Best Writing Instructor

I’ve been reading David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Normally, I don’t find how-to books  helpful–most seem to be a repeat of the same information.  It’s rare to find a gem, and WoW was very non-traditional.   David Gerrold is a writer I’m familiar with because Star Trek got me interested in science fiction and fantasy.

He says the best writing instructor he ever had told him:

“Stop wasting my time.  You’re no good.  You’ll never be any good.  You have no talent.  You’ll never be a writer.”

This made Gerrold angry, and he vowed to show the teacher that this wasn’t true.  It resounded with me, because I had the same experience.

I was in 7th grade, Sun Valley Junior High (junior high is 7th-9th grade), in California.  I’d been writing short stories for three years, and when a creative writing class popped up for the following year, I wanted to sign up for it.  My best friend Rebekah was already assigned to the class.  One of the counselors called me to her office and told me:

“Sorry, you can’t take the class.  You’re not capable of it.”

I was so upset I cried, and I was mad.  I wrote even more, to prove to her, and to me, that she was wrong.  Short stories, poetry–I was always writing.  Got into trouble for it a few times.  If I was bored in class … well, there was always a story or poem.  In 9th grade, SVJH had an essay contest, with the winner to be read by the writer at graduation.

I took honorable mention.

It’s odd thinking about how such a negative experience can be turned so positive.  Who is your best writing instructor?

2 thoughts on “Best Writing Instructor

  1. bigwords88

    I’ve made note of the incident before, but it’s a good story and a person can dine out on really good stories more than once. There was a guy who, back in the late seventies or early eighties had been an Important Writer (caps, because those guys need the attention), though by the time I met him he had been in teaching for a while. Not sure if he ever returned to Writing as opposed to merely writing, but he was a bundle of frustrated dreams at that point. He spent maybe fifteen or so minutes reading what I had written, before taking the manuscript and ripping it lengthways in front of me.

    His face betrayed no emotion as the paper was torn, and the simple “You can do better” completely took me by surprise. Totally didn’t expect that reaction – which in itself was a damn good lesson. Unexpected actions can have more effect than following set social conventions, and take people out of their comfort zones. I sat in the cafeteria thinking about the ways I could have improved the phrasing and flow, so it worked. The instructors who are seen as crazy old bastards, for whatever reason, are – in their own way – just as good as the nurturing smiles and encouragement type of writing instructors.


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