A writing instructor can make or break you.

Another writer-friend on facebook posted a painting he did years ago while at the Pratt Institute. There he said the instructor more or less brought him down to size and told him basically to forget about painting. I thought the painting was excellent for a young person just starting out, and told him I thought the instructor was an Ass. He came back with, “No, he really did me a favor, he wanted more from me. So I didn’t paint or draw for twenty years, but now I know what he meant. He was a great teacher.” Wow, I thought, when I was at the New School in NYC at the young age of 18, an instructor did the same thing to me. Held my work up in front of the class like I was some sort of ridiculous monster posing as a writer. I walked away from that class and never wrote again until the age of 39. Through those years, I read all the writing magazines and books on craft. I Searched out novels and short stories and poetry, and ached. At 40 I went to see John Gardner lecture at Hofstra University. There, I had the courage to ask if he’d look at short story I had written. He was a generous soul, and told me to send it to him. When he returned it six months later, he said my writing was “brilliant.” Brilliant? I sat in shock for a least a month, but his remarks got me writing once again. I told my friend, who is quite accomplished today in both art and writing, that he was one of the lucky ones, but I thought he wasted twenty years doing nothing. Twenty years is a long time in terms of ‘practice.’ I think of the years I didn’t put pen to paper, afraid of failure and disgrace to see my trite words on a page…who did I think I was? The consequences of burying your creativity is a high price to pay in terms of acquired experience. I wonder how those lost years robbed me, if they did at all? I know now that my writing is not ‘brilliant,’ but it’s the word brilliant that got me writing again.

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  • SJ Lee Brainstorming

    Thank you for sharing. I've never had the experience of a teacher stifling my writing, but I have my own fears that have held me back from putting pen to paper. I wrote a lot as a child, but was so stifled that I didn't start to write again until I was twenty-nine. Now it seems that I can't stop! I'm enjoying the process now. I definitely still have my fears, and I still don't consider myself a writer. However, I'm at least learning to have the same kind of fun I used to have. Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to say here stands SJ writer (and singer ;-)).