Writing Class


I had a long and varied list of college majors, changing my course of study nearly every semester. That was a major factor in turning my four-year college career into six. OK. There were other factors, too, but who's counting.

One subject I always had a passion for was English. I loved reading and I loved writing, so even if I happened to be majoring in Psychology or Exercise Science, a literature or writing course was always part of my repertoire.

In 1989 I enrolled in Jane Smiley's creative writing class. I didn't know much about her published work at that time, and frankly didn't really care. The only reason I took her English 301 class was because it happened to fit into my schedule. By the end of her class, however, she had instilled a passion for writing that's still with me today.

By the way, I found out she was quite a writer. Three years after I took her class, her novel, A Thousand Acres , won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Jane was tall and unassuming. I once heard her say she wore khaki pants and a white or chambray button-up shirt every day. Not having to think about what to wear freed up space in her mind for more important things. She also had a thing for Tootsie pops.

She taught us the art of putting words together to make sentences, paragraphs, pages and books.

She showed us the power of just one word...

I love.
I love somebody.
I love somebody else.

We each had a thick spiral notebook which held our prose from a series of writing sessions, composed the first ten minutes of each class. We were to write constantly, letting the words flow without concern for subject, sentence style, grammar or spelling.

We were taught the word that is highly overused in writing and usually not necessary. Read through something you've written, deleting all of the thats. You will see what I mean.

Jane encouraged us to write about the things and people and places we know. She encouraged us to make the ordinary extraordinary by writing about it through a microscope. "Don't write about the carnival," she'd say. "Write about the blue horse on the carousel that leans a little to the left."

She helped us do that by taking us on walks around campus, suddenly saying, "Stop! Look! Write about it!" "It" could be a tree, ISU's beloved Campanile, or a gutter full of trash.

These days, Jane Smiley has become a poster child for the far political left. And she doesn't fill the role very eloquently. I think she uses her ability to write as a way to name call and bash the current Administration in a flowery and descriptive way. Name calling and bashing, no matter how well it's written, just isn't cool.

I don't like the kind of writer she's become, but I still appreciate the kind of writer - and teacher - she was to me.

And, I know that I will always cherish the special Tootsie pop memories of English 301.


Melene :

I would have loved a class like "that." I was a better writer in college than I am now. Maybe I should try her wardrobe idea.....nah, I need more variety than that.

I was taught in a speech class in college we could all use the word "just" a lot less than we do.

justabeachkat :

I think she would be proud of you today. I, for one, love your writing. I give you an A+


Susan :

I haven't taken any college English courses but I did take a writing class once. The main advise I remember was to re-read what you've written and cut out a lot of the words. I will pay attention to "that" in the future!!

Jody :

I tried to read her once... Couldn't do it. I appreciate her talent but her politics shine through and make it impossible for me to read.

Stephanie :

Creative writing was one of my favorites in college, too. I'm glad you remember the class with fondness and glad you have continued to write after the cap and gown are a memory. You bless us with your words.

Tammy :

I have taken a writing class or two back in college, but I would have loved to have taken from her!

(OK...I just wrote have...) And funny about that advice, because last year I submitted a short story to an on-line publisher and they said they really liked it but could I get rid of some of the "thats". Hmmm. And the sad thing is, I got busy and never followed through with re-writing it! OK...you've just inspired me to go back and do it...and swallow my "thats"! :)

Jill, let me add that I love your writing- you do have a wonderful talent and I always enjoy coming over here!

Anonymous :

Concerning your writing...I love it!
Concerning your book list...Can't wait for you to get to Redeeming Love! It's one of my all time favorite fiction books! It will make you fall in love all over again...and again!

angela conklin
a friend thru your entries

Knit-Wit :

What a nice memory. It is hard to see our mentors straying from what we believe to be right. Thank you for sharing such a positive story about her even though what she writes about today may break your heart.

Tracey Kirksey :

..and we can thank her for the wonderful way in which you write!

I always love stopping by here!

Sue :

You definitely are an excellent writing. It's great when you have had a teacher inspire you like that.

I'll have to rethink my "thats". :)

Nadine :

What a great post. I loved the tribute, even though you and I don't agree with her view today...you are right that she left a good mark on you.

*carrie* :


This is such a cool story. I saw the film version of her Pulitzer winner, and remember it gave me a heavy, sad feeling.

Good suggestion about the word "that"--I'm going to watch for it in my writing.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) :

How incredibly cool that you had this opportunity!

I majored in print journalism and considered majoring in PR and photojournalism. I've always loved to write. One of the reasons I started blogging was to flex my writing muscles (I work as an editor, so I don't get the opportunity to write creatively any more at work.)

I'll have to admit I have not read ANY of her books. Yikes.

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