This report brought to you from our correspondents in The Land Where Things Are Fairly Obvious.
Last week I got to play writer in my life as a teacher, which is rare and to be treasured. One of my colleagues in the high school English department where I teach invited me to visit her three creative writing classes and talk about writing, publication, and perhaps above all, failure and rejection. I happily obliged. After all, getting to talk about myself as a writer to a rapt audience who thinks I’m pretty great and that I really know my stuff is unusual in the life of an obscure. One has to seize these moments.
My colleague had told her students in advance that a “published author” was going to visit class and when they found out it was me, they looked a little surprised. I knew many of them and had even taught some in years past. Still, once I got going, they seemed interested, even more so than I’d expected. I riffed a little on some relevant topics. Among them:
- Writing for pleasure versus writing for publication.
- What to do when you realize the universe is never going to thank you for the things that you created.
- The “business” of writing.
- The value of finding a community who can give you honest feedback on your work.
- What to do when you realize your baby (your book) is ugly (shitty).
It was fun. I talked. They listened. I mean, they really listened. It’s not often that people listen to me like that. Then there was some Q and A. The students were impossibly sweet and asked the kind of questions that a writer often dreams of being asked, even if he would never admit he dreams about it. What’s your writing routine? Do you plot things out in advance or do you just “listen” to your characters? What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written? What was your proudest moment as a writer? The kids made me feel like Don Delillo, and I happily pretended that I was.
In the final minutes of class, as I was sneaking out, my colleague asked her students to write “exit cards” where they were to jot down some thoughts about what they learned from the conversation. Later that day and the next, she shared them with me. They were wonderful. Many were insightful and honest and quoted me directly, which made me feel more important that it should have. Many talked about things I’d said related to the personal nature of the creative process. Of how rejection is hard, but the work is everything. About how writing advice should always be heard with skepticism.
But my favorite? The one that was the pithiest and juiciest proxy for my wisdom on the subject at hand? The one that said, simply:
WRITING IS NOT GLAMOUROUS.
Now that kid was really paying attention.