Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

The Tale of Two Teachers

By Lazette Gifford

2001, Lazette Gifford 

I'm sure most children grow up at least thinking about what they want to be:  A doctor, an actress, a train engineer... usually offered from the same child, depending on what week a person happens to ask him.

As far as I can remember, I had no such plans for my future.  There was nothing, really, that interested me in what little I understood about careers and work.  It wasn't until after I had turned twelve that I found writing. Actually, I had written little stories for my mother for years, but it wasn't until this later date that I learned people really wrote things for a living.  I was amazed to realize that people were paid to write all those books I took home from the school library! And even more amazing, other kids thought it was really neat to read about schoolyard antics, or animals running wild through the streets.

I wanted to be a writer. At last!  I had a goal!

Enter a grade school teacher whom I'll call Mrs. Smith (partly because I really can't remember her actual name).  I remember her as being a very nice, tall woman, her dark hair always pulled back in a tight bun at the nape of her neck.  She had a sense of humor, and put up with quite a few pranks and silliness from her sixth grade class.  She also never complained when my writing assignments leapt from the required two pages to ten or fifteen. She didn't even wince at the stacks of paper that landed on her desk.

However, she affected my future as a writer in a very odd way.  While going through a list of future employment for students to consider, she discussed which ones would require a college education.  And, glancing at me, she said that published writers must go to college.

Looking back over several decades, I'm sure she was trying to encourage me to look toward higher education, but I knew that I'd never get there.  I came from an extremely poor family that moved every few months.  There was no money for anything like college, and I never spent long enough in any school to even consider grades, or grants, or whatever else poor kids did to go on to higher education.

I remember that moment very clearly, even now.  I knew I was never going to be a published author.  I was disappointed.  I saw a future as only a factory worker or a store clerk, doing mindless jobs -- the future, she told us, for people who did not go to college. 

A couple weeks later we moved again, and I was off to a new school.  Her words stayed with me, even when school and teacher faded.  They might have stopped someone else from ever picking up a pen again, but I was already addicted to writing.  It was something that I could take with me, from school to school -- an odd sort of tie, where kids from one school came to the next.  It didn't matter that I wasn't going to be published.  I wrote for my new friends at my new school.  I amassed piles and piles of notebooks full of illegible handwritten stories, many of what would now be called fanfic, but quite a bit of original material as well. 

And on, and on -- a few more schools, high school graduation (the only one in my family to make it that far), and then jobs in that factory, and finally a wonderful bookstore where I worked seven days a week for eight years.  I brought my typewriter to work and wrote there.  Stacks of papers continued to grow, filling boxes, file cabinets, and more notebooks that I lined up on shelves. I loved writing.   

I met Russ at the bookstore.  We married.  He encouraged me to become serious about my stories, and I began to pick up books on the art of writing.  I found that I loved learning to write properly, even if it was just for myself and my friends.  Russ still insisted that I could write for the market, and eventually I decided that what I needed was a class of some sort.  Not college exactly -- I could not imagine myself in that environment.  But in the Writer's Market book Russ bought me for Christmas was an ad for their novel-writing course.  Okay, I thought.  I can give this a try.

After I had registered, I found myself on the edge of panic.  The books arrived, along with two notebooks filled with assignments that would help teach me the technical side that I had blithely ignored until now.  Outlines?  POV?  Passive voice?  Synopsis and cover letters?  So much to learn!

A few days later I received a letter from the person who would be my instructor for the class.  The letter was dated August 31, 1992

Dear Lazette,

Hi!  My name is Holly Lisle, and I'll be your WDS SF/F Novel Workshop instructor.  Welcome to the class.

I've looked over your initial packet, and I'm really pleased to have you as a student.  You write very well.

You cannot imagine, after more than twenty years of believing that there was no reason to take writing seriously, what it felt like to read that last sentence.  No stranger had ever told me that I wrote well.  It was an amazing moment of both release and hope.  I could write for other people. 

I applied myself to the work.  I did assignments, learned the fine art of rewriting and editing (both of which I found, much to my surprise, that I loved).  I took Holly seriously when she threatened to beat me over my head with my own manuscript if I didn't learn passive voice.  I learned a great deal in that class -- but more than anything else, it gave me hope and confidence.   And while I haven't had an exactly stellar writing career so far, I'm a lot farther than I ever imagined I would be.

But I'm going to tell you a secret.  Mrs. Smith did me a favor.  She helped me become a writer in ways that I'm sure she would never have imagined.  Because of her, I learned the love of writing just for its own sake.  There was never monetary reward or troublesome ego attached to the act of putting words on paper.  It never became work.

So I'll thank Mrs. Smith, despite the backward way in which she helped me to reach this point.

And Holly, of course, because without her help I never would have believed I could write well, and wouldn't have tried to learn the craft.  I am still wandering down my path to success, but you know... so far I've really loved the journey.