Thursday, December 12, 2013


I eventually got an MFA in Writing at Vermont College where I had many great teachers.

But before that, when I was an undergraduate, I tried out a few Creative Writing classes. Back in those days, and maybe in some classes these days too, the instructors didn't so much teach the class as talk about writing and then go over a story or two and then--nothing. There was no organized approach to teaching craft, no exercises to help us understand aspects of craft. It was just talk and then workshop. I didn't get much out of any of those classes.

Last night I was having final conferences with my students in my own creative writing class. When I started teaching this class years ago, I vowed to make it different from those useless classes that I had taken as an undergraduate. I would go through elements of craft, give them exercises to practice , get them writing in and out of class, get them reading published fiction and discussing it as writers, show videos of other writers talking about elements of craft. I would inspire them to write. I'd do more.

Last night I was talking to one of my students and he was asking me about majoring in English and I said there was good and bad to it for a writer. "We read differently than English students do," I said. "As writers, you and I read differently, and sometimes English classes can be frustrating for us because we read as writers."

A big smile broke out on his face.

It made me remember something--- how, back in one of those useless creative writing classes, the professor said, off-handedly, that when I finished my first novel I'd most likely put it away in a drawer and go on to the next and I shouldn't worry--that was natural.

A big smile broke out on my face.

I'd forgotten that smile until I saw it on my student's face.

You see I hadn't really believed I could write a novel. I wanted to. I'd written some things. But I didn't know if I could or how I would ever finish a novel. But here was this writer and this teacher of writing assuming I would. It made me think maybe he knew something I didn't. Maybe I really could finish a novel.

Belief is hard to come by.

You never know where you'll find it.

Sometimes even in a useless creative writing class. NOT so useless it turns out.

Thinking of yourself as a writer, finding the belief to do so, is a huge step to becoming one.

That professor/writer gave me an incredible gift.

Thank you, Professor G.

 I'll try to pass it on.


Melissa said...

So I've been thinking (for many years) about going back to school and pursuing a creative writing degree. I'm turning 40 this year, I'm a SAHM, I haven't had a job in ten years and my degree (from IT school) is useless. Hanging out with the moms on my street a few years ago I mentioned my dream, and one mom laughed. She said I could do more for my family if I became a prostitute. Although I disagree, that attitude is general response I've received repeatedly. I keep coming close to applying, and then I don't. Thank you for this post. You've inspired me. :)

Brian Yansky said...

Thanks, Melissa. I got my MFA when I was about 40. Vermont College low res--it is expensive but it was a great, great experience for me.