The Girl at the Art Fair
Every spring, the Indiana Writers Center has a booth at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, which is held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Art Center. I love getting there to set up on the morning of the first day, peppy music on the sound system, volunteers and staff zipping around on golf carts, artists rolling back the front of their tents to reveal their wares.
This year there was the smell of rain from the night before and the smell of lilacs from the huge bushes behind our booth. The smell of steak and onions and mushrooms sizzling on the grill wafted over from the nearby steak tent and coffee, from the Hubbard and Cravens booth next to it.
Closer to opening time, there was the “Hey! Hey! HEY!” of sound checks. Artists roam around, checking out each others’ booths, chatting, sometimes taking notes. Volunteers go booth-to-booth, bringing cold bottled water, checking to see if everything’s okay.
When the gates open, a steady stream of people begins—eventually making its way to our booth in the east parking lot. Most give us a glance and walk on by. Sometimes people hesitate and we call out, “Are you interested in writing?” Some laugh and move on. Some politely say, “No, thank you.” Some instinctively raise their hands, palms out, as if to fend off the specter of their high school English teacher—and can’t get away fast enough. Which always makes us laugh.
The fun part is when people say, “Yes.”
Sometimes they’re young people, beginning life in the “real” world and finding it difficult, if not impossible, to write as they did in high school or college. Some are middle-aged, with a secret dream of writing, but clueless about how to start. Some are older and want to leave a legacy of memories to their families.
Some say, “You can make me a writer?”
And we say, “If you let go of the idea that it’s going to perfect the first time and are willing to rethink and revise as many times as it takes to get a finished, polished piece of writing, yes, we can.
Occasionally, though, a person like this girl, a recent graduate of a prestigious private school, comes by:
Me: Hi, are you interested in writing?
Girl: I am a writer. I’ve been published twice.
I tell her about the Writers Center. Our classes, our very excellent faculty, our Gathering of Writers.
Girl: I don’t believe you can teach creative writing.
Me: Well, I have to disagree with you there. I’ve been doing it for about forty years now,
and I guarantee that a good creative writing teacher can help people become better writers.
Girl: I don’t think anyone should tell a writer there’s something wrong with their writing.
Me: But that’s not what teaching creative writing is about at all. Writing is a craft and you need to learn it, just like painters. Have you heard of the painter, Paul Klee.
Me: Picasso then. The sketchbooks from when he was young are full of beautifully drafted drawings. He learned the “rules,” then broke them. But his understanding of the craft of writing underpinned the great paintings he went on to make.
I explain my nifty idea about how what you know in your head, feel in your heart and see in your mind’s eye are not words, that you literally have to translate these things into words—which is hard enough, but then you can’t read what you’ve written and get a fix on what’s actually there because you can’t separate the words on the page from the ideas in your head. Thus, the creative writing teacher (or any good reader) is necessary to help you see what’s on the page and what’s still in your head.
Girl: Hostile stare.
Me: So. Where are you going to college in the fall?
Me: Wow! Lucky you. They have a fabulous creative program there.
Girl: (Sets down the brochure and schedule of classes I’d given her, steam practically coming out of her ears.) I said, I don’t believe in telling people how to write.
And walks away.
All right, then, I thought. Good luck with that writing career.
And remembered, as I often do, this sustaining quote from Richard Bausch:
“Every book written anywhere is written a little at a time, over time, in a lot of confusion and doubt. The doubt is your talent. People with no talent usually don't have any doubt.”
The aspiring writers for whom this rings true are the ones we love to work with, the ones who benefit from what the IWC has to offer. If you’re one of them, check out what we have to offer!