Long ago, when college was still a faraway possibility in my preteen mind, I got my first exposure to college writing courses via Stephen King’s IT, which my mother had bought for me during a family vacation to visit our relatives in Delaware. My first Stephen King book and still one of my favorites, I remember during one of the early chapters one of the protagonists Bill Denbrough, who in his adult years is a successful horror novelist, flashbacks to a honors’ creative writing class he took.

To say the least, the class he took scared me almost as much as the clown: it was a bunch of hippies talking about everything wrong with society sexually, culturally, racially, politically, economically, etc. The professor was a weed-smoker who saw fiction as inseparable from politics and revolution. Suggest that if writing stories for the sake of writing stories in this class, as Bill did, and everyone would turn and see you as a sexist death merchant or something. He later dropped the class (smart move) and did more than fine on his own.

For twelve-year-old me, I sincerely hoped that I wouldn’t find this sort of experience when I got to college. I did tell myself that Bill’s college years took place in the middle of the Vietnam War, and everyone was a little politics crazy then. But for a twelve-year-old, you don’t really understand what college is except maybe images of grassy lawns and old buildings and people between adolescence and adulthood going to classes during the day and going to wild frat parties at night. And of course there was that slightly hippie reputation, you can’t shake that off no matter what you do.

About seven years later, I enroll in my first creative writing class. And no, they’re not a bunch of hippies looking to protest the wrongs of the world and turn any guy wanting to write a simple horror story into a pariah. Our teacher was a grad student who swore like a sailor despite emphasizing a Southern upbringing, and she tasked us to write one short story that was literary that could incorporate genre themes. That was one of my first lessons in avoiding giant plot holes, because the first draft of my story, a girl freed from being a sex slave, had some issues. My second draft was a bit better, but only so much. Still, learned a bit from that, and the students were a cool group. Some were English majors, others were looking to fill credit requirements for other majors. We wrote, we critiqued each other’s work, it was fun.

The second creative writing class I took was an advanced course, and was taught by this professor who was such a great guy. He told us flat that he wanted only literary stories, that he thought genre was often unimaginative, and that he hated James Patterson. But he always had a smile on his face, and he always brought a little wind-up toy to amuse us. I got a lot of training in characterization and looking for new angles and perspectives from that class. One of the short stories I turned in was part of the finished collection of works for The Quiet Game, “Addict”. That class definitely helped bring it up to scratch.

My final, and possibly my favorite, creative writing class was last semester, with a professor who retired at the end of our class. Every week we would read an average of two or three short stories from our peers, as well as stories gathered in a course packet (some of those left a deep impression on me). Another advanced creative writing class, each of the students here had a lot of experience and brought a lot to the table. At times I felt I had trouble measuring up, that’s how good they were. But I worked hard, and in addition to the lessons I was getting from writing my thesis, I was growing as a writer, learning all sorts of things on relating to the audience, on storytelling and how not to rush it or stuff too much into ten-thousand words. It was excellent, and I know that class is definitely going to stick with me the most, because I was never bored and I got so much out of it.

In a month and four days (yes, I’m keeping count), I’ll be walking down the aisle in Ohio Stadium in a cap and gown and receive my diploma. If someone were to ask me right before I go up to get my diploma if I became a writer because of my time at Ohio State, I would say “Yes” and point to these classes. They did wonders for my writing, and I’m so glad I took them. And while the likelihood will be that I won’t be taking any formal classes again for a number of years, I know that as I go on and get plenty of informal training, these classes will stick with me through life.

So if you’re reading one of my stories some day in the future and suddenly you’re afraid and want to bolt the door, you can go ahead and blame my classes for that.

Did you take creative writing courses when you were in college? Did they help you at all?

What’s one lesson from those classes that has stuck to you even up till today?

By the way, remember my Secrets of Ohio State University article and its sequel? Well, there’s a third secret I wanted to share, but I didn’t want to make a whole article about it. So instead, I’ll just share it here: there’s an urban legend on campus that if you’re hit by one of the school’s buses you’ll receive various benefits as compensation, including free tuition for a semester. I’ve never heard anyone test this theory, but once I got hit by a car passing through campus while I was on the way to a psychology exam. The person who hit me, as far as I’m aware, wasn’t affiliated with Ohio State. But not too long after the incident, I got a small refund from OSU. Coincidence? Or maybe some form of restitution? The world may never know.

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