About Writing                                     

                 Keith G Laufenberg


The spirit only can teach. Not any sensual, not any liar, not any slave can teach.
—Emerson, Nature, Addresses and Lectures.

The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.
—Emerson, Journals, 1861.

The teacher stared at the assignment and inhaled deeply. He had been a teacher for three
decades, teaching high school English and coaching the junior varsity football team. Retiring
after thirty years of working almost the entire year, either actually teaching or preparing for
the coming fall semester, had, at first, left no void in his life, as he and his wife of twenty-five
years, also a retired school teacher had traveled extensively, mostly in Europe. But, after two
years of it, they had returned home, to Stockbridge, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, and his wife
had filled most of her spare time with exercise classes and a bridge club. But, Simon Carey
didn’t have the same interests as his spouse and when a long-time associate of his, another
English teacher, who had moved on to becoming the dean of a local college, contacted him
about a position teaching a course in writing he had fairly jumped at the chance. But, now, on
his first day in the classroom, he wasn’t so sure that he should have taken the position; both
he and his wife’s pensions made for a more than comfortable lifestyle and they had paid off
their home mortgage, just before retiring. There was no unearthly reason for him to teach a
course in writing, except for the fact that Simon Carey was himself a writer. He had had
poems, short stories and articles published over the years, some of which he had even been
paid for, and had been working on a novel for almost three years. The job teaching the
writing class was just part-time and he only had two classes a day, three times a week. It not
only wouldn’t get in the way of his writing schedule, which began at four in the afternoon, but
he actually thought it might help, being as he would have to talk about it, to teach others, his
students, all the ups and downs of writing and how to motivate yourself enough to face the
blank page. It was something he had been looking forward to ever since accepting the
position, thirty days ago, but now as he sat staring at the page of thirty-two names—of wanna-
be writer’s—he wasn’t so sure of himself, in fact, truth be known, Simon Carey was scared,
scared of facing thirty-two strangers and unsure of himself and his abilities as a writer, much
less a writing teacher.


If the works of the great poets teach anything, it is to hold mere invention somewhat cheap. It
is not the finding of a thing, but the making something out of it after it is found, that is of
—J.R. Lowell, My Study Windows: Chaucer.

The students wandered into the classroom somewhat haphazardly; although the writing
course was a new one it was being held in an oft-used English classroom, and counted for full
credit towards almost all of the Arts baccalaureates, as well as many in the sciences. Most of
those straggling into the class were journalism or English majors and the majority of them
wanted to be writers, in one form or another.
Aaron Stein sat in the back of the classroom and opened his notebook; there was no textbook
for this course but he knew that the course was designed to focus on preeminent, well-known
writers and how they became so influential—how their writing styles differed—and how they
practiced their craft. Stein wanted desperately to be a famous novelist but well knew that his
chances at that were slim. He was an English Major but carried pre-law as a minor—just in
case. His father, a major trader on Wall Street, had the finances and connections to put his
son through law school and then secure a prestigious position for him, with a major New
York firm and that’s exactly what he had planned for his son but Aaron wanted to write and
write he did, at every waking minute that he could spare, and, even though he had only been
published in the small press run by the college, he felt sure that his time—as a novelist and an
influential writer—was to come in the future, and the sooner the better—as far as Aaron
Stein was concerned.
Amanda Berg was a physical education major who loved to read and write poetry. She
minored in English, and read Emerson, Thoreau and Walt Whitman voraciously. She thought
that the world was being decimated and destroyed and would continue to be, if left to the
businessmen of this world —who, to her, appeared to run it. Her father was a carpenter by
trade and a strong and vocal union activist, who voiced his opinion oft and loudly on what he
considered a conspiracy of the rich against the poor and working classes of the world. She
figured she was going to be a P.E. teacher but, in the recesses of her mind, there languished
the dream of being a writer, a person of consequence whose opinions and world-views could
not only influence but actually change the way people thought, if not the way the world
thought and operated. She opened a spiral notebook and took out her pen. Clicking it on, she,
along with the thirty-one other students, now sitting at their respective desks, watched as
Simon Carey walked to the blackboard and wrote his name in large block letters.
“My name is Simon Carey, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ll be conducting this class for the next
three months. Now, for your first assignment I want everyone to write down your favorite
author and why he is your favorite author, maybe talk about a book you read by him and at
the same time introduce yourself to the class and tell us a brief little bit about yourself, why
you are taking this class and what you expect to learn here.”


Man from his sphere eccentric starts astray;
All hunt for fame, but most mistake the way.
—Charles Churchill, The Rosciad, 1. 587.

And what at first had been an idle joy,
Became a sober serious work for fame.
—Robert Buchanan, Hugh Sutherland’s Pansies.

Simon Carey stared at the last of the thirty-two papers and threw it down on his desk in
frustration. The thirty-two students in his writing class were expecting too much; they wanted
to know the secret to becoming a famous writer and Simon Carey knew, or thought he did,
that there was no such secret, it was all just hard work and maybe a little bit of luck, as far as
he could ascertain, after thirty-some-odd years of fits and starts at his own writing career, or
lack thereof—as it may be judged. But, these students all had their favorite writer, and that
was certain enough, but none of them knew how their favorite writer wrote what he did and
now they all wanted to know how it was done. Most of them had written a poem or short
story and many had been published in their school journal but had been turned away by the
slicker more worldly and prestigious magazines and they wanted to know why. What could
Carey tell these students, many of whom knew he had been published in numerous journals
and magazines, and expected him to tell them how the famous writers wrote what they wrote
and how it was that they came to write what they did. What could he tell them? It filtered
through the recesses of his mind, as two p.m. approached and his students began trickling
into the classroom.
Aaron Stein took a seat in the back of the classroom and wondered if Carey had even
bothered to read his paper, his paper about how he had read every book John Steinbeck had
ever written and how ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ had influenced him to the extent that he shied
away from Wall Street, and law school, and now gravitated more towards journalism,
dreaming of becoming as famous and prolific as John Steinbeck, himself. He doubted that
Carey had even read the paper but opened his notebook anyway, then reached for his pen.
Amanda Berg smiled and nodded at Carey and he returned the gesture; she wondered if he
had read her paper, her paper about how she loved Thoreau and Emerson and how she
thought that everything was too political nowadays, and if the environment wasn’t given
more respect and thought, instead of money and profit, that soon enough there would be no
more environment and, then, there would also, soon enough, be no more people.
Simon Carey waited for all his students to get seated and situated before staring down, one
last time, at the thirty-two papers, piled on top of each other, on his desk. He stood up and
moved to the center of the front of the room. Glancing at the class as a whole, he barked, “I’ll
tell you as best that I can that I hope to fulfill all your expectations for my class.
I’ve read all your papers and was very impressed by the author’s that most of you mentioned
and why they had influenced you.” Carey went on to critique all of the papers and the
students were impressed by his knowledge of the intricacies of the writing craft and the fact
that he had had several dozen poems and stories published. He saw a hand go up and called
on the student, who was sitting in the back of the room. “Yes … Mister Stein isn‘t it?”
Aaron Stein smiled inwardly and nodded. “Ah, yes sir, er-um, Mister Carey, I was just
wondering, I mean, you seem to have read all these writers, ah, which would then be your
“Well, that’s a hard question Mister Stein.” Just then the bell rang, signaling the end of the
period, and Cary barked, “I’ll tell you what Mister Stein, I’m going to give that question some
more thought and tell you as soon as I can.”
Aaron Stein nodded, as he, and the others, stood up to exit the classroom.


To unlearn what is nought.
—Antisthenes, when asked what learning was most necessary for man’s life. (Bacon,
Apothegrns. No. 177.)

Who knows the thoughts of a child.
—Nora Perry, Who Knows?

Simon Carey waited until the last student sat down and then walked to the front of the room.
This would be the last class of the semester and he felt that he knew all his students—he
knew they all had a feeling and desire to write. He nodded at Aaron Stein and smiled. One of
his serious writers, Carey was fairly certain that he, along with the rest of the world, would be
hearing more from Aaron Stein, in the future. His hands turned outwards, to, figuratively,
embrace the whole class. “Well, as you know, this will be our last class and I just want you all
to know that everyone has received a passing grade.” An audible undercurrent of laughter
trickled throughout the room, as Carey smiled, then turned serious. “I promised you that I
would pick my favorite writer and tell you all why and how much I’ve been influenced by him,
or her, and, as you all know, I’ve been putting it off, until now.” Carey noticed that Aaron Stein
sat up straighter and he pointed at him. “Mister Stein,  you are my favorite writer.” Stein’s
face reddened noticeably but before he could react further, Carey pointed at another student
and then another and snapped, “And you Miz Berg, you are my favorite writer. And you
Mister Fowlkes, and you Mister Jones and you Miz Lanier; ah, you see you are all my favorite
writers.” Carey could see by the astonished looks on the faces of most of his students that
they hadn’t expected his outburst and were disappointed. They had been expecting an
answer, something to help them, something to make writing easier, a name one name that
they could go to and read and discover the mystery to writing a good story. But, then Carey
shocked them once again. “Don’t look surprised—you are all great writers, you should not
look to someone else to copy or someone else to answer a question that only you can
answer. Do not think that just because something is published or marketed royally that it is
better than something that you have just written. You are all thoroughbreds, not just nags in
a race, put your blinders on and look not where the horse next to you is but where you are,
for you need not judge yourself by anyone else but yourself. Write for yourself and yourself
alone and write the words that ring truly inside your head. Look inside of yourself, look to
your God—look to your soul—look to your childhood.”
“Your … your childhood?”
Carey smiled and nodded at Amanda Berg. “Yes, Miz Berg, your childhood. Remember when
you saw things so simply, so easily and so truthfully. Forget all the Bee-S-ah the world has
taught you and become like a child and yet with your adult mind where it should be. And,
remember this, don’t let anyone, not anyone, tell you what to write, or how to write. Just do it;
write and then write some more and when you are tired of writing—write some more—and
more and then rewrite.”
The entire class erupted and Carey could see the knowing smiles and hear the real laughter
and the looks of relief on many of the students’ faces.
As the bell rang, signaling the end of the period, no one moved, and Simon Carey smiled. He
knew he had been right to take the teaching position and his novel was already half-finished;
he wrote almost twice as much as he had before taking the job. He waved his hand over his
head and turned sideways, so that none of the students could see the small tear trickle down
his cheek, from the corner of his eye and then barked, “Goodbye and please come and see me
whenever you’re in my neighborhood.”

© Keith G Laufenberg

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