Monday, March 24, 2008

Full Circle Moments in the Life of a Writer

I don't know about you, but when you experience a full-circle moment, it's a moment that stops you in time.

I sent my favorite writing mentor, Professor Robert Nelsen, at the University of Texas at Dallas, a note telling him about the publication of my book Janeology and that I would soon be sending him a copy. I don’t know why taking this step was a little bit scary. Perhaps my reverence for this teacher, who everyone always wanted to please and feared just a little bit, played into it. His courses produce an astonishing number of writers who go on to be published. While I attended UTD, 25 percent of the students who attended his program went on to be published. Yeah, he’s that good. But he’s that tough, too. And he’d do the "Look to your right. Look to your left. Those people will not survive the semester because they don’t have the stamina to write every day," speech each semester. (I took five of his classes over the years.)

I remember the day all of us in the novel class got our first three chapters back from him – graded and marked-up. At least three red pens must have given their lives in this effort. Like most new writers, we were all too consumed by the remarks and comments throughout our masterpieces to concentrate on anything else in the class. (Like correcting a classmate’s use of the word hopefully - writing in the margins "Hopefully, you will learn how to write one day.")

He picked up a few of our papers and read aloud some of our work. Of course, this was meant to be instructive, but it was also intimidating. As he walked through the rows of small desks, was he going to pluck your story as an example? Yup, he chose mine. Fortunately, one of the three comments he made about the chapters were positive. Still. So I walked out of the class with the rest of my battered classmates. Professor Nelsen called out my name in the hallway. He told me something pivotal in my education, something that I probably already knew deep down, but needed to hear. "Don’t interpret all those comments as if I’m telling you to stop writing. I’m not. I’m telling you to keep writing. And I don’t tell everyone that."

So you can understand why, after all these years, when I go back to his office in a couple of weeks, hardback novel in hand, it will be a weighty, full-circle moment. I kept writing. And I’ll keep writing. Because I’ll tell you another Nelsen-ism that is 100 percent true: If you wrote today, you are a writer.

No comments: