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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Creative Writing 101

by Angelita Williams

When I was in college, my first creative writing teacher told me, “You show me horse thieves, and I’ll tell you if they’re good or not.”

He was a young graduate student, a writer of short stories, with a name I’ve long forgotten. Each story I submitted came back with some of my words slashed and some of his own scribbled in the margins. It was a good relationship, a give and take of personal style for sound advice.

“Overwritten.”

“Great description.”

“Unclear.”

And of course, the ultimate lesson, the dead horse that he considered worth beating: “Show, don’t tell.”

He assigned each of us books, individually, based on our style. His praise was appreciated because within it, we found guidance.

But for all of his effort and encouragement, I can’t remember his face and can’t recall his name.

I remember being hungry in that classroom, ravenous for an audience, for feedback and for the chance to start my illustrious writing career. I had the deluded confidence of a diary keeper who thought her life was a novel.

I would have carried that arrogance with me, throughout college and perhaps throughout my life, if it hadn’t been for Evelyn.

I think she’s still at the university, though she was in her early seventies when I graduated. She was a prolific writer, petite and constantly smiling. She had a knack for being condescending without being rude – a true virtue of a southern belle – but she had an easy manner that seduced you into her confidence and a voice you wanted to listen to.

I don’t think there were a lot of things she took seriously, and I think she spent a lot of time laughing at the world.

And there I was, a self-important girl with a sprinkling of raw talent, sitting on a high horse so no one could hurt me, tell me I was wrong or tell me I was bad.

And no one could have knocked me off that high horse but Evelyn because what Evelyn did was just unthinkable.

She ignored my work. Overlooked it completely.

When it would come my turn to read aloud, she would usually stop me, about halfway through. Everyone around the table would take a turn to comment, and then Evelyn herself would ask some trite question or abstain completely by slyly changing the subject or moving on to the next student.

I wanted to impress her, so I kept taking her classes; but the result was always the same. My work did not appeal to her.

Evelyn taught me the lesson of accepting rejection, which is possibly the hardest lesson we learn as writers. There’s a fine line between searching for acceptance and soliciting edits, and it’s easy for ego to get in the way of artistic evolution.

When was the first time you dealt with rejection as a writer?

Angelita Williams is an education blogger who loves writing about all the latest online learning trends in the industry. When she's not writing articles, Angelita is probably trying a recipe from her library of cookbooks. You can reach her at angelita.williams7@gmail.com

4 comments:

Terry said...

I enjoyed reading Angelita's thoughts on her experiences in college. I think I skipped over the hard part of dealing with rejection and went right to self-publishing.

What I'm learning now is that not a lot of people want to read my poetry, nor my non-fiction; those who liked my memoir have reviewed it as a love story, and so I'm moving toward a different audience now. My first fiction/schoolhouse mystery/love story is beginning to leak out onto the page, and so I must give it more time. I'll be writing more and reading/reviewing less, but I'm glad I caught this column today.

But whether reading or writing, you'll find me at
http://terrysthoughtsandthreads.blogspot.com <3

Rob-bear said...

Last rejection? When I had a long term contract for op-ed commentary abruptly cancelled. That's when I quit writing commercially, and started to blog a bit more intentionally.

Evelyn sounds lie an "interesting" character, Angelita. how helpful was she, really?

Have fun; keep writing, Sylvia.

Jan Rider Newman said...

The first time I dealt with rejection? I must've been 12, and my best friend told me to stop mailing her my stories during summer vacation because it was too much trouble to walk up the driveway to the mailbox.

mare ball said...

My first 2 rejections were actually pretty good. I sent novel chapters to NY, and two editors responded with personal letters, not form letters. They rejected my work, but told me why, then encouraged me to keep at it. They pointed out strong points in my writing. I laminated the letters. "you write well and tell a good story," was one comment. I'll never forget it.