A writer friend of mine who won a scholarship to Breadloaf, reported on her return that she’d turned down the critique from the famous author that was part of prize. My friend’s novel had won a contest and the famous author was to read it and give her feedback at the conference.

“But I told her I felt I was beyond that now, that I didn’t need more critique. So we just talked in general, about life and the business.”

I think it startled us all a bit at the time — her writers group — because it seemed, well, arrogant. Our friend felt the other author wasn’t any better than she was. Our friend wanted to be one of the pantheon, not one of the supplicants.

Don’t we all.

It’s a good question: when do you stop taking classes? When have you “made” it and no longer need anyone else’s input?

Faith Hunter, whose books I really enjoy, posted on Facebook this morning that she has published “20 books and I feel like [Skinwalker] is the first.” She’s living Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” she says, because she feels this one might be IT.

One thing I’ve noticed over time is that the published authors agonize as much as the trying-to-get-published ones. That’s how life is. The ancient Greeks said you couldn’t “rest on your laurels,” referring to the crown of laurels awarded in athletic competitions. You only are what you’re doing right now. Credit for past accomplishments depreciates rapidly over time. Before you know it, you’re in a “What Happened to…” feature. Presuming you were ever interesting enough to rate that much.

Continuing to grow and learn is part of this.

There’s also an idea that an artist can be contaminated by classes or writing workshops. That the originality of her work can be damaged forever. I do believe this can happen, like the phenomenon of the MFA workshopping, which tends to produce writing of a particular literary style, to the point that you can recognize writers from a particular MFA program by the “sound” of their work.

I’m currently taking an online class on plotting. This is in line with my recent efforts to see how I can change my writing style at will. As a writer, I never plot things out ahead of time. I have a general idea of where the story is going, but how I get there is always a surprise.

But I’m not liking this class at all.

And I’m torn: is it because I’m resisting changing my approach or is it because the class really is functioning at a level below my skills? One gal I know already quit the class for this reason. I’m still wondering if I should at least complete the lessons, basic as they may seem, for the exercise of it. But every time one of my classmates exclaims “oh THIS is why I could never finish a book!” I wonder.

It’s a constant choice, when to be confident and when to accept that you can improve. Maybe we need our own little mantra for this, praying for the wisdom to know the difference.

4 Replies to “Edumacation”

  1. I've taken several classes I loved and got involved in, and many others I lurked or faded away completely.

    Sometimes the class just isn't "you." A lot depends on the syllabus and the instructors, and whether it is something in your scope of need at that moment. The other attendees can help/hurt too.

    Could be bad timing, or like shoes.

    You know, they look great at the store, great on your friend. You buy a pair and after a couple of days you simply can't stand them anymore.

    But that doesn't mean you go barefoot!

  2. Elizabeth — any analogy that involves shoe-shopping HAS to be a good one!

    I think you're right. For example, I loved the online class I met YOU in!

    This is good advice. It's just not fitting my needs at the moment. Don't know until you try!

  3. I don't think you ever stop learning, but I agree that there are some lessons that just aren't useful. Maybe now, maybe ever.

    One of the published authors in my chapter always says "Protect the work." When I find myself personally resistant to learning something, I always check to see if there's something striking a little too close to home 🙂 But if it affects my ability to put words on the page, out it goes.

    Protect the work.

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