My Students, My Inspiration

Posted: 26 May 2011 in Write.
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I am humbled.

Last night I taught the final session of my first Fiction Writing Craft Workshop in Sarasota.  Our class was small–just four participants, all beginners–but the collective passion, enthusiasm and dedication these budding writers exhibited may have inspired me more than I inspired them.

I have been reminded in teaching them what it is that first drew me to writing way back when (waaaay back when), when writing was all about giving free reign to my imagination, about curling up in a chair with a favorite notebook and favorite ball point pen and staining page after page with inked words I considered to be full of profundity and insight.

I have been reminded how each time I sat down to write I surprised myself by what poured onto the page–the twists and turns of plot, the sometimes shocking things my character would suddenly say  or do (because, of course, that character usually started out being based on me), the images that revealed themselves.

It felt, I remember, like magic.

And I have been reminded that the words did pour onto the page.  They grew into sentences and paragraphs and pages, and more pages.  I wrote in that chair for hours, not getting up to eat or to use the bathroom or to go call a friend.  There was nothing I would rather be doing, nowhere I’d rather be.

Nor was it only the chair.  I wrote in my bed before going to sleep, I wrote in the back seat of the car on road trips, I wrote on buses and trains, I wrote during math class, ignoring that nuisance Pythagoras, I wrote in the playground while other girls dangled from monkey bars and played hopscotch.  While friends spent their summer days learning to swim, I spent those days in the local library devouring books and writing my own.  (True, I don’t know how to swim now, but how many of those friends can write a novel?)

But one day we learn how hard writing is.  We learn what good writing (never mind brilliant writing) really is, and we discover why our characters are flat or cliched or unsympathetic.  We discover our prose reads lifeless and dull, that our premise is absurd, that our stories just don’t “hang together.”

My workshop participants are not at that point yet.  They’ve just started their wonderful journey and right now their sights are set on writing a single satisfying story, not on publication in a prestigious literary journal or on a book contract.

It is true that the innocence they brought to that first session has been ruptured over our two months together.  No longer do they believe (if they ever truly did) that writing is easy, and I’d be lying if I said they haven’t experienced their frustrations, but to spend a few hours a week with writers virtually free of the sometimes paralyzing angst my peers and I suffer…I can imagine little else that could be so inspiring.

As a “seasoned” writer, I am known to profess that while I’d love to see my novel(s!) displayed on that shelf at Shakespeare & Co., I’m writing for myself first, but is that truly what I think when I sit down to write now?  I want that to be true, but I”m not sure.  Seven or so years ago, the idea of one of my books being published was pure fantasy, but when I landed an agent for my second novel, that fantasy transformed into promise, and I can admit that as I work on my next novel, the dream of publication looms.  A dream that sometimes inspires, but just as often discourages.

I want to write for myself in the same way my students do now.  I want to recapture what I once had, what they have now–that spirit of learning and exercising the imagination, wherever it takes them, that sense that writing is something they do for themselves, which is as it should be.

So to my students, my fledgling writers–Rosemarie, Jen, Katie and Ken–as much as I hope I have motivated and inspired you, know that you have returned the favor.

I have been reminded and now I need to remember…every single day.

  1. I took your fiction writing class and was very impressed. You’re a fantastic facilitator and provider of great writing content. I used to think that someone who’s an expert in a particular area may not necessarily be the best to teach the same content. Boy, was I wrong! Not only are you a talented writer, but you’re also am amazing teacher. You’ve provided us great critique on our work and have inspired us to keep writing. What I have produced in your class, I can definitely use as scripts in my filmmaking projects.

    Finally, thank you for enabling us, for letting us realize that we can again believe in ourselves as writers.

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