The Pleasure of Mingling with Writers
I spent last weekend teaching in Arcadia University’s Creative Writing Summer Institute and what a pleasure it was! From Friday night when we met over dinner in the imposing Music Room of Grey Towers Castle right through the final writing exercise and outstanding class reading late Sunday afternoon, the weekend was a blast. Even though I was there in the role of “teacher,” I learned plenty. The group inspired my own writing and reenergized my current writing projects. After all, the lyrics in “Getting To Know You” from The King and I have it right:
It’s a very ancient saying,
But a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher,
By your pupils you’ll be taught.
Three separate classes make up the annual Institute and the opening night features a reading by a local writer. This year we were lucky enough to host the young novelist Justin Kramon whose 2010 novel Finney has gotten rave reviews. His self-effacing yet helpful advice on working with plot, character, and language was a fitting kick-off to the hard work of the weekend.
My advanced class in children’s and YA writing included women working on fascinating middle grade and YA novels. I’ll work with them online for four more weeks, hopefully jump starting their projects and helping them progress in their writing. Getting to know a dedicated group of serious writers of all ages who want to learn more about their craft is always fun, but this weekend reminded me of how necessary this sort of mingling is to the otherwise solitary life of the writer.
Yes, as writers we all need to keep our fanny in the chair and work hard to accomplish our writing goals, but we also have to surface from time to time and come together. Only fellow writers understand this compelling passion to pour out our souls onto the page and tell a story. We create characters that become real and act as puppet masters controlling their dreams and actions. Who else would understand this drive to push on through all the frustrations of invention and drafting and revising and revising yet again?
All three of us teaching the classes pushed our students hard and it was amazing what they produced in response to our writing exercises. The final Sunday afternoon exercise in Tracey Levine’s combined seminar culminated in a required reading from all students. No comments, no excuses, just read. All levels of writers were allowed to give voice to their creations. Words that did not exist 20 minutes earlier now had an appreciative audience. There’s a lesson to be learned in that. Keep pushing on, word by word. Always aim for excellence but don’t falter if it at first eludes us. It will come. After all, our audience is waiting.