My wife and I had dinner with a former student a few weeks ago, and it was an encouraging dinner. I like keeping in touch with former students to begin with, mainly because I generally like students when they’re enrolled. Thus, I enjoy getting to see them mature and seeing where they end up in life. Of course, I’m interested in what kind of jobs they get and whether or not they have families, but I’m much more interested in what kinds of people they become, both as that relates to the discipline and otherwise.
That’s why this dinner was so encouraging. When we had finished dinner and were driving out of the restaurant parking lot, my wife commented on the student, “He’s like you. On crack.” And he is. We both enjoy reading contemporary fiction, though for slightly different reasons. I enjoy it as much, if not more, as a reader than I do as a way to improve my own writing, though I definitely learn from the writers I read. He is much more interested in his writing, as that’s where his passion is, so he talks about them from that angle. Thus, I can learn from him, and, I hope, he can still learn from me.
He simply attacks the reading with a passion very few students I have ever taught have. He will read and re-read books he thinks are great, then he will try to learn as much as he can about the author and how he or she wrote the book. He’ll watch every interview or conversation with the author he can find, in addition to reading reviews and interviews online. He does so not because he wants to become smarter in some abstract sense, but because he truly loves what he reads.
On top of that, he talks passionately about his writing, but he also sees it clearly. He is one of the few former students who has continued writing on a regular basis after graduation. He is not focused on publishing, as most (including me, at times) are. Instead, he simply wants to improve. He writes long drafts, then spends weeks revising to try to get down to what the heart of the story is, then goes back and writes more, exactly what we ask of our student writers. He asked if he could send me a draft when he gets something that he thinks is worth looking at. He hasn’t sent me anything yet, and I’m sure it will be weeks still before I see anything, as he will want to make the story better before I see it.
What I’m trying to convey, of course, is that he has passion and enthusiasm for what he reads and what he writes. He loves what he does, in this regard, and he simply wants to improve. He talks about wanting to spend his life writing fiction, and I hope he has the opportunity to do so. As long as he is able to keep this kind of passion, nothing will keep him from doing so.