The Writing Life

The Writing Life

Ellen Gilchrist
Copyright Date: 2005
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvjg0
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    The Writing Life
    Book Description:

    Celebrated author Ellen Gilchrist has played many roles-writer and speaker, wife and lover, mother and grandmother. But she never tackled the role of teacher.

    Offered the opportunity to teach creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she took up the challenge and ventured into unknown territory. In the process of teaching more than two hundred students since her first class in 2000, she has found inspiration in their lives and ambitions and in the challenge of conveying to them the lessons she has learned from living and writing.

    The Writing Lifebrings together fifty essays and vignettes centered on the transforming magic of literature and the teaching and writing of it. A portion of the collection discusses the delicate balance between an artistic life and family commitments, especially the daily pressures and frequent compromises faced by a young mother. Gilchrist next focuses on the process of writing itself with essays ranging from "How I Wrote a Book of Short Stories in Three Months" to "Why Is Rewriting so Hard?"

    Several essays discuss her appreciation of other writers, from Shakespeare to Larry McMurtry, and the lessons she learned from them. Eudora Welty made an indelible impact on Gilchrist's work. When Gilchrist takes on the task of teaching, her essays reveal an enriched understanding of the role writing plays in any life devoted to the craft. Humorous and insightful, she assesses her own abilities as an instructor and confronts the challenge of inspiring students to attain the discipline and courage to pursue the sullen art. Some of these pieces have been previously published in magazines, but most are unpublished and all appear here in book form for the first time.

    Ellen Gilchrist, Fayetteville, Arkansas, is the author of many novels and collections of essays, short stories, and novellas, includingThe Cabal and Other Stories,Flights of Angels,The Age of Miracles,The Courts of Love,In the Land of Dreamy Dreams,Victory Over Japan(winner of the National Book Award),Drunk with Love,Ellen Gilchrist: Collected Stories, andI, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-911-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. PART ONE: LIFE

    • The Middle Way
      (pp. 3-12)

      Maybe you have to wait for happiness. Maybe the rest is only words.

      When I was a child I had a book about a small boy in Scotland whose father was a Highlander and whose mother was a Lowlander. All his life they argued in his presence about whether he was a Lowlander or a Highlander and each tried to persuade him of their case.

      In the winters they lived with his mother’s people and farmed and cared for domestic animals. In the summers they stayed in the Highlands with his father’s people and he hunted the high hills with...

    • The Shakespeare Group
      (pp. 13-17)

      I have a hundred favorite books. At different times in my life I would have said my favorite book wasCollected Poemsby Edna St. Vincent Millay or Gabriel GarcÍa Márquez’sOne Hundred Years of SolitudeorGo Down, Mosesby William Faulkner or the collected works of J. D. Salinger or Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.

      But if the world as I know it was coming to an end and I had to grab one book to save to help rebuild that world it would be myRiverside Shakespeare, although theArden Shakespearewould do, or anything that...

    • How Books Still Change Our Lives
      (pp. 18-23)

      It is snowing and it is going to snow. The world in which I live is a wonderland. It is Thursday now. On Sunday night two feet of snow fell on Fayetteville, Arkansas, and changed our lives for a while. I live in a house with glass walls. Outside these windows it is too beautiful to describe in words. Every tree and grassblade, every rise and valley and fence and wall is part of a white and blue and brown and charcoal geometry. I have a line of Buddhist prayer flags, now covered in ice crystals, barely moving on the...

    • Casting My Lot with the Gypsies
      (pp. 24-35)

      This is a story about growing up, about learning and becoming influenced. I am telling it in deep retrospect, many years after I began to trust my own ideas and not those of other people. A series of powerful, charismatic people influenced me as I grew to be the person I am now, but none more powerfully and strangely than Jane Reid Petty, the founder, director, and principal lead actress of New Stage Theatre in Jackson, Mississippi. Jane is dead now and I miss her. She was the ultimate actress, always on, always posed, always in scene. When I had...

    • The Consolations of Art
      (pp. 36-38)

      In 1997 i agreed to be part of a literacy fund-raiser sponsored by theNew Yorker. I agreed to write a letter to whoever purchased me. My subject was “The consolations of Art.” A woman named Ellen Geneo purchased me. Here is the letter that I wrote to her.

      Dear Ellen Geneo,

      I have been thinking about this letter for some months now as my eighty-eight-year-old father died in the fall and I have had need of the concept as well as the reality. During the month when he was on his deathbed I spent all my spare time in...

    • The Only Constant Is Change, and Yet, I Still Won’t Use a Computer
      (pp. 39-42)

      I learned to type when I was twelve years old. When I finished the class my father bought me a Royal portable typewriter with a typewriter table and I set the thing up in the middle of my bedroom and started typing. The next week I redecorated my bedroom to match the typewriter. Down came the beautiful hand-hemmed white lace curtains and off went the beautiful flowered bedspread and dressing table skirt. Down came the reproductions of Gainsborough and William Blake’s illustrations forPilgrim’s Progress. Up went black and yellow striped awning and a severe white bedspread.

      I had become...

    • How I Got Stronger and Smarter Instead of Stupider and Sadder
      (pp. 43-50)

      As i approached the age of forty, four things happened that changed my life dramatically. I went into psychotherapy, I stopped drinking, I ran a marathon, and I started writing again for the first time in seven years.

      Of these four things the most important was that I stopped drinking. Without that the other three might not have been possible.

      You can’t understand how I quit drinking unless you understand how I became a drunk. I never meant to drink too much. I meant to be a beautiful woman raising a glass of wine to my lover, then dancing the...

  5. PART TWO: WRITING

    • How I Wrote a Book of Short Stories in Three Months
      (pp. 53-57)

      I wrote most of them in three months. I wrote the first two stories laboriously over a period of six or seven months.

      The book is calledIn the Land of Dreamy Dreams. It is one hundred and sixty-seven pages long. It has been published three times and is still in print. It has sold six or seven hundred thousand copies and is the bedrock of my reputation as a short-story writer.

      The opening lines of the book are: “Tom and Letty Wilson were rich in everything. They were rich in friends because Tom was a vice-president of the Whitney...

    • Living in New York City
      (pp. 58-64)

      “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. There is one last thing to remember:writers are always selling somebody out.” Every time I have been interviewed I have thought about that quotation from Joan Didion. I did not always think of it immediately and several times I didn’t think of it in time to save myself from being misquoted and misunderstood but always in the end I remembered it...

    • The Sinking Ship
      (pp. 65-68)

      The way you start writing is by writing. Over and over again I have proven this to myself but I always forget it the next time. I always believe that I will never write again. The first time I finished a book a painter was visiting me. Her name is Ginny Stanford and her wonderful paintings have been the covers for nine of my books.

      “I’ll never write again,” I told her, the week after my editor told me my book was finished and I should quit writing it.

      For days after that conversation I had tried to start something...

    • Breaking the Rules
      (pp. 69-71)

      Rules are made to be broken. The best thing a writing teacher ever told me was that every time he said something about how to write it ricocheted and came back and hit him in the head. Show, don’t tell, always ricochets because every great writer has told us plenty. The work for the young writer is to find the balance. This is the work of the ear. A good writer is a person with a good ear who can hear what the sentence or paragraph is supposed to sound like to the reader. It must ring true to the...

    • In the Weather of the Heart
      (pp. 72-74)

      An architect told me once, “Write it from the heart and it will be great.” I was deep into a book about the friendship between a troubled young mother and a budding architect who was her friend. The book was about my real friendship with the real architect. He had asked me to write it. He was dying. It was his dying wish that I tell some of the stories that we shared.

      On the rare occasions when I speak in public, and the even rarer ones when I agree to answer questions about my work, students ask me if...

    • A Writer Should Be Able to Write Anything
      (pp. 75-77)

      In the fall of 2001 I created a class called Creative Nonfiction for the graduate students in the writing program. Teaching the fiction workshop the year before had taught me that many of our students would never make a living as fiction writers and should have another outlet for their creative juices. I wanted them to understand that a writer should be able to write anything, poetry nonfiction, fiction, journalism, papers, letters, love notes.

      In order to teach the class I had to reread many of my favorite books. I was trying to choose books that showed the range of...

    • Everyone Wants to Be a Writer
      (pp. 78-79)

      Maybe i only think everyone wants to be a writer because the friends I naturally choose are people who love books. People who love books sooner or later dream of writing them. It’s a natural response to stimuli.

      Down through the years many lawyers and physicians have come to me with ideas for books. The physicians want to tell me a story and have me write the book. Hired help! The lawyers mostly want to write the book themselves but they want to do it fast and have it published and make a million dollars, or else back to the...

    • “You Always Use Setbacks to Help You Play Better”
      (pp. 80-83)
      ANDRE AGASSI

      Most of my metaphors are from sports. The happiest years of my life were when I was playing tennis all day long in New Orleans. Nothing, not even writing, has ever challenged me as tennis did. I came to the game late in life, in my early thirties, but fortunately I had been running six miles a day for several years so I was in tremendous shape physically when I began to take lessons and learn tennis. I had played on and off as a child but had no real strokes or knowledge of the game. I didn’t even know...

    • Write What You Know
      (pp. 84-88)

      Write what you know. What could be simpler, and harder to get a student to believe. A young woman in my undergraduate fiction workshop knows it in her bones. She is a slight, pretty girl with two small children, and, although I did not know it until the class was over, was pregnant with a third the whole time the class was going on. She was quiet, with a charming, small smile. She listened to what I said with great attention. She read the assigned stories and was able to talk intelligently about how they were plotted and where they...

    • Choosing the Books
      (pp. 89-91)

      A big job for any teacher is to choose the books the students read. For a teacher of creative writing it is even more critical that the assigned texts be the best ones. Having no idea how to pick and choose among the riches of literature I began by giving the students books that had influenced me when I began to write.

      The testing ground was my first undergraduate course in creative writing II, for which the students supposedly have a strong background in literature. I didn’t trust it. Even if they had read Faulkner I was pretty sure they...

    • Learning to Teach Writing by Watching a Great Dance Teacher
      (pp. 92-95)

      I have been down on the Mississippi coast for six weeks helping out with six grandchildren who live down there.

      My two oldest granddaughters are deeply involved with a wonderful dance studio run by one of the best teachers I have ever watched work in any field. Her name is Donna Burke. She danced professionally and led a dance troupe that danced in Las Vegas thirty years ago. She was trained in classical ballet and teaches it the old-fashioned way.

      I discovered Donna ten years ago and flew down to the coast and enrolled my granddaughters in her school. Then...

    • Crisis in the Creative Writing Program
      (pp. 96-98)

      We are looking for a poet to take the place of a poet/novelist/teacher/founder of the program/defender of the program against all intruders, including the English department, the dean, and the university of which we are a part.

      The man we need to replace is named Jim Whitehead and he is the strongest man any of us has ever known. He is six feet, seven inches tall, has seven children, married the most beautiful woman in Mississippi, published a novel in his twenties, created this writing program, and has watched over it for forty years. He has fought for its independence...

    • Everyone Thinks They Are a Writer
      (pp. 99-101)

      Since i began teaching I have begun to get telephone calls from people who are dear to me, mostly men and mostly lawyers, but a medical student also called, asking me questions about how to write short stories. “How long does one have to be?” the medical student asked, but it turned out what he really wanted to know was how many pages you needed altogether to make a book and get paid for it.

      It is as if, after years of being very close and secretive about my work, I have opened up to share what I know with...

    • Why Is Rewriting So Hard?
      (pp. 102-104)

      Why is rewriting so hard? Why is it so hard to talk yourself into going back to a first draft and working on it? Why is it so hard to get started? Why do we procrastinate and procrastinate over this? I say WE on purpose because the main thing my students have taught me is that every writer seems to have the same problem. Here I am, twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles later, supposedly a grown woman, and when an editor sends me back a manuscript to have even small changes made, I go around in a huff...

    • Sunday Morning
      (pp. 105-109)

      Teaching is making me examine my work habits, the obsessive-compulsive patterns that I create or fall into.

      Take this morning for example. I rose with the sun as always, made coffee, folded some laundry, made the bed, and then started into my workroom to reread parts of this book that I have already written.

      I didn’t make it to the workroom for another half hour. First I began to think about my father s Auburn class ring and how it became too large for him when he was old. Myonyx class ring is getting too large for me. I have...

    • Eudora Welty
      (pp. 110-112)

      My mother is alive and her mind is clear but her body is failing. She will be ninety-five years old in a few weeks. For three years she has been bedridden and now she is almost unable to move. It is very painful for me to visit her. I love to look into her eyes and talk to her, which is as it always has been. But to watch the terrible invasions she must undergo to be cared for breaks my heart.

      I tell you this because it reminds me of the year I was lucky enough to be in...

    • Another Hard Thing for a Writer to Learn to Handle
      (pp. 113-118)

      You can’t be a pussy in this game, which is why I assign Ernest Hemingway’sOn Writingto every class I teach. It is a collection of small pieces of writing advice that are scattered around his books and letters. It has been an invaluable help to me in the years I have been writing. It reminds me to be strong and to know that what I am doing has never been easy for anyone. If you want an easy profession find one that has a more dependable source of income and praise.

      The great thing about writing is that...

    • How I Invented Traceleen
      (pp. 119-121)

      First, i learned to love a woman who was very different from me. On the day I moved to New Orleans my mother-in-law sent a lovely black woman named Rosalee over to my house to help me move and, if we liked each other, to become my housekeeper. Her aunt worked for my mother-in-law and she was working there part-time as a laundress. She was adept at ironing button-down Brooks Brothers shirts until they looked like objects of art. She was very beautiful, quiet and gentle and ladylike. She reminded me always of a dancer. She moved with grace and...

    • How to Move Characters from One Place to Another
      (pp. 122-125)

      If you want to learn how to make characters move around and do things, open upHuckleberry Finnto any page and start reading. No one does it better than the old master, Mark Twain. One night I was driving to Nebraska in a rainstorm and turned on the radio to keep me company as I drove through the wheat fields of Kansas. I tuned into a station that was playing a recording ofHuckleberry Finn. I started listening at the point where most readers stop paying attention in the book, the part where Huck and Tom have Jim hidden...

    • How to Become Inspired
      (pp. 126-129)

      You can prime the pump, which seldom gives very good results. You can need money; this will work but it’s not the absolute best way. You can read great literature and hope you’ll want to write an answer. Or, best of all, you can be inspired by something the world does to you or for you or that you notice. Today I was inspired by something that has never done it for me before. I was inspired to write a short story by reading a review of myCollected Storiesthat made me laugh out loud three times. I was...

    • Decons
      (pp. 130-132)

      I have been watching the deconstructionists in the English department and I’ve decided it’s an occupational hazard. They study and teach the same short stories or novels over and over again until they begin to obsess about them. They need to add to them, explain them, pull them apart and carry the pieces around and show them to each other. They have conferences in Lyon, France, and pull apart Eudora Welty’s stories, conferences in Oxford, Mississippi, and sit in panels to dissect Faulkner’s novels.

      They can’t leave it alone. Instead of calling all their fellow Welty lovers together and saying,...

    • Learning to Teach
      (pp. 133-134)

      There is nothing in the world more satisfying than giving advice and having someone take it. There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than introducing students to pieces of literature that I love, stories and novels and poems that are as much a part of my life as my childhood memories. At Vanderbilt I learned to love Shakespeare. At Millsaps College I was introduced to modern poetry by Doctor George Boyd and to William Faulkner by Eudora Welty.

      How could I live without “Petition” by W. H. Auden? (“Publish each healer that in city lives/Or country houses at the...

    • The War with the Squirrels
      (pp. 135-137)

      At seven this morning I spoke to my on oldest son on the telephone. It has been forty-seven years since they rolled me into an operating room and cut me open and lifted him from my body. Now he is in Copenhagen, Denmark, with his second wife and their three children and I almost never get to see him or hold him in my arms or touch his face and hair. Motherhood is a strange and powerful thing. I grew this man inside my womb and sent him out into the world. He has given me eight grandchildren, immortality for...

    • What They Write About
      (pp. 138-142)

      It is sunday morning. Ever since yesterday afternoon I have been sad because I talked to my five-year-old granddaughter and she said her mother said I should not have bought new clothes for her when she was visiting me last weekend because she didn’t need any new clothes. “Here is just what she said,” Juliet continued. “She said I have a hundred clothes and I did not need any more.”

      Juliet is in the middle of her parents’ terrible divorce. She spends the weekends with my son and the weeks around the corner with her mother. She is a very...

  6. PART THREE: TEACHING

    • Teaching, A Journal
      (pp. 145-146)

      “What am i supposed to do?” I asked Jim Whitehead, when I agreed to teach the graduate fiction workshop in the fall of the year 2000. I had blithely agreed to teach it; then, a week before school began, I panicked and ran to Jim for advice. He founded the creative writing program and nursed it for thirty-four years. Now he was retired but still available for advice.

      “Be a coach,” he told me. I liked that answer. I was raised by an athlete and spent my youth listening to lectures on playing to win. My own sport was tennis...

    • Teaching, A Journal(Continued)
      (pp. 147-151)

      In the fall of the year 2000 the University of Arkansas hired me to teach two classes in their writing program. I was thrilled with the assignment. I had never taught school but I loved schools and classes and I believed I was ready.

      That first fall semester went well. It was easier than I had imagined it would be. The students were bright and well read. I liked them and quickly became maternal, especially about the brightest ones.

      I protected myself from my deepest worries by writing them a letter which I passed out in the first class to...

    • My Third Year
      (pp. 152-154)

      Classes have been going on for three weeks. I am learning their names and beginning to hear their stories. No wonder no one gets any writing done after they start teaching. The wonder and responsibility of the lives of young people. My students range in age from eighteen to past thirty. They are wonderful and I am beginning to love them.

      I wake at four-thirty in the morning worrying about their lives. The boy who drinks too much and takes drugs, the girl who writes like an early Gwen Head, I overedited one of her poems, I have to fix...

    • Worrying
      (pp. 155-161)

      In the beginning I was all hope and ego. What others had failed to do I would do. I would be generous, gracious, I would take their stories and make them better, I would be a great teacher and a great coach and a fabulous, unforgettable editor. I would not try to turn their stories into my own. I would let their own voices run down the wide unfolding paths of their imaginations. I would unleash their genius, give them hope, teach them to be professionals. Most of all I would not be jealous of them.

      Alas, there was nothing...

    • Students
      (pp. 162-163)

      The second year I taught, one of my favorite students was a young woman who was a policewoman for the university. She had a fabulous uniform and a gun. Several times she wore the whole gig to come and see me in my office, but only once did she consent to wear it to class. “Packing,” the admiring male students said that day. “She’s packing.”

      It took only a little nudging on my part to get her to begin writing about her experiences on the university police force. The other students loved reading her papers, especially in the nonfiction class....

    • The Ice Storm
      (pp. 164-166)

      I told the students we had to leave the building before dark because ice was on the streets but they said, no, it was almost the last class and we had to workshop all the essays. Okay I said, then we have to figure out a way to take each other home. How far away are your cars from the building because the parking lot is a sheet of ice? The fat, dependable girl said, mine is near the journalism department. The thin New Yorker said, I can take two people wherever they need to go.

      They talked among themselves...

    • Creative Nonfiction (as Fiction)
      (pp. 167-170)

      We had a war and an ice storm and still they kept on writing. What does that tell you about ego and ambition? Not that writing was the only thing going on in my undergraduate creative writing workshop which met on Wednesday nights in Kimpel Hall on the campus of the University of Arkansas where I work now that I can’t think of anything else to write.

      There were twelve students in the class, a one-eyed veteran of the Vietnam War, three chubby girls with pretty faces, a thin girl whose name I never could remember, a wealthy divorcée from...

    • The Semester from Hell
      (pp. 171-172)

      It was my third semester teaching creative writing at the University of Arkansas and I had decided to tell the graduate students the truth about what they were writing. I had the idea in my head that I should be a take-no-prisoners coach and demand from them the things I demand from myself when I am writing, absolute devotion, contempt for bad writing, the ability to go back into a piece as many times as it takes to make it lush and beautiful and true.

      So, instead of writing pleasant little queries in the margins of their stories, I did...

    • Drunks, Dope Addicts, and Losers, Characters My Students Give Me
      (pp. 173-177)

      It is november and I am tired of teaching these sad students. They are like baby birds waiting to be fed. They are older than the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition and they look like I have been beating them when I tell them the truth about their writing and tell them I am not going to give them A’s for turning in first drafts and expecting me to edit and revise their stories.

      I do not like them anymore. The semester, which started out so full of hope, is running down and, with the exception of two...

    • How Can I Help These Students Learn to Write?
      (pp. 178-179)

      I have to love them. I have to believe that they each have a story to tell and can learn to tell it in their true voices. I have to be brutally honest and kind at the same time.

      I have to teach them to write a line of poetry. Then a second line. And a third. And a fourth and so on.

      I have to find the poetry within their first drafts and say, here is the good line. Believe in this line.

      I need to find a way to grade them, but, so far, after three years, the...

    • Onward
      (pp. 180-182)

      In a few weeks I will begin my fourth year as a writing teacher. Is it possible to teach verbal skills? No. Is it possible to polish a stone until it becomes a mirror? Maybe.

      It is possible to be an editor if the raw material is heartfelt and true. It is possible to be a coach if the players are sober and not on drugs and have drive and ambition and can learn to believe in themselves and will stay home and write instead of staying out on the streets drinking beer and looking for love in all the...

    • Hitting a Snag in the Teaching Game
      (pp. 183-185)

      Second meeting of my undergraduate fiction workshop. A female student is writing horror stories about were-wolves that contain so much violence and verbal abuse I can hardly bear to read them. She insists this is all she wants to write and is going to keep on writing it so I called her this morning and told her I thought it would be a good idea for her to drop my class and take one taught by a man we have here this semester who publishes “genre” fiction. That’s an academic code name for writing that doesn’t aspire to be literature...

    • Rip Van Winkle and the Unwanted Wings
      (pp. 186-189)

      How can i teach my undergraduates to write short stories? In many ways this is the easiest semester I have had since I began teaching. I feel that I know what I am doing and what to expect to a greater extent than I did three years ago but each student and each class present new problems and I feel I must devise new strategies for solving those problems.

      The real strategy is to tell them the truth about their work in a kind and helpful manner that does not harm the “dust on the butterfly’s wings,” as Hemingway called...

    • Teaching, A Journal (Continued)
      (pp. 190-194)

      I am trying to teach my students that writing is an easy, natural act. Sometimes it is an easy, natural act, then it becomes difficult because the writer tries to take his idea further than it needs to go. Or he doesn’t know enough yet to take the idea further. A writer has to know some stuff, he has to study, has to be “continually roaming” with a curious eye, has to be reading, learning, watching, thinking.

      Study epistemology, logic, ethics, geology, biochemistry, water tables, visit farms and factories, travel if it’s possible, by foot and bicycle and by automobiles...

    • After Six Weeks of Classes
      (pp. 195-199)

      Things are settling down in my undergraduate fiction workshop. These are the best students in the English department, honors students, creative writing majors, powerful, self-assured, well read, smart. I’m lucky to get to teach them.

      Here’s what’s happening. Remember I told you there were seventeen students in the class. That has shrunk to fifteen, which is about perfect. The tall, very beautiful, blond girl had her heart broken two weeks ago. Her boyfriend of two years threw her over to drink with the Pi Kappa Alphas. She mourned for a week, missed classes, then started going out for coffee and...

    • The Geology Field Trip
      (pp. 200-203)

      I took my graduate creative nonfiction class on a field trip to see the two-hundred-foot cut through the Boone Formation (a plateau in northwest Arkansas). This was to pay them back for readingIn Suspect Terrain, by John McPhee. I am beginning to understand that I can’t teach them everything at once. I can expose them to some of the things that have been valuable to me as a writer and hope some of them profit from what I know. They don’t all need to know the same things. They are not all inspired by the same sort of books...

    • Monday at Dawn
      (pp. 204-204)

      I started off to go to a Pilates class at six a.m. at the athletic club, then came back home after half a block of driving. The stars were glorious and there was a small waning moon. A CD of Jon Kabat-Zinn talking about the way we waste our lives rushing from one thing to the next trying to fulfill ambitions or serve obsessions stopped me and I went back home, turned off all the lights in my house and went out on the back porch to view the early morning stars and moon. It would be good to go...

    • The Big Question
      (pp. 205-207)

      Have i been too hard on the students in the past? Am I being too nice to them now? All I know for sure is that if I show work to my agent and he says “it isn’t working” I lose interest in it. A long time ago, when I was just beginning to publish, my agent or editor would tell me I had to do certain things to make a piece of writing better and I would fiercely go back to work and change the parts they thought were “wrong.”

      Having a salary and being a professor has changed...

    • The Tar Baby
      (pp. 208-211)

      I’m in so deep I can’t get out. I have started liking teaching more than I like writing. My students are doing well. One of my undergraduates won the departmental fiction award for a story he wrote in my workshop. My students have won the awardfor three years in a row. I’m terribly proud of them and proud of myself for inspiring them torewrite the stories until they were good. This year’s student, Kevin Brown, rewrote his story four times. We put it on the worksheet three times. He believed me when I told him that writing is...

  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-212)