Friday, January 19, 2007

To Write, You Must... Write

I got kicked out of the last writing class I took.

It's true. I'd enrolled in a fiction-writing, write-your-novel sort of class with the first rough half of Destined to Choose, back when simply finishing it was the goal and getting it published was a pipe dream.

Our first class, we were to do a free write for ten minutes. This is where you set the timer for ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind. Good, bad, disorganized, stream-of-consciousness, whatever. Then we did a ten-minute assigned writing, which we shared with the class. We talked about why we were in the class and what we wanted to get out of it. We talked about dialog, characterization, setting, point of view, description, all the things that go into a novel. The plan, over the next twelve weeks, was to break each concept down and work exclusively and intensely on it. Our homework: bring one chapter from a work in progress.

No problem.

I brought the first chapter of DTC with the other written chapters as backup, in case the instructor wanted more. We each shared our first chapter. When we were done, the instructor asked if I could stay after for a few minutes.

"Busted!" a few classmates joked, like we were back in grade school and I was going to get detention.

"Sheyna," the instructor asked after class, "why are you here?"

I thought probably too much about that question. Was this a trick? "To take your class," I answered.

"I know that. But why?"

"Because I want to be a better writer."

She nodded silently and looked over the chapter I'd submitted, her shoulder-length blond waves obscuring her face. Finally she spoke. "I don't think this class is going to give you what you want. Your chapter needs some polishing and some more description, but you clearly understand the elements I'll be teaching. I'm going to be honest with you, okay?"

I nodded, psyching myself up for harsh criticism.

"I don't think you're taking this class to become a better writer. I think you're taking this class to procrastinate finishing your book." She handed me a business card. "Here's my e-mail and telephone number. Feel free to contact me with any questions, but I don't want to see you in my class again. You are depriving the world of your story, your perspective, your words, and you are the only one who can share them. Don't be selfish and keep them to yourself. Go home and finish that book and get it out there so it can get published."

I was disappointed and more than a little chagrined. I thought that if my writing was better, it would be easier to finish the book, or to get it published. In the end she was right. You can't finish a book if you don't write it.

I ran into her just last year and asked if she remembered me.

"I kicked you out of class, didn't I?" she asked with a smile, a few more laugh lines around her cornflower blue eyes, her hair in the same blond waves.

"It wasn't one of my favorite student-teacher moments," I admitted. "But you were probably right. I stopped trying to learn writing and started practicing writing." I told her about DTC's publication and my work on its sequel.

"Good!" she said, curtly nodding once. "After reading your writing, I knew you didn't need a beginning course on fiction writing. You needed a fire lit under your butt. I'm glad I was there with a match."

With fondness now, I remember her when I need to stop procrastinating - or worrying so much about my writing that it ultimately halts my writing.

Thanks to all who keep me going.
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