My teacher was patient and helpful and the comments weren’t all that bad from my peers either but I kept making stupid mistakes. I would spend hours and hours on a single paragraph for our assignments that demonstrated sentence forms and literary techniques that were required and rarely, would I get everything exactly right. I had great fun taking weird ideas or parts of stories that I was thinking about writing and using them as exercises except that’s when I seemed to make the most mistakes. If I wrote unrelated sentences as an exercise, I didn’t have any problem.
Having grown-up with an aunt who was an English teacher didn’t help me in this class. I kept thinking about her. Visions kept popping into my head of snuggling down in an old iron bed under a sheet perfumed by fresh Iowa air while my Auntie Irene explained how to diagram a sentence as a kind of weird bedtime story. I needed to focus.
There were variations in how certain rules were presented among the experts. Our teacher explained that the scholars had never agreed on one definitive set of grammar rules. Like some of my experiences with computers at my day job, some of the things I remembered were out of date and the terminology had changed. Being an older student had its drawbacks as well as the advantage of having more memories to use in my writing.
As valuable as the class was, I didn’t enjoy it as much as my core classes I suppose because of the hostile attitude of the nonfiction students. I’m still not sure why they cared what emphasis we were. Maybe some of those students were frustrated fiction writers or maybe our program had fostered competition between the genres. In any case, take it easy guys if you’re a nonfiction student!
The poetry students seemed to have more trouble conforming to the rules than the fiction students. Maybe the more “unleashed” you are, the more you rely on your feelings, the harder it is to focus on the rules? That’s a lesson in itself, if it’s true. Once again we were hearing that we had to know the rules before we could break them. If you haven’t had anyone say that to you yet, you will. I guarantee it.
I planned on taking this course before I took a workshop because I thought that my greatest weakness was at the word level. Concentrating on all the different ways sentences could be constructed utilizing the different types of phrases, varying their presentation based on meaning within a paragraph, and word choice were all things that I knew before I took the course. Making me think about them or making them an automatic part of my writing process was not.
The extra time I spent on my exercises, the grueling hours when I created fictional situations using the techniques, produced a change in my writing. Variation in sentence structure and word selection became part of the choices that I made as I composed my first drafts.