Before my first non-credit course at Johns Hopkins, I went to a social they had to introduce the program. We were having the required red punch and cookies outside the lecture hall when I paused, and being a sociable kind of person, I asked a man standing next to me what course he would take.
“Do you think the courses will be valuable?” he asked when he found out I was a “writer.”
I was so excited about taking my first class (wow it wasn’t for work and didn’t involve housework) that I hadn’t even asked that question.
“I’ve already written twenty westerns. Haven’t sold any of them yet. Sounds like the courses are for beginners.”
He was a tall, gangly man who could have been cast as a deputy to Matt Dillon in an old black and white TV show. I thought he must have been one of those types who liked the idea of a man having control over his own destiny like one of the ancient Greek heroes winning the day even when the gods were trying to thwart his attempts. Or maybe he was looking for some way to escape a job he didn’t like.
I had to agree that the courses probably were for beginners. “But there’s always something new to learn.” I was being polite, thinking that if he knew everything, then, he would already have a book published. Now I understand that getting published isn’t that easy.
I also understand that it’s highly unlikely that he was afraid that someone would tell him that he shouldn’t be writing Westerns. The non-credit courses weren’t advertised as “literary” courses although for the most part they were. That’s been quite a few years ago and I did think about him when I was discouraged. I thought about him again later when I was close to finishing my degree, one of my teachers told me that something like 90 percent of us would stop writing. I suppose my Western friend eventually did quit.
For me, I had nothing to lose before I started my graduate writing program or afterwards. Anything that might improve my writing was worth a try. Like I said, I’m obsessed.