For the past two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of teaching two different writing classes here at Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. Talking about one of my favorite subjects, in one of my favorite places, has been a joy. In the first class, Plotting a Murder, we did just that. Together we came up with a sleuth, a victim, and suspects. We put together the bare bones of a story set right here at the Institution, and plotted our first scene. Along the way we talked about the basics: characterization, plotting, conflict, strong openings, point of view, dialogue. And now, this week, in So You’ve Always Wanted to Write a Novel with a different group of students, and the help of my friend mystery writer Casey Daniels, we’ve talked about how to start that book the students have been tempted to write but haven’t known how to begin.
What fun. Teaching is an excuse for me to bone up on the basics again, to make sure I’m doing everything I tell them to, but also to remember how it felt the first time I sat down and said Okay, so what if I fail? Who’s going to know, and more important, who’s going to care? I was in my mid-thirties by the time I could say that and mean it, and from that moment on, writing became an important part of my life.
My students for the past two weeks have reached that point, too. Okay, I’m not sure how to go forward, but I want to try, and damn the consequences. I’m proud of them for this, for sitting down with the writing exercises I’ve given them and for bringing them back to share with their fellow writers.
But most important? I am, as I always am, blown away by the creativity, the energy, and enthusiasm, and the wonderful twists my students produce. No slackers here. Those who don’t want to do the work drop out after the first day. Those who stay do it and take the leap to share it with others. They become writers of fiction right there in the classroom.
Are you letting your own fears that you’re not good enough stop you from doing something you’ve always wanted to do? I’m so glad I made that leap and started writing, and this month, I’ve been so glad to be with people who are making it, too. Because talented wasted? That’s one of the saddest things I know.
So what’s stopping you if you’re not following your own muse? Take a chance. Put pen or brush to paper and see where it leads you. The world needs wonderful art, fabulous books, music that enraptures. We’re just waiting for your contribution.