Creative and Confident

                                   Advice to Bloggers

Years ago I took a creative writing class at Harvard extension with Anne Bernays. Anne was a renowned writer with  a wide-ranging portfolio of published works. She was also married to Justin Kaplan, American Book award winner and authority on Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. 

The course content was pretty simple. Every week we would write a two page story on a topic that was given us.  The class would present their story by reading it to the members and  then dissect the story with no filters. If we liked the story or disliked the piece , the critique would be direct to the author. We could not say , ” I don’t like it.” We needed to explain our thoughts. If Anne did not think you your criticism was valid, she was very blunt.

For the writer of the story the sounding board from the class could be either a great high or devastating. Rarely would there be any middle ground.  Here was the kicker. You could not defend your story. You could not say to the class this is what I meant, or you (the reader ) are not getting  the story line. You remained quiet during the class discussion until the end of the critique.

Anne’s point was that you are not around physically  to let the reader know what the story is about or defend your writing. Each line needed to stand up on its own merit. Within the first two paragraphs , the theme and message of the writing needed to be established. The rest of the story was the development and conclusion. This was a tough call for writing students as many of them were clueless how to do this. They were put on the defensive when the class gave them the thumbs down. Some participants broke out in tears, left the class and did not return. Their illusion of being a successful writer were dashed.

Anne believed honest evaluation was better than giving everyone a pat on the back and telling them what a great job they were doing. My stories were generally well received for I wrote about what I knew or experienced. I had no grand illusions of being the next

John Updike or Justin Kaplan. There were uneasy moments for me too and some of the class just did not like my take on the topics that were assigned. This class lasted  eight weeks, the final topic was one we chose, the page  length increased to five pages.

What was evident during the class sessions there were a few really good writers. Two in particular I remember.  There was a mail carrier who was the top writer in the group. He had a gift to explain , understand and bring his story to the reader very quickly.

We had another very good writer who was a 19-year-old women with an enormous amount of pain in her life. However her writing was positive, hopeful and funny.

There was a very bizarre incident in the course .  One person whose work was highly criticized by the members and failed to see how bad it was , came into the last class with a brilliant story that was not representative of his previous crappy work.  I received a call from Anne and she asked what I thought of his story.  I told her it was either written by someone else or else plagiarized.  Anne agreed with me and decided to confront him with his bogus writing.  I was told he denied stealing it or have someone else write it.  Anne tried to research his story by looking into writing publications but as this was before the internet , the background check was spotty.

She outright said  he did not write the story but still insisted it was his.

The reason I am writing this blog entry  is the result of another blogger I just read. She described the issues during the process.  The doubt  in her mind of whether the  writing is up to standard. If you write, just remember, not everyone will like your story. However, if you create a story line, feel good about it ,then you did your job.

As for me, I write for an audience of a select topic, people who enjoy cigars but on occasion will expand my topic list. My hope is to increase the audience I attract, have fun doing it and make some money.  Not really a tall order. I know not every story will click but if I am enjoying the process, it was successful.

Keep smoking

Anne Bernays


Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays

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