I realize that, as a writer, the people who taught me are just as important as the practice I put into my craft. The professors I met in college strongly shaped me into the writer as well as the person I am today. My college experience, overall, is one I don’t particularly care to remember. But I never had bad experiences with my writing professors. They taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day…lessons that I would like to share with you, even if some of you happen to know these tips and strategies already. (I loved all of my professors, so I’m limiting it to three for brevity’s sake.)
I hope you enjoy “meeting” some of my favorite people in my educational career. If you have people who inspired you and your work, give them a shout-out in the comments.
Heather H. Thomas – Show, Don’t Tell
Dr. Thomas was one of my first semester professors, and am I glad she was. As a person, she truly has a heart of gold and was so happy to teach. You could see it in her facial expressions, the seamless movements her hands made as she spoke, and the happiness that emanated from her spirit through her body. She was a human embodiment of the advice she enforced daily every Tuesday and Thursday: show, don’t tell.
Solely telling readers what is happening is a hard habit to break when this lesson is thrown at you at first. Even though I considered myself to be a pretty darn good writer in my younger years, I noticed the telling Dr. Thomas told us to steer clear of as much as possible. It challenged us, which I love; I challenged myself when writing all the time and loved it even then. Each week I noticed this skill improving. We kept all of our drafts for our portfolios, which helped show the improvement step by step, piece by piece. I discovered how fun figurative language is for painting pictures in my work (within reason, of course).
Jeffrey Voccola – Read Deeply into Your Work – Don’t Just Copy Edit
Dr. Voccola was also one of my first professors when I entered the university. I noticed right away that he had this unique type of professionalism about him. He paired a black blazer with jeans and nice shoes daily and often sported a golf hat. Yet the way he carried himself, tall (though he was not the tallest man) with confident strides as his arm and the briefcase its hand held swung at his side, completely took over the room. This was never in an intimidating way, however. He loved class interaction to readings and pushed us to pay more attention to details like syntax and the content itself in pieces and break them down when editing.
I had a habit many writers have in the beginning when it came to editing. I focused mostly on grammar and spelling errors and then left it once those were fixed. The hands-on experience of editing others’ content and having mine edited, as well, on a collegiate level immensely helped me not only better critique a piece of writing but also to accept making mistakes in my own writing and accept that I am not a “perfect” writer like we all hope to be. I am forever thankful for that.
Alan Hines – Learn to Write Realistically
I first met Professor Hines when I took a Creative Writing: Drama course. I originally chose this class as a writing elective to learn more about a style I never delved into too much. That course ended up being one of my favorite courses I ever took. My favorite part of fiction writing is character creation, and drama writing makes you do that. It also challenged another bad habit I had when writing fiction up until then: writing “real-life” characters that did not seem realistic themselves or their dialogue did not sound realistic in any sense. (No, I did not and still do not write fantasy, so this was important for me to break.)
I was guilty of that without a shadow of a doubt. I look back on old fiction pieces and almost cringe at the characters. (Well, I would cringe at the way they acted, at least.) By reading plays and making journal entries about each, I explored what I enjoyed about certain characters and their development and took pieces of those for my own writing. And the more I worked on my one-act play (the final for the course), I noticed numerous changes. Not only did I improve technically, but I also realized how much I enjoyed discovering who people were at their core and finding ways to unravel that with good (realistic) pacing and strong relatability. And, of course, it piqued my interest to the point where I hope to pursue it further in the future.