I have been teaching Creative Writing for over three decades, and am taking a break from it at present to concentrate on my own writing. With new students, I always knew which ones would “make” it as writers and which ones thought it was an easy way to make money. The real writers had a compulsion to write, no matter what. The others wanted to know about agents and contracts and royalties; how much one may expect to earn over the lifetime of a book. They wanted me to comment on how much help to expect from an editor; how the sales force will sell their books; how the advertising dept. will promote it, and how had I enjoyed the book tours I’d done. They also wanted to know about multiple submissions.
All their questions were so superficial. They sat there barely interested in the craft of writing, which is what I wanted to teach them. They were much more interested in marketing techniques. Having written nothing, they were anxious to sell it. Fortunately, they were few and far between.
But the others – the real writers – they excited me. Because I saw myself in my youth, longing to take words and string them together into a necklace of shining jewels. They were the students with stars in their eyes and dreams so intense they could hardly articulate them. Some of them inspired me, by giving more subtle shading to my words, better similes or metaphors. They were the reason I taught Creative Writing, and many of them had their dreams fulfilled and notified me when they had their first article or story published and I shared with them the excitement and sense of fulfilment I knew they were experiencing. Some of them from early classes still keep in touch with me and I love to hear of their progress.
What I wanted always to impart to my writing students was a concept of freedom, the unknown and exploring.
Freedom is what opens up the creative gates to every kind of possibility, to every journey into the unknown.
The unknown is that wild and dangerous place that is the proper region of a writer’s exploration. And exploring is essential. Maybe because we live in a time of experts, of specialists, that we have become frightened of the spectre of ignorance. Yet all three aspects are part of the fabulous adventure that we take when we conceive something that never was, making something out of nothing.
Financially, I probably only broke even when I gave a class. It took so much time organizing it – this one can only come on a Tuesday; another only in the morning; yet another only after work; and the cost of advertising in the paper to get students is very expensive. But I didn’t do it for the money. Through the sincere students, I could recapture the thrill of starting out, slowly growing, experimenting with words and poetry, and finally of achieving success . I still live my life through a mantra my sister taught me when I was a child:
“Writing is dreaming, head in the skies;
Reading is sharing another man’s eyes.”
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