If you’re like me and could use a little inspiration, you should read this wonderful essay about becoming a writer by Alexander Chee. He writes eloquently about the experience of studying writing with novelist Annie Dillard.
After you read it, come back and tell us about your own most important writing teacher. In my case, a creative writing course I took from Robert Pinsky (who later became Poet Laureate) at Wellesley College changed my thinking about writing. I remember how one day he opened a classroom window (on an upper floor) and leaned way, w-a-a-y out of it, to a point that made me nervous; he was showing us that we had to risk discomfort and break out of our Wellesley-refined shells, to dig deep enough to get the stories out. Even though I was focused back then on becoming a journalist (I didn’t think of writing fiction as a “real” career), I still remember the impact that course had on me.
What about you? Which teacher had the most direct influence on you as a writer?
My high school English teacher, Mrs. Marjorie Bruce, saw this jock and thought she detected a writer inside. It made a huge difference, and I kept in touch with her until her death a couple of years ago, at age 90.
I took a workshop in college with Raymond Carver. I learned about the “telling detail” from him and his stories, but it also was discouraging, because I couldn’t do what he did, and I thought that was how all fiction was supposed to be done. Now I can look back and see what was good about it, and also that the writing I really loved (e.g., Raymond Chandler) is more what I’m after.
A workshop with Raymond Carver–I’m jealous! Much later in life, a big turning point for me was when I won a manuscript critique by the PJ Parrish sisters, at Sleuthfest. Their practical, craft-improving notes and suggestions helped me get that particular manuscript ready for submission, and I’m still using that advice today.
I’m jealous! I have never had a great writing teacher (on the contrary most of them have been horrible) but after reading Chee’s article I wish I had:( … so I think I’ll slink back into my sad little hole now…