It’s been said that you can’t teach someone to write well.Whether or not you believe that, Valley Haggard doesn’t care. She’s just interested in getting people writing every day, even 10 minutes at a time.
Haggard, a former book editor at Style, has been teaching creative writing mostly to kids across Richmond for the past five years. She’s now co-director of Richmond Young Writers, located upstairs at Chop Suey Books in Carytown. During that time, Haggard says, she discovered something about her own preference for shorter, what she calls “flash nonfiction.”
“I had been writing with my students over this time so I had amassed probably 30 notebooks [of her own work],” she says. “Finally it came to me to not force trying to find my own genre. I love slice-of-life, flash nonfiction. I believe you can write and share an incredible amount in 10 minutes.”
Haggard began to put together a book of her own called “Life in 10 Minutes” that she hopes to get published some day; and in the process she decided to start a website featuring her students’ work and anyone else who wanted to submit 10 minutes of writing online. Just click on "Submit Ten" to enter your own work.
As a teacher, Haggard says she was extremely impressed by the quality of the work from her students, who are of all ages and come from all walks of life. They include waitresses, landscapers, artists, students, and a lot of clergy lately, she says.
She describes her approach as “old school.” Everyone in the class writes the first drafts by hand, in three ten-minute segments. She’s hoping the quick process will bridge a gap and be less intimidating to non-experienced writers.
“Its kind of like the bait,” she says. “You don’t have to be like Vladamir Nabakov before you start writing. You can enter the world of writing without permission.”
Already she is seeing results, she says. A number of students have gone on to craft longer works after strengthening their work ethic and skills through these exercises.
“To inspire a love of the written word is the most important thing,” Haggard says.
Here’s a ten-minute example by one of her students, Paige Fulton, titled “We Didn’t Have Much To Do.”
When I moved back in with my mom for a year I only had one friend, Nick, a clumsy, scruffy art student who managed to get brutally knifed during a trip to Lisbon after meeting a woman named Frederico at a bar, and who last year, in France, accidentally went to a brothel and got strong armed by a group of pimps after they charged him 4,000 euros for a cocktail made of orange liquid that he couldn't afford.
Nick and I had both graduated from college and moved back to the beach to live in our childhood bedrooms. I was interning at a museum by my house and teaching little kids how to appreciate the world around them, while Nick was desperately fumbling through French lessons so that he cold move to Paris and live with his girlfriend, a sculptor, among other things, who was making a living selling urns with holes in them that you could hang from trees so that the ashes would blow out with every gust of wind.
We spent most of our time together wandering in the sand underneath the bridge by the bay, driving through swamps, and talking to desolate strangers at 24 hour diners. We didn't have much to do.
One day, I saw an intriguing poster at the health food store where I often biked to buy vitamins and essential oils. I was particularly addicted to vitamins at the time; I couldn't get enough of them. I believed that they would keep me alive, or at least keep me from dying prematurely and unexpectedly like my father, his sister, his mother, his father, and probably everyone else. If I swallowed enough vitamins, I thought, then maybe everything would be okay. It was there at the health food store with a bottle of B-Complex in one hand (for my happiness) and CoQ10 in the other (for my heart), that I saw a poster for our town's UFO society chapter. They were looking for members and their next meeting was coming up soon.