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October 31, 2006 / Meredith

Higher Education, Part I

Knick and I are taking a community education class titled Writing a Novel Later in Life. It isn’t time consuming in that the entire course consists of two sessions of one hour each. It’s not a drain on our finances either – $15 each. “Why not?” we asked each other. “It will give us an excuse to get out of the house.”

We’ve both had aspirations of writing a novel, but I would say we are hardly “later in life” as the course title suggests. Come to find out, Knick actually has a story to tell. I just want to quit my job with hopes of becoming the next Stephen King or Danielle Steele.

I had no expectations regarding the course content. What could the instructor possibly have to say in a total of two hours that would inspire me to become a novelist overnight? With half of the two-session course is over, and I can safely say, “not much.”

I don’t mean to speak negatively about the kindly retired psychologist who successfully wrote and published a 450-page novel in his 60s. Kudos, Dr. Author! Really, I think his efforts and relative success are impressive. But there are some factors in this continuing education experience that seem almost comical.

For instance, Dr. Author can barely speak above a whisper, which is usual for a man as hard of hearing as he is. A good thing for him: there are only six of us in class. The small class size is somewhat of a relief to me in that we won’t have to break into small groups to discuss anything. I’ve always hated that teaching technique and attributed it to laziness on the teacher’s part.

The class members are quite varied too. We range in age from 30 to 75. One woman made sure we all knew she is on disability, and she talked to the instructor as if he was a retarded child. There is a man who just found a Canadian publisher for his novel; apparently his work is just so controversial no publisher in the United States would dare touch it. Another guy is a sheet metal worker/musician/song writer who wants to write a novel based on his extreme political and religious opinions. Another woman has aspirations of becoming a ghost writer. What that entails I’m not really sure, but I believe people ought write and take credit for their own work, bad or good. Then there’s me and Knick, who just want a jump start into a realm of art about which we’ve both fantasized.

We spent the hour listening to the instructor tell his story. The course could have been titled How I Did It. He seems very proud of his book, as he brought a copy of it with him and held it up several times for us to see. I can’t say this is a class as much as it is a man telling a story about how he wrote a novel later in life. I am fairly certain I will know no more about the technicalities of writing a novel after listening to his story than I did before I signed up.

Listening to this soft-spoken man did stir something in me, though. He has a passion for his story and had the balls to put it on paper and publish it himself. I admire him for doing that. And seeing the pride in his eyes when he talks about his accomplishment made me feel privileged – like how I would feel if my grandpa was telling me a secret. I’m happy to be one with whom he is sharing his story.

At the starting block of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I am indeed inspired just a tad further by the instructor who spoke to us last night. Next week we meet again. What he’ll talk about then is completely beyond me. In fact, he asked his class of six that topics we would like him to cover in the next session. Maybe we should just break into small groups.

The End


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