Way back in the Mid-Jurassic Period, I got the bright idea to take a community college class in creative writing. I had been writing stuff forever—well since I was nine. By taking a college-level class, I figured I could learn how to improve and market my writing.
I had just started working at my first office job. I was an entry-level clerk-typist at a nonprofit organization. Mostly, I transcribed letters from a Dictaphone and filed anything that needed filing. When the boss and his secretary/bookkeeper traveled to our second office in another city, I answered the phone. Fortunately, it didn’t ring much.
I wasn’t especially crazy about those tasks. However, one of my “other duties as assigned” was supposed to be contributing copy for the monthly newsletter. That was something I actually looked forward to, and it was another reason to take the class.
Ten or twelve people showed up for the first class. We were a diverse group. Most of the students aspired to write fiction; a few people wanted to write nonfiction. At least one person voiced an interest in writing poetry. I wondered how the instructor would slant the class so that we all learned something from it.
The instructor was a man I’ll call “Stan.” Stan worked for the state of New York. I’m not sure what he did there, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t involve writing.
Instead of a syllabus, Stan gave us a list of books. He told us we could learn how to improve our writing by analyzing the works of well-known authors. I guess that made sense, but I was a bit disappointed. I wanted to write, not read. I wanted to learn how to improve my writing, not dissect someone else’s.
I talked with Stan after class. He told me to try to sell on my own for a year. If that didn’t pan out, he told me to find an agent. I thought that sounded like strange advice coming from someone who had never read my work.
I bought the books on Stan’s list. Most of them were fiction. The only one I remember was a sleaze novel featuring characters who must have been contortionists. They spent a lot of time “fooling around” in closets and in various other tight spaces. I considered tossing that book into the incinerator, but my mother beat me to it.
In all, I attended three or four classes. We spent more time discussing Stan’s chosen books and less time discussing writing. I hadn’t signed up for a book club. I figured I wasn’t getting anything out of the class, so I quit showing up. Unfortunately, before I decided to bail, I committed to turning in three short stories as my class project.
I should have officially withdrawn from the class. I didn’t (yeah, dumb me). But that omission didn’t bother me until the last minute. The evening before my project was due, I decided I didn’t want to flunk the class. It would look bad on my record if I ever decided to take other classes there.
Fortunately, due to budget cuts at the nonprofit, I had been laid off from my job. (I never did get to contribute to the newsletter.) I figured that gave me one day to salvage my grade—maybe.
At 6:30 a.m. the next morning, I dragged my portable typewriter out of the closet. The ribbon needed changing, but I didn’t have a spare and didn’t want to waste time going ten miles to the nearest store to get one. So I spent the entire day writing three very short stories in longhand (yes, I could get away with that back then).
By 4:30 p.m. I could barely flex the fingers on my right hand. I went to class, turned in the project, and left, pleading a headache. A week later I went to the evening division office and picked up my folder. Amazingly, I got a B- for the stories, and I ended up with a C for the class.
I’m not sure if the college offered an advanced class. I wasn’t interested anyway. I figured I’d quit while I was ahead. I didn’t take another writing class for eighteen years.