Sorry I’m so late with this one…been a busy day…
Last night was the last class of the summer session of my Creative Writing class. As per usual, I suffered heavy casualties, starting with eight eager students and, ten weeks later, ending with three die-hard ones.
That always saddens me, but it’s understandable. Let me explain…
About 3 months ago, when the class started, I faced eight eager, excited and slightly nervous. Who wouldn’t be nervous, facing me as their teacher? And, as usual, it looked like I was going to have a fun group with a wide range of skills and experience. It also gives me an early warning as to who the talkers are going to be and who the terminally shy ones are.
I typically go around the class, trying to find out the interests of each of the students, as well as what they want to write, how much experience they have, etc. And the first person, a young woman, immediately caught my attention. She said her name and then smiled and said, “I write stuff that pisses people off.”
I love to hear that. Raw, unbridled passion. Confrontational in a nice way.
Then others piped up. One was heavily into anything to do with war. Another was exploring his options, after having had a taste of writing speeches. So, as usual, a good cross section.
By the second class, I’d already lost one. The one that pissed people off.
But the rest kept coming for a few more weeks. Then, somewhere around the sixth class, they started dropping like flies. And, like the album by Genesis, then there were three…
Those three stuck it out until the very end though.
And this is relatively common. Each session, I can usually count on losing a solid 50% of the attendees by the end. Yes, there’s been some exceptions, but I’d say the vast majority go this way. So, why do I lose so many?
I think it’s a combination of things.
Absolutely, some come, then work gets in the way and they just can’t stick with it.
Others may, quite simply, not like my style of teaching, or possibly what I say. Hell, maybe they just don’t like me. I know I lost one a few years back when I ripped into how badly written Bret Easton Ellis’ AMERICAN PSYCHO was (really, it’s total crap). It was the only time that I can remember saying something, seeing an expression, and absolutely knowing that person was never coming back. Which is why I now warn people right up front how opinionated I am, and then encourage them to never take anything I say blindly. If they don’t agree, I want them to call me on it. I actually love when that happens. I really do. I makes for a great class discussion.
Then there’s those that, I think, realize that no matter how much they enjoy the process of writing, the class means they’re going to have to share it with others. And I think that’s sometimes a little too much publicity for them. I get it. It can be tough enough to stand up and proclaim you’re a writer. It’s even tougher to let others actually critique what you actually write.
But I think quite a few of them ultimately choose to leave because they find out that writing is actually a hell of a lot harder than it looks. I mean, we see authors portrayed on TV and in movies all the time. They never actually seem to write anything, yet, between the boozing, the women, the drugs and the crazy life issues, somehow they produce blockbuster novels…well, except Jack Torrance who, in the movie THE SHINING, only managed “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over and over again.
My point is, writing is work. Many think they can write. After all, we all compose emails every day, right? We can tell a good joke, or even make our families and coworkers laugh with a funny story about what one of our kids or spouses or pets did. But that’s a far cry from the actual process of getting your ass in a seat and your fingers on a keyboard and piecing together an engaging story out of nothing but 26 letters and your imagination. It’s work. And it’s perseverance. And it’s dealing with mistakes and rejection constantly.
So, you’ve gotta be a certain type of psycho (but not Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho) to find all that fun.
I guess I’m one of those psychos. And I hope I communicate all the passion and the fun and the reward and the sheer joy of producing something out of nothing but 26 letters and your imagination at the same time as I’m making everyone aware of all those other things you need to remember.
There’s times when, at the end of ten long weeks, I’m looking at a very small group left standing. And yet, every time I find myself a little discouraged, one of my students will somehow make it clear how much the course meant to them. It always happens exactly when I need it to.
And it happened again this time.
So, what does that mean? Hell, it means I’ll be doing it all again come September.
Wanna come write with the rest of the psychos (but not Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psychos)? There’s always room!