• Testing My Writing Ability

    Posted Posted by Dan L. Hays in WBN News & Events     Comments No comments
    Jun
    21

    It was September of 1988, and I had signed up for a creative writing class at The University of Houston.  The teacher was a well known published author and writing teacher from New York City who had agreed to guest lecture for a year.  It seemed like a great opportunity and I wanted to learn more about my craft, so I sat nervously in class with 30 other students.  Oh, did I mention that I was 38 years old at the time?  It felt a bit awkward that I was so much older than most of the students, but I was willing to accept that discomfort to get some depth perception on my writing ability.

    In the first class the teacher described our writing process.  We would each turn in a 1,000 word piece every two weeks.  The teacher would select a few of our writings, then the class and teacher would review and critique our work.  Gulp!  I had been journaling extensively, had written some short works and won praise for them, but this was unveiling my talent at a whole new level.

    The class was an hour and a half long. The would teacher lecture for the first part of class, then read one of our works, and the class would spend 10 to 15 minutes reviewing it.  We reviewed 3 to 4 pieces per class, and the group was very generative in their comments – honest but gentle. The teacher was a bit more incisive–she got to the heart of the matter candidly and sometimes a bit harshly.

    My first piece was not read aloud in class.  I worked hard on a second piece entitled “The Hunt,” about an experience I had as a 14 year old deer hunting with my Dad and his friends.  The story was about how frightened I was being with grown men who were combining poker, whiskey and guns in a very unsafe environment.  I really put myself out there, and didn’t know what response to expect.

    When the teacher said aloud “The Hunt,” I felt my heart begin to race and my breathing grow rapid.  I didn’t know what to expect.  As she read the class was very quiet.  She finished, looked up and asked for comments.  The class raved!  “Insightful … brilliant … I could feel myself being there.”  I waited for the teacher’s opinion.  She went through the piece quoting passages and showing how brilliantly the story unfolded and was portrayed.  She said it was almost like the narrator was outside the experience, standing and looking on at the events.  At the end the young boy has almost a living nightmare, the men running down the road after a deer, one of them tripping and falling and shooting his father in the back. The teacher was effusive in her praise of this part.  One of her benchmarks about stories was: “Did it earn the ending?”  She was clear that this story really did earn the ending.

    I had tensely been listening and taking notes all over my copy of the story.  I finally looked at my watch and realized that 45 minutes had elapsed.  I left class that day with a new appreciation for my writing gift–I had seen it in a way that none of my friends could make me believe.  A published author–a professional–had raved about my work.

    I thought maybe it was a fluke until it happened a second time, on a piece I had written entitled “Fight Night,” about my Dad introducing me to boxing.  The teacher took about 40 minutes to go through that short piece, giving it an equal amount of praise as she did for my first work.

    I’ve talked to a lot of writers over the years, and it seems many of us share an uneasiness about “someone might figure out that I really don’t know what I’m doing.”  It must be something that goes with the writing talent.  If the teacher had panned my writing, I suspect some part of me might have been secretly relieved at being able to give up this need to write.

    What I discovered in creative writing class was the opposite.  I had a gift, and it was my job to steward that gift–to share it in appropriate ways.  In ways, that was a far scarier prospect than the possibility of having no talent. Yet over the years, facing that fear has been much more rewarding.

     

     

    Lost creativity and the effects of family alcoholism are just two of the elements of the story Dan L. Hays explores in his first published book, Freedom’s Just Another Word, which chronicles events around the time of his father’s death. It is the first of a cycle of seven books about healing old wounds with his father. That cycle will culminate with Nothing Left to Lose, written in 1993, about a critical turning point in his father’s life, depicted from a perspective of forgiveness and admiration.

    Dan has been pursuing his craft for more than 25 years. His passion has always been writing, but he had a writing block that he could not understand for many years. He wrote two books that publishers were interested in, but he backed away and the books were never published.

    Read more of Dan’s work on his blog and at Life as a Human, or follow his various radio features.  You can also catch him on Twitter and Facebook.

    If you like it, share it...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someonePrint this page

    Post comment




    Latest Tweets