Saturday, February 28, 2009

Writing Teachers

Okay, so I've written about this once before, but I'll elaborate here.

Ever had a writing teacher who just turned you off to it completely? I did. Now I'll admit I had a part in the problem, but I had help too. What was my part? I quit. I let it get to me. Stupid and weak, I know. Would that I could take it back....

When I was in High School my senior year, I took a course I was really stoked about called "Writer's Studio". Figured I'd love it. I didn't, for a number of reasons, but the professor was one of them. My laziness another.

It seemed to me that the only people who had their writing praised were those who wrote slice-of-life, mainstream type stuff. I didn't write that because I was a metalhead outsider who didn't read it. I read Sci-fi and Horror, so that's what I wrote. You remember me, I was the kid with the long hair and ripped jeans buried in a Stephen King novel when I wasn't telling you to piss off.

So that's what I wrote. I wanted to be the next SK.

Don't we all.

My teacher told me it was crap. I don't mean she said it in a nicer way, I mean she said it was awful. All of it. And that I needed to focus on more realistic writing. I replied that I was trying to write stuff like Stephen King, and why was that a bad thing.

She said, "Well, when you have published as much as he has, call me. Otherwise I say that trash will never do."

Okay, that's not a direct quote, but it's damn close...especially the first part.

I was crushed. Seriously thought I'd never write a damn thing worth reading. Ever.

I wrote one thing from 1992 to 2003. That's freakin' 10 years I could have been working and improving, and I'll never get it back. Yeah, I quit. Know why?

Because I thought, having been effectively told so by a 'recognized authority', that nothing I ever wrote would rise above the level of the garbage in a land fill.

And you know what? The writing I did in that class was awful. All of it. The premise, the structure, it was lame. But you know what I've learned since I started going to school to be a teacher? We're supposed to TEACH. So what she could/should/here's-what-I-would've-done is freakin' TAUGHT me what was wrong and helped me improve.

I may never get anything but a few shorts published like the one coming out later this spring. But I know this much: Any of my students whose writing is absolutely terrible in their HIGH SCHOOL YEARS can count on me to be honest about what's wrong, show them how to identify it, and encourage them to keep at it and never give up. Oh, and I know that of any book I do get published, I'll have a free signed copy for the lady in question, if she has the guts to claim it in person.

So how about you, readers? Have anybody you're saving a *special* copy of your first published work for, or that you already gave away if you are a published author?


R.J. Mangahas said...

I had one teacher who said that her method was the only way to write correctly. I dropped that class like a bad habit. And as far as I know, she never had anything published anyway, but that's not really the point. It's the fact that she was so arrogant. But since I've been writing for so long, she really didn't deter me from it.

jnantz said...

Man I'm glad to hear you weren't deterred, RJ. Good for you. It just bugs me when teachers that have that kind of influence use it for the wrong thing. Drives me nuts.

R.J. Mangahas said...

To be honest, Jake, I've actually thought about becoming a creative writing teacher myself. And you can bet I wouldn't let any kind of literary snobbery come into play.

And in regards to that "teacher" you had: you may say that you were lazy, but then again so was she because all she did was tell you that your writing was awful, but did nothing to guide you in the right direction to improve.

By the way, you really should try to get to Bouchercon this year. I'll be there.

jnantz said...

Before the economic nosedive, my wife and I had planned to. Thing is, we've been hemorraging money lately with the house and one of our dogs getting sick, so we probably won't be able to afford it because it would mostly be for me. If we are gonna vacation, it's got to be for both of us, and she just isn't into the mystery scene like I am, so she wouldn't get near as much out of it.

Don't worry, though. I'm still writing away, and sooner or later something will be good enough to catch, get published, and give us enough of a boost on top of our day jobs to spend $700-1000 on Bouchercon to promote as well as enjoy.

'Course we could hit the lotto, then I'd see you there this year!

davethemysteryguy said...

I'm a first time visitor to your blog, but I have to say I like your rescue of the week feature. I used to work with rescue dogs and I have to say, it was a very rewarding experience for me.

I'm not much of a writer but am certainly an avid reader. My daughter is taking a creative writing class at the community center near our house and she said the teacher is actually very good. He actually does try to guide the students in the right direction and how to improve.

I hope you do get that book deal, just so you can stick it to that ridiculous teacher you had.

jnantz said...

Thanks very much, and I'm so glad you stopped by.

I'll bet you had a great time working with rescues. Pets from shelters just seem to be even more loyal. I firmly believe they know that you saved them.

And thanks also for the well-wishes. I would dearly love it, though I'm not sure I'm a vengeful enough person to actually rub her nose in it.

Be nice to have the opportunity to, though!

Basil Sands said...

just started reading your blog after connecting via killzoneauthors. Good stuff sir.

As far as first lines, there have been a few that have grabbed me but they are all escaping me.

One of the most memorable first chapters I recall is from a Jack Higgins novel back in the eighties. But yeah, the words seem to have vanished leaving only a feeling of "Hey that was good."

My own hopefully soon to be sold first novel opens with phrase.

“Damn! When it gets dark out here, it is dark as death.”

It's titled "65 Below" and the free podcast is available at my website....although that version doesn't have the same first line.

Anyhow...nice blog sir.

Basil Sands said...

I just realized I posted the wrong reply to the wrong blog post. I had two of your windows open at the same time and put the post for the introduction thing on here instead of much for successful multi-tasking.

Basil Sands said...

I ocne met a lit. professor at a conference who made a very strong effort at making me feel two inches tall. He was a mss reviewer that looked at my work. I swear there was more red ink than my own black ink on that thing.

Funny thing is that two other reviewers had totally ecstatic reviews of the exact same text.

That's Ok though. He looked like the kind of guy who probably looses control about half way through his first bottle of wine cooler and starts dancing to classical music while spewing horrible poetry verses out of order.

jnantz said...

Thank you for the compliment, and thanks for swingin' by. As far as the multitasking, I think we all get a little off-kilter some me, I sure do.

As for the opening lines, love 'em both! And your lit professor may have just been one of those guys who feels he can't leave a piece alone without marking it up. Or maybe he was just on a power trip. Who knows? At any rate, it didn't deter you, that's the important thing!

Lettera22 said...

Hi Jake:
I've been lurking on your blog for quite some time. Hope it's okay to post so late. When I was in college, my best friend and I took an upper division fiction writing class. We were in different sections and I received a higher grade at the end of the term. My friend commented that my prof was more lax with his grading because she was a much better writer. After all, she wrote a weekly column for the campus paper.

It's funny after all these years, the sting of her remark has stayed with me. We are still best friends and I've never mentioned it since, but should I ever get published, she'd get one of the first copies.
It's not about revenge or to prove that I'm a better writer because we all know being published doesn't mean you're a good writer. :)

I will say that I remember all of my writing profs and T.A.s with fondness. Some of them would read us excerpts from their WIPs. I grin when I think of all the stories they had to read and grade. I'm sure some of the stuff was just awful, mine included. There was a chain smoking, leather jacketed, DeNiro look alike T.A. named Tony, who told me he was most miserable when he couldn't write. It took me years to understand what he meant.

jnantz said...

I know just what you mean, as I have so many stories to grade it's keeping me from my writing. At the same time, I love being able to help these kids while still being as encouraging as I possibly can. The thing is, Very few of us are good writers at that point (boy I wasn't). But we have the POTENTIAL to be, because we have so much time to learn the craft if we study. Me? I just had my heart and confidence crushed, and I never want to see that happen to another young writer if there's something I can do about it.