Believe it or not, I’m back in school.
I say believe it or not because even though I’ve taught two days, it still seems a little unbelievable, not just because I just finished the (epically long — and I mean “epic” in its most epic sense) spring semester, but also because this is the second summer class I’ve taught here, which means that I have, officially, been a resident of Statesboro and an assistant professor for a year, facts which fill me with both joy and, I confess, a small amount of unholy panic (mostly because, wait, does this mean I’m a grown-up? It seems like that’s what that means …).
Thankfully, there’s nothing that stills and settles me and strips panic away more than doing what I love best, and talking about what I love best with other people — in other words, writing and teaching and teaching writing.
In today’s class, we talked about Lorrie Moore’s “How to Become a Writer,” from Self Help.
I’m going to take a break now to say this: I’m sure many of you out in the Blogosphere have read this story, but seriously, if you haven’t read the entire collection, stop what you’re doing, buy the book or order the book and wait for it to arrive (don’t do anything else in the meantime!), and read it, cover to cover. Then start whatever you were doing again. The book is that good.
And “How to Become a Writer” may be one of the best stories in it, if only because of its realness, its honesty, and its usefulness. What strikes me about this story is that it makes no promises. It doesn’t say writing is easy. It doesn’t say you’ll succeed. What it does say is what seems to me more and most important: you do it because you do it. You do it because you can’t do anything else, or don’t want to do anything else, or you try to do something — anything — else, and you turn back to writing, again and again and again. You work and you work through ideas and sometimes it takes a thousand times to get it right, and sometimes you never get it right — sometimes you just can’t make it make sense that an old couple accidentally electrocutes themselves, sometimes you just can’t make it work — and that’s all right. The important thing about writing is the writing. That’s how you become a writer: you write.
I thought I’d share some of the things my class noticed about the story, some of the things they learned about becoming a writer — what it means and what it takes — so here’s a snapshot of my mercilessly messy handwriting on the board.