My student, Joan McPheron, wrote the below letter to me at the end of last semester. Thanks to her for her sharp observation. You got it, lady, on every level. The letter is reprinted here in its entirety with her permission:
Soon after I started taking this class I was visiting with a couple of my friend and talking about writing. Kind of off to the side one said, “Well, I can write too, anyone can write, the hardest thing is just getting started, getting the pen to the paper.” The other agreed and soon the subject was changed.
Well, I agreed with them but later I was talking to one of them and I said you know anyone can write, just like anyone can sew blocks together and call it quilting, but there is so much more to becoming an expert at quilting and making a quilt a piece of art. So many intricate stitches and difficult patterns and color combinations and embellishments. Even the basic stitches take time to learn and some people, no matter how much they try, always have wonky stitches.
So I was surprised to see the quilts in your office on the day that I had my conference. And most amazing was your comment to me that you had made the larger uncomplicated one and that your mother had made the smaller more complicated one. Both quilts, but one definitely more skilled and artistic. This was pointed out by you (by the way, I liked yours very much and am impressed).
I liked that in your office was the perfect example of fiction writing or writing in general. Did you do that on purpose?
The answer is no, but I will use that metaphor from now on. Thanks, Joan! And I’ll say it again: what a treat that I get to teach fiction writing for a living.