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Why I Quit Writing, and Whose Fault it is I Started Again

Clearly, I am really excited about this book and I warn you that I will be more insufferable than usual when it drops. Before it comes out, I suppose I should tell the story behind the acknowledgment, which goes like this

Lane would like to acknowledge her professor of Biblical literature, who said she was the worst writer he had ever read, and suggested she had a future as a fry cook. Ding! Order’s up!

When I started college, I went in as part of an honors program based entirely on my SAT scores and a written exam. For the first three semesters, I worked out chunks of my basics in this accelerated program, taught by a handful of professors. In particular, there was one professor I really respected and liked. We’ll call him Ned because he liked to be called by his first name only. No, his name was nothing like Ned.

So, enjoying Ned’s style of teaching, I took every class I could from him, and we had a little mutual admiration society going. He told me how great I was and I told him how great he was. And this went on for a couple of years. I went a semester without taking any of his classes, then I begged to be allowed into one of his graduate level courses, and was so far over my head I couldn’t even see the surface. I was so far out of my element, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I dropped that class withering from embarrassment, and took another from him the next semester.

That semester, there was a bit of a misunderstanding during our evening student-teacher conference. That is, I may have misunderstood the candlelight, the interest in my personal life, and the hand on my knee. And having misunderstood that, I may have caused some offense. I don’t know. What I do know is that after this conference, our student-teacher dynamic changed drastically, and I went from being his star pupil, to something quite opposite.

I didn’t take any classes from him for a year, having changed my major, then went back to my original degree plan and got very excited to see that Biblical Literature was an offering for the upcoming semester. And, cool, Ned was teaching it. I signed up.

Right up front, I will tell you that this was very soon after my conversion to Christianity, so I probably was starrier-eyed than average about the topic. My writing on the subject was less “bible as literature” and more “BIBLE AS GOD’S POETRY.” However, it was still good enough writing that I was doing well. This isn’t arrogance. I write good papers. I do. I even use spell check and look at the grammar, unlike when I blog. And, Ned’s commentary was positive–sometimes confused by my exuberance, but positive. Then came the Final.

I had asked Ned about his lesson plan a couple of times. I felt (and feel) that the Bible could not be taught as an anthology. I maintained that you wouldn’t teach chapters of Candide or Moby Dick out of order, and without assigning the the whole book, which was what Ned had done with the Bible. We would read a gospel, then go read a few chapters of Leviticus, then read one of Paul’s letters, then read some particular Psalms, then read a bit out of Genesis. All this without any particular history of where it was written, when, and for what audience–all important things.

So that’s what I wrote my Final on. I gave a couple of paragraphs on the topic, then wrote about that. Arrogant? Highly likely. Off topic? Totally. Did I expect to fail the Final? Yes. Were my other scores high enough that I didn’t care? Also yes. Arrogant? I’ll say it again, highly, highly likely.

I expected to fail because I was off topic and hadn’t answered the Final beyond making a short point. What I did not expect was a D, and a handwritten–very angrily handwritten diatribe that bled over the entire cover page and into the margins of my exam book, telling me what a self-righteous little prick I was (okay, maybe I half expected that), and that I was the worst writer he had ever read. He wrote that I had gone from being a shining light among my peers, to being nothing. Less than nothing. I couldn’t write. I had lost it. I was no good, and was never going to amount to anything. He was disgusted and didn’t know me anymore. If this was what I was going to turn in, I should give up right then.

I almost did.

Did I mention this was my second to last semester? I had two finals to go, and I nearly quit college that night.

Fortunately, I was a zealous little baby Christian, and as crushed as I was, I was also a self-righteous prick, so I convinced myself to keep going. Happy to tell you that I aced my other two exams (both writing, and one of them came back with comments that I was the most original writer to ever sit that particular exam.) I also had the presence of mind to ask two unrelated lit professors to read the exam I had written for Ned (sans Ned’s commentary, of course) and I got back healthy commentary from them. Yes, it was uppity, but it was also good writing, and I had answered the Final question as well as stating my case and making my point with good backup. Both of them said they would have marked it a B.

But…after that semester, I quit writing for several years. I did. I quit writing poetry. I quit writing prose. I could barely manage a thank you note. The comments on that Final came down with a block that ruined me for…let’s see. Four years. I did not write for four years.

I picked up the pen again–rather, I had a PC by then, and I started banging things out on the keyboard again, after getting involved with the community at TTP. Actually, I started again through round-robin style stories with the girls on TTP. Then, Laura Christian (who is a fantastic writer, and should be offered a book deal–publishers? Laura Christian. Look her up.) and I started writing fiction together, and I started crafting again on my own.

I started writing about religion and philosophy, and I was still insufferable (may still be insufferable–don’t tell me if I am, okay? I promise I’ll figure it out.) but I was writing. And I haven’t stopped since.

So, absent the desire to name any other names on this book jacket (I’m saving that for when we publish a particular item), I thought, “What a great time to remind myself and other people that nasty criticism isn’t the end of the world, and that no matter what anyone tells you, you can still chase down a dream. Ding! Order’s up!”

You might read our book and think I am the worst writer you’ve ever read. I don’t know. It ain’t Shakespeare. But whatever you think, do keep this in mind: If you are ever in a position to destroy someone’s confidence and try to trample their dreams from a position of authority, remember that most people would have told you the professor’s name and maybe more interesting gossip. Not everyone is so reticent in their vengeance as I.

All that said, I would like to thank Laura, Irene, Darice, Jez, Suz, Amber, Sunshine, and especially Nicole for helping me get back up on that horse. And I would like to thank Pamela Dean for writing the book that set my imagination on fire, and Martha Brockenbrough for writing the book that made me wonder if I could do it, and C.S. Lewis for everything good that has ever happened in my literary world. Without Lucy Pevensie, none of this would ever have been. Of course my thanks to my family, who share my time with the computer, and to my imaginary celebrity boyfriend, whose drug abuse and subsequent 12 stepping led to the website TTP, which led me to you all. Thank you.

10 thoughts on “Why I Quit Writing, and Whose Fault it is I Started Again”

  1. Lane, I don’t know what to say. I love your writing–it has spunk, personality, and it’s refreshing. I enjoy your blog. And I do have a degree in journalism, so I know what I’m talking about.

    But my heart breaks for you. I mean, from what I’ve read in the few weeks since I’ve become a follower is disturbing–what the heck kind of Christians have you known? Sadly, I know because I’ve known the same kind–my whole freakin’ life.

    Fortunately, there have been good people that helped me along. But, goodness, you’ve really been though a lot. Thanks for being so open about it!

  2. LOL! Well, Ned was an atheist, so that should explain him right away. He did not teach at my Bible College, but at my regular old State U.

    As for the rest, I have known and do know some wonderful Christians. Sadly, I worked for a ministry I consider unethical, and I got to know a lot of morally relative christians. I’ve known and do know more good than bad. Actually, it’s just the ministers themselves who were so awful. Most of the people were fine.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. As someone who is finally starting to follow her dreams despite the negativity from others in the past, I can both relate, and appreciate this to no end. Congrats on the book . . . more importantly, congrats on following your dreams!

  4. I’m shocked and delighted! And I want to read Pamela Dean’s book. Ned sounds like a ridiculous man on every level. I once wrote a paper where I disagreed with a teacher, and she had the grace to say she learned something. If we don’t have faith in ourselves when we’re young, how are we ever to reach our potential?

    Keep posting book news. I can’t wait to read it.

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