Finally read The Writing Class by Jincy Willett. V. funny but also dark. Really dark, like she gets into all the worst things you almost don’t let yourself think about as an writer. All the deepest fears and insecurities and bitterness. But she is also absolutely funny and spot on about the writing workshop situation, from a teacher’s perspective. And then there’s the mystery, which is so well done.
The main character is Amy, a novelist who has not published a book since the 80s. Amy deals well enough with the present, mentoring her students, veering between believing she’s doing some good and feeling like a total fake. She’s also got some secrets in her past that make for a surprising twist late in the book and finally make sense out of why she is blocked, why she can’t write, why she barely functions on a social level, and then only with her dog and her students. In that order.
For me an interesting writerly aside (and there are so many, which makes this book such a treat for writers in particular) is when Amy says that there is one question students never ask, which is Am I a good enough writer to get published?
She says they ask Can I Get Published? but not Am I Good Enough?
Reason I thought that was interesting is because none of my students have ever asked me that question, so I think she’s mostly right. But as a student myself, I actually DID ask that question. (I have blurted out more embarrassing and inappropriate stuff in my life…some of my friends hang out with me just to see what nutty thing I’ll say next.)
My teacher at the time had given the whole group an invitation to ask her one question each. Anything we wanted. So I asked. She got flustered and maybe even a little (at least it seemed to me) pissed off. I had caught her by suprise, because, hey, nobody asks that question.
Her answer to me was “Only you can answer that.” Which was in my opinion, not an answer. And then she said some other stuff along the lines of “You have to believe in yourself or nobody else will.” but I don’t recall specifically exactly what she said because I was too busy at the time thinking that she hadn’t given me a straight answer. She had not said YES, so really, in my mind, she was trying hard not to have to come right out and say NO.
Thinking about it today, I’m pretty sure she gave me as good an answer as she could. She was not avoiding NO. I see now I just wanted way too much validation. After all, she wrote right on my manuscript “Good writing, but no conflict.” So she had already told me I was a good writer. And she’d told me what I had to do to improve with craft. And that’s all any writing teacher should be expected to do. Writing teachers are not goddesses or fortune tellers.
Of course, Amy has to solve a murder and unmask a student/writer/killer. Which might be easier than answering the question nobody but me would ever dare ask.