Monday, May 14, 2012

Take a writing class -- writing tip

News:  Just wanted you to know that I am back to writing now that I have retired from my day job.  I actually placed a story (my very second publication!) and am taking a class at a local college. I am 40 years older than most of the other students and am not sure how to act. To me they seem quite rude and raucous. Even the teacher can be nasty. It seems so different from the kind of personal attention we had in the correspondence school, but I hate to quit, after I have paid my money and all. Those of us on retirement cannot afford to throw money away. Any advice on how should I handle my fellow students?

Answer:  Treat them just like you treat everyone else -- as you, yourself, would like to be treated.  If they get personally rude, don't answer. If name calling emerges or they demand an answer, say, "Oh, were you addressing me?...."

Having said that, going back to school can be quite an experience. Classes differ, depending on the instructor and what he or she will allow students to get away with. Give respect where it's due and expect it in return. If asked your opinion about a work, tell them the following information:

1. What happened? (The plot. You'd be surprised how often this is unclear.)

2. How you felt while listening or reading. ("I got lost in thought and failed to follow the action." will tell them they didn't convey the message just as well as, "I couldn't tell what the F--- was going on!".)

3. What you might change if it were YOUR story. Suggesting what you might do is different from telling someone else what They HAVE to do. And remember to take it as only a suggestion, when they try to rewrite your stuff.

Eventually, they will get the idea.

Taking my own first class was traumatic. I'm a late bloomer (even wrote a story about that situation once). Didn't go to college until I was 35. The writing class was my 41st birthday present to myself. When I walked in, I was the only one in the room over 30, the only one without jeans and sandals, the only one wearing polyester. The attitude of the other students approximated a shark attack.

They were as cruel to one another as they were to me, but their attitude was a shock to my system. I fought back as best I could with remarks like, "Well, why didn't you like it? What was wrong with it? It's not enough to say, 'It sucks!' You have to tell me how to fix it."

By the end of the term, I had gained their respect and had two of the pieces I wrote for the class scheduled for publication in national and regional magazines, though I never made the school's literary magazine.

That experience stayed with me and when I became a writing teacher, I made it a point not to let students in my classes behave rudely to one another. My teacher explained to me that he felt if you "couldn't take it from the other students, then you weren't serious about writing."  Don't know if he ever outgrew that feeling, but I never wanted students in my face-to-face classes to be cruel to one another. It's hard enough to be a writer without getting your nose rubbed into your faults when you are new and tender. 

Call me old-fashioned. I think it works. Many of my former students have published. One brought me a slick piece she published in a gardening magazine this week. And now I've heard from you, too! I love to hear good news.

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