It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I saw a pamphlet for some continuing education courses in writing at a local college, and I thought to myself “Gee! My two degrees and six years taking Communications Studies in university notwithstanding, I sure could use some Official Training In Writing.” I am an aspiring writer and I’m also one of those people who seems to believe that a person can only be a Professional Anything if they can put some institutionally sanctioned letters behind their name (C.A., R.D., Ph.D, M.D, D.D.S., etc– it’s ridiculous, I know). Therefore, signing up for a writing class or two at this college felt like the right thing to do. At the time.
The first thing I learned when I showed up for my College Writing Course was that I have spent a grand total of zero hours taking myself– and my dreams to write– seriously. Sure, I have impressive ambitions to write a best-selling book at some point, and a great number of my waking hours currently are spent writing on this here blog, but I’ve never actually uttered the words “I am a writer” aloud before. Especially in the company of other, Capital-‘W’ Writers. Can you believe it? It’s always been “I would like to be a writer”, or “I love to write [casually? as a hobby? to occupy my time? just for fun?]”. I’ve never granted my love of writing the weight of professionalism or Viable Career Path Credibility when I speak about it in public.
On a related note, I might not be completely right in the head.
Everyone else in my class seemed to be comfortable calling themselves professional writers, even if (in my humble, though occasionally ultra-judgmental opinion), they were clearly NOT PROFESSIONAL WRITERS AT ALL. (Journal writing doesn’t count, people! Unless you are Anne Frank and your diary has been read by millions.) This was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least. It made me wonder: What is it going to take for me to be a writer? When will I give up becoming a writer and just be one already? Will x amount of Continuing Ed courses get me there? Do I need to have a few Creative Writing credits under my belt? Or should I just print out some business cards and call it a day?
“Dana L., B.A., M.A.: Writer”
Anyway. The course itself was all about writing cohesive narratives using historical fragments (archival materials, objects, snippets of conversation, etc.) as a starting foundation. Like the book-smart, non-streetwise person that I am, I packed some looseleaf paper and a pen for the class and expected to take notes for a couple of hours. I was going to learn how to write narratives really well. After all, I am the best student, listener, and note-taker ever! (I’m just not a Real Writer, apparently.) Instead, the instructor spent a good half of the class talking about us, his students, and asking us to describe for him the historical writing projects we were currently undertaking.
Imagine how foolish I felt when everybody else in the class started speaking at great lengths about their intricate chapters on locomotive history in British Columbia, their enthralling recollections of the Fraser Valley floods, their gripping wartime memoirs, and their legacy family history projects. They were passionate, they were professional(ish), and they were clearly ready for this class. I, on the other hand, was one of only two participants in the room who were forced to confess, rather sheepishly, that I didn’t quite have a project on to go just yet. (My blog would have come up in this particular context over my cold, dead body. Totally not the right crowd for it.) Yes, I have ideas and plans and dreams and beginnings, but I am nowhere near as far along on any writing project as my classmates were on theirs. I fail Writing School! 😦
To make matters worse, we were assigned a homework project that was to be completed at some point during my grueling trip to Calgary. Pain. And. Suffering. The homework assignment was to send a synopsis of our Genius Writing Project to the rest of our classmates, and then provide constructive comments for everybody else’s projects. Kumbaya! What should we do if we didn’t have a project in the works? Make one up. Obviously.
For my homework assignment, I sent some rough, preliminary paragraphs to my classmates about a project I really would like to work on at some point in the future (you know, when I’m finally willing to take that leap and commit myself to being an Honest-to-God WRITER): a sweeping diatribe on Marty’s artwork. It was not a masterpiece collection of paragraphs, by any means, and I knew that a lot of my initial points would require further elaboration when class resumed the following week.
But I never made it to the next– and final– class. Nope. I was stuck en route back from Calgary, stymied by some avalanches, an epic bus ride, a decided lack of sleep, and I’ll admit it: a bad attitude to boot.
My classmates and instructor ended up discussing my project in my absence (probably so I couldn’t demand a refund for not showing up to class.) My instructor e-mailed their collective comments to me tonight, and I have to say: I’m pretty disappointed with them. My paragraphs were rather off-the-cuff and spontaneous to begin with, so I knew there could be lots of room for misinterpretation. And boy, was there ever misinterpretation. My “constructive comments” ranged from “This project will not work”, to “Choose something different”, to “She has real issues she needs to work through with her husband before this project will go anywhere.” I’m paraphrasing a tad, but this is for real. Thanks, classmates!
So now I’m not sure exactly what I feel right now. Upset, in a sense: I can’t use any of these comments to move forward. Afraid: Maybe this project isn’t worth moving forward on at all? Defiant, in another sense: I’ll show you the best damn writing project YOU’VE EVER ENCOUNTERED!!! You will fall over from the sheer force of its narrative genius!!! I feel guarded and cautious and reluctant to get into any more details, at least with my classmates. They don’t understand. That much is clear. I needed to be there to elaborate and clarify my preliminary paragraphs.
If anything, though, I guess I can take some food for thought out of this class: What, exactly, is ‘good enough’ to be considered ‘good enough’ when it comes to writing and being a professional writer? When will I pony up and start acknowledging myself as a writer? (To your face, not just through your computer screen?) Do any of you find yourselves talking about ‘becoming’ something without ever letting yourselves ‘be’ that something? Or am I the only one? 🙂