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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

GETTING YOUR NOVEL STARTED

"I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were what produced the emotion that you experienced...the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always." Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961

The classroom in which I teach my night school writing classes, is an English Lit/ creative writing class. The teacher (who is going to retire this year) is obviously a dedicated person who encourages young writers/readers, and his classroom is set up to stimulate and inspire.
The students even publish an impressive collection of short stories each year.

I wish, when I attended high school, there had been such a class for me. I recall that often my teachers were exasperated with me, the dreamer who was more interested in creating stories than studying math and science. There didn't seem to be much (if any) encouragement in those days for the budding novelist. It wasn't until I graduated (barely, as I spent my last year working on a novel), that I landed a plum job as copy-runner in a large daily newspaper and began my 'apprenticeship' as a journalist, that I got any real encouragement to hone my skills and pursue the life of a writer. And it took many years after that until I finally achieved that goal. Perseverence! I can't stress that word too often in my classes of new writers.

This new novel class of mine is proving to be very inspiring. It's a small class, and I like that, as there is more time to discuss and critique and get that feeling of camaraderie that is so important for a group of writers, especially emerging and beginning writers who are shy about sharing their work. I generally enjoy all my writing groups, but this one has really given me new inspiration. I felt the positive energy there from the first night, and although it's only a six week class rather than eight, I am certain the writers in it are going to achieve some measure of success. There's nothing more exciting than to hear a first-time or emerging writer read out their work and know that person 'has it', has not only the talent, but the enthusiasm it's going to take to finish what they've started.

Writing a novel takes a great deal of dedication and patience. I can usually tell after the first week or so if the students in my class are going to stick to it. In the past, a number of them have and a few have actually got their books out to agents. Several members of my Scribbler's workshop group came from my novel writing classes. And it has given me a personal thrill to see how they have developed their talents and blossomed in their writing skills.

I get a lot out of the classes myself, each week is a kind of learning curve for me as well as my students. And it certainly helps to keep me focused and enthusiastic about writing.
From my travel writing class, a number of people have been published, and a couple have become successful travel journalists. That makes me proud! For sometimes you stand up there in front of them, and think "Am I making sense? Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about?"
So when there are success stories, you know that some things you were teaching them worked!

Now, if only I could reach the point where I could teach a class on
"How to Get Your Novel Finished!"

"You can declare at the very start that it's impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your back, so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels."
Gunter Grass "The Tin Drum" 1959

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