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Each assignment was paired with published stories that modeled these techniques, which forced me to open my reading list to a much broader range of authors and genres.
The best you could hope for, most times, were glimmers of great ideas.
Novice writers tend to imitate what they see, rather than being driven by some innate idea of great art, so a poorly-conceived syllabus will lead to poorly-conceived stories. I’m not saying you can’t teach creative writing; I’m saying teach creative writing.
It was too late to salvage that course, but before the next semester, I trashed my syllabus and rewrote it from scratch.
I borrowed heavily from my friend Matthew Vollmer, a professor at Virginia Tech, and designed a course that required the completion of eight specific short exercises written within various formal and content-based constraints: a story in the collective first person, one about a monster, one in the form of instructions, one driven by a single magical element, and so on.
Some have dabbled, and occasionally you meet a preternaturally driven young person, but the average student brings some talents to the room with little idea of how to shape them into something meaningful.
You will very likely be the only creative writing teacher they ever have.
You don’t realize how long a single minute can last until you endure a spectacle like this, realizing nobody in the room respects you or your work, and further realizing you’ve given them no reason to do so.
When they finished, I ended class, announcing that I needed some time to reevaluate all of my life choices.
I was not a serious reader as a college student, and so most of my reading was either assigned to me, or randomly pulled from anthologies.
My college courses were heavily focused on dead American men like Ernest Hemingway, Nathanael West, and Raymond Carver, with perhaps a single story by Jhumpa Lahiri or an excerpt from A few professors pushed me outside this zone, but mostly I was reading a narrow slice of “the canon” and nothing else.