“In good time, I got cooked through and through. I became a writer.” Pamela S. Wight
I joined a writing class Pamela S. Wight led, where she shared her love of creative writing’s sparks. She got us all up in flames. Thanks to Pamela for this guest post, a story of how she came to teach writing. -J.J.Brown
Teaching Writing, Creatively
By Pamela S. Wight
I can truthfully claim that author Anne Lamott helped me get my start in teaching creative writing classes.
Years ago, when I was a medical writer and editor for journals and medical textbooks, I longed to write stories that didn’t include stilted language and terminology that 95% of the human population couldn’t understand.
Suddenly and mysteriously, a mom of one of my young son’s friends asked me, seemingly “out of the blue,” if I’d like to join her writing group. To this day, I don’t know what made her think I’d fit in, besides the fact that my career was based in writing. In fact, writing for technical publications is the opposite of good, clean, creative writing fun.
Nonetheless, I met with this group of eclectic San Francisco Bay area women, as diverse as their ages (from 22 to 72), temperament (angry housewives, burned-out post-grad students, successful corporate leaders), and ethnicity. But they all had one thing in common: they had taken a creative writing class with Anne Lamott, well-known novelist and non-fiction writer.
I enjoyed the casualness of the writing group. Each meeting, a different woman brought a prompt, generally a long paragraph about a thought-provoking subject. The hostess set the timer, and we’d write in silence (except for the scratching of pens) for 15 to 20 minutes. Then we’d sip on some wine and read our newly hatched stories out loud.
I felt like raw steak suddenly thrown on a hot skillet. I sizzled. I blushed. I sweated out my fear and my shock and my immense lack of confidence. And in good time, I got cooked through and through.
I became a writer.
My confidence in this writing process grew quickly, and soon I offered my own brand of Creative Writing for Fun classes through our town’s Recreation Department. I slowed down my medical writing jobs as I taught one morning, one afternoon, and one evening writing class a week.
“A passion formed for helping others find their passion.”
My classes are different from those first Anne Lamott-inspired ones I attended. In each of my classes, I talk about a writing technique, be it similes or dialogue or the use of alliteration. Then I use a prompt that inspires each writer to use this technique. A photo, the beginning of a sentence, a fun quote, a painting, a scenario (when your character puts on her jacket, in the pocket she finds three things that she never uses: a compass, a toothpick, and a _______ [each writer fills in the blank]. Now write a story.)
No matter what reason my adult students give for taking my class, the benefit they discover outperforms their expectations. My students are lawyers and young moms, investment managers and postal clerks, retired doctors and middle school teachers. Yes, their writing improves with each session they take; overall, practice does make perfect progress.
“My writing students discover themselves: their dreams, their fears, their pain, their joy, their expectations, and their goals.”
When we write down the bones (paraphrasing author Natalie Goldberg) and allow our insides to spring forth into words on paper or the laptop, we reach depths never even imagined.
I’ve moved several times since I first taught Creative Writing classes in the Bay area. In each community, from New England to California, the directors of each town’s adult continuing education department are excited to include my classes in their brochures. In fact, several of them register themselves! I keep participation low – 6 to 8 students max – so in each 75-minute class we have time to write at least two stories and discuss an aspect of writing: What’s the best tense to use? How do I improve my POV? Are adverbs wrong? Many of my students return session after session. After all, writing creatively is a daily practice, forever. Braggingly, I add that many of my students have become published authors or valued communicators for their businesses.
Even better, most of my students become lifelong writers.
Oh, and an added benefit to teaching creative writing? My own writing improves, as well as my self-assurance. I’ve published two novels; I blog my “flashes of life” weekly; and I’m working on my third novel as well as a children’s illustrated book.
All for the love of creative writing.
About Author Pamela Wight
Pamela Wight is a successful author of romantic suspense. Her first novel, The Right Wrong Man, published in January, 2013, got rave reviews for taking readers “on an exciting adventure with lots of intrigue, unexpected plot twists, and romance.” A year later, Wight published her second novel, Twin Desires.
Pamela earned her Master’s in English from Drew University, continued with postgraduate work at UC Berkeley in publishing, and teaches creative writing classes in Boston and San Francisco. Many readers enjoy her “weekly blog on daily living” called Roughwighting.
Photo: Reading, 1892, oil on carvas, by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior. Displayed in the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.