I’ve never taken a creative writing course, either in class or online. I’ve read plenty of books on writing, and have taken advantage of online tips and guides, mostly in the form of grammar refreshers and revising tools. But for the most part, my writing teachers have been the reading great books and the blank page.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been real teachers in my life that influenced my decision to become a writer. In fact, there are several.
The first one I’d have to name was my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Lapean. One day, instead of assigning the usual “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” essay, he told us we could write a story, any story we wanted. I had just read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and was enthralled with the idea of enchanting worlds behind ordinary doors. So I wrote a story about a girl who opened her cellar door, went down the stairs, and entered another world, a fairy world with unicorns and magical beings. I can’t remember the gist of the story, but Mr. Lapean was impressed. At a parent-teacher conference, he told my mother that I had the makings of a writer in me. And though I didn’t act on it for many years, his words never left me. The idea of me as a writer had been planted in my mind, and though it took many years to grow and germinate, Mr. Lapean had provided the seed.
In high school, I encountered Mr. Russo in 12th grade English class. He was an odd and prickly teacher, not willing to coddle anyone. If he didn’t like or understand your writing, he wasn’t afraid to say so, bluntly. He bruised my tender feelings more than once. I was having trouble with his assignments, mostly because he wouldn’t hold my hand and tell me what to write. He wanted me to figure it out for myself, to think on my own. I didn’t like him for this; in fact, I hated him for quite a while. But eventually, after a lot of hard work, I did figure it out, and got an A in the class. I still didn’t like him, but looking back now I can see the invaluable lessons he taught me: first, no one’s going to do it for you. Second, rely on and trust your own mind.
In college I had two wonderful teachers I adored: Phyllis Nahman and Marguerite Lentz. Phyllis was a Basic Composition teacher, a tiny woman who always smiled. She clearly and kindly taught us the difference between expository, persuasive, and narrative writing, while at the same time instilling in me the confidence I needed. “You are a good writer!” she’d say with her huge, sunny smile, whenever I expressed doubt in my ability. At that time of my life, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
A few years later, I took a class called Women in Literature with Marguerite. This was a dream class for me, as I was struggling to find my identity as a woman and as a writer. Marguerite at the time was perhaps in her late 50’s or early 60’s, and deeply passionate about the books we were reading (Austen, Bronte, Shelley, Woolf). Several years later, when I worked at a CPA firm, she became a client and we reconnected. She told me that a piece I had written in her class had so impressed her that she kept it and handed out copies to her students every year. I couldn’t believe it; I couldn’t remember what I had written, but I was deeply touched and loved her even more! I found out that every year, she took a trip around the world on a cargo ship-it took a lot longer than on a cruise ship but it was much less expensive. She later wrote a book about her travels. She’s an inspiration to me, not only as a writer, but as a woman and human being.
What about you? What teachers in your life have inspired you? Leave a comment, and we’ll talk about it!