How many of you are still having dreams, decades later, about classes you didn’t attend until the day of finals when you realize you don’t know where the classroom is or what textbook you should have been reading?
I have some variation on this nightmare at least once a month, and I graduated from the University of Kansas (gulp) 32 years ago. What can it mean? I’m sure they’re entirely unrelated to my procrastination tendencies and organizational skills. Dream analysis workshop, here I come.
Despite this lingering paranoia, I’ve gone back to school. As a sucker for good advertising, I was lured in by Sheridan College’s EveningPlus+ offerings. Directed Study: the Beatles was tempting. I’m a skilled snowshoer and Nordic skier, so there was no need for additional instruction there. As I perused the list, I decided to push myself.
Remember a couple of columns ago when I said I was trying to be more adventurous? I tried zip-lining and indoor skydiving this fall, after all. I needed to continue the momentum. When I saw that my pal and colleague Sarah Jo Sinclair was teaching creative writing, I paused. Then my stomach clenched, my armpits started sweating and I recognized the symptoms for what they were — pure, abject, terror.
Why should I be petrified of a creative writing class, you ask? After all, am I not creatively writing right now? Friends, I consider this nonfiction writing—I am stringing together vignettes or facts or information, not creating stories of fictional characters. Telling a bedtime story to my boys generated only from my imagination is utterly unthinkable. Thus, the idea of putting myself out there by creating characters, a plot, etc., and then — horror — having my classmates read and criticize it had me quaking. Plus, Sarah Jo is a rockstar writer, reader and instructor — she’d soon realize I had no real writing chops. But I signed up despite all my misgivings.
I’m three classes in, and I’m going to share my experience so far. I’ve already learned a ton, not the least of which is that creative writing can be anything I want it to be. The terms nonfiction and fiction are nebulous. Grammar and punctuation are essential but not the end of the world. Adverbs are overused and primarily unneeded. (Author’s note: The last two stung. I’m a grammar and spelling nut, and I have an unhealthy attachment to adverbs and adjectives.) It’s fun and interesting to hear college punks talk about books and writing, especially their work. Some of my contemporaries are in this class, so I’m not the only fossil.
Our first in-class writing prompt fired up the sweaty armpits at first, but I got a few sentences down, and then the words started flowing. The weekly writing prompts and changing my expectations of what creative writing is or isn’t have been freeing. I am genuinely excited about writing the five-page paper due in two weeks, reviewed and critiqued by my fellow writers.
You may or may not see an improvement in the content and form of these columns going forward. If not, don’t blame Sarah Jo. She can only do so much. If so, credit Sarah Jo. She’s a genius.
I strongly encourage (see — overused adverb!) everyone to check out Sheridan College’s EveningPlus+ classes. If I can tackle this, you can attempt Creative Welding or Conversational Spanish. Forget about impressing others — think of how proud you’ll be for mastering something new. I’m just a few drafts away from the next Great American Novel. I’ll let you know how it’s going.
Amy Albrecht is Center for a Vital Community’s executive director.