’s blessing, the immersive learning class has adapted her first novel, The Circus in Winter, into an original musical, scheduled as a production in Ball State’s theatre lineup for the 2011-12 academic year.

Day grew up in Peru, Indiana, home of the International Circus Hall of Fame and the Circus City Festival, and for decades, the winter quarters of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. The Circus in Winter—a book about the everyday lives of circus people—is a fictionalized history of her hometown. Her second book, Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love, tells the parallel story of her attempts to find love at the same time her favorite football team, the Indianapolis Colts, have a Super Bowl-winning comeback season in 2006. Currently, she’s doing research for a book about another Peru native, acclaimed American composer and musician Cole Porter.

Returning to her home state to teach, Days says living in Indiana is a good fit for her—personally and professionally. “I always joked there were two kinds of Hoosiers—those who stay and those who leave. I may have left, but it turns out, I was one of the ones who wanted to stay.”