Journalism. No, Fiction. No, Creative Nonfiction. No…Journalism!

IYWS and Amy Butcher almost ruined my journalism career before it even began. I had just graduated high school, and would be going to Columbia, Missouri in the fall. I had declared a major in journalism. I was pretty sure I would be the best writer Columbia had ever seen. I signed up for creative writing with Amy Butcher, which included fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I was good at fiction, bad at poetry, and I didn’t know anything about creative nonfiction. I think I picked the class at random.

Over two weeks I discovered that I loved creative nonfiction. I love taking real people’s stories and real facts, and placing them within a narrative. I learned that I love long form nonfiction, and that I love editing. Those loves relate to magazine journalism and editing. I figured that I could use everything I had learned in creative nonfiction, and win a Pulitzer.

So I came to Columbia and wrote my first journalism article for the student paper. I interviewed people, got good quotes, and remembered to ask my sources to spell their names. I didn’t have a recorder, so I wrote it all down in a notebook. I had a great time.

I wrote my story, using all of my new techniques from Iowa to create a great, engaging story. Then I sat down with my editor, and she looked at my beautiful, clean copy, and asked, “Did they really say this?”

I said, “Ummmm…. I think so.”

The truth was, I had no idea. “It was the gist of what they said.”

While that may cut it in fiction, and possibly creative nonfiction, misquoting what people ‘might have said’ is illegal as a journalist. My story got cut down to a few bland quotes that I knew were accurate.

What does that have to do with IYWS? When I showed up at Iowa City I didn’t know a thing about creative writing, or creative nonfiction. In two weeks, Amy Butcher taught me what was allowed, and not allowed, in the genre. I learned the rules and I began to write. IYWS taught me, in essence, how to learn to write. It taught me how to learn new genres and forms of writing that are strange and alien.

After misquoting my sources, and having my byline next to a boring article, I had to learn how to truly write journalism, and how to accurately quote sources. IYWS gave me the tools to start that process. IYWS not only taught me a lot about my creative writing, but gave me the tools to learn journalistic writing for my career. I’m thankful for that assistance, and I’ll keep on learning, and I’ll keep on writing.

Ruth Serven attended the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this past summer. She is a 2013 graduate of Veritas Classical Academy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. She now studies journalism at The University of Missouri, Columbia.