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A Student Finds His Muse

© copyright Alex Baer 


Michael Krieg, a former NYU student, wrote me an email this week:


Hi Carol,


Hope all is well.

I'm attaching the article about my Uncle Sidney.

Thank you again for your encouragement as this article began after a free writing exercise from your nonfiction writing 1 workshop back in 2011!


Sending best regards,





2011 is a while ago now and memories of my students and a particular workshop fade unless I continue working with a student privately, or run into them somewhere, and they remind me what year they took my workshop, who else was in the class, and what they were writing about. Once all that information has registered in my full-up brain, I am able to connect the dots. I certainly remembered Michael's name, which is an unusual name, because krieg means war in German and I was studying German at Deutsches Haus at NYU when Michael took my class. And I remembered that Michael worked at NYU, and that he was a photographer. That was a lot to remember about a long-ago student. I hope Michael is pleased, because I was certainly pleased to hear from him.


I taught at NYU from 1997-2020 and at Gotham Writers Workshop before that. I cross paths with a lot of writers from all over the world, and teach workshops upstate now as well. NYU employees and faculty often took my workshops. If memory serves, they got a discount. That said, they participated in the class full throttle;  they were eager, they'd come for a reason.


I was a good student myself and always loved the beginning of the school year. My workshops are always a new beginning for me; I start fresh, I feel renewed. I envy my students the excitement of becoming a writer, and experiencing the world through a writer's eyes perhaps for the first time. I know several much published writers of my generation who have lost this feeling and have decided they have nothing more to say. It makes me sad when they stop writing. Several of these writer friends have been professors like me, but few have taught writing per se. I think that makes a difference. My writing students keep me engaged. They demand that I pay attention to the efflorescing world with all its joys and challenges, including new pronouns and new writers. Being in the presence of struggling writers sustains and inspires my own efforts. I'd be letting myself and my students down if I stopped, so I keep going even when I am not inspired, or weary, or floating in a fallow period as I seem to be this post-Covid Trump indictment summer. Still, whatever else is going on in my personal life, or in my working life with my journalism or indie publishing company, I write in my journal every morning for at least an hour, and I keep up with my blog, or I teach a Haiku class, or volunteer at a library book sale. I stay close to writing, writers and books. Whatever is next in terms of a project will surface in my journal, or in a book or article I am reading, or someone I have met serendipitously, I am sure of it. The ideas stir, the muse resurfaces, and I surrender to it.


I have received several emails like Michael's over the years. They are always a joy to receive and I am grateful for them. And if a former student reconnects to share a publication, I share in their pride and excitement and feel even more gratified. It's clear from Michael's polished essay, "Scribbling in the Margins," published  in Dovetail Literary Magazine that he worked very hard to bring the story about his relationship to his Uncle Sidney to fruition once he'd elaborated the prompt I gave in class. It's the hard work—the  discipline—that matters, even if it takes many years to find the story and work it, like a sculptor works the clay. So, even if Michael had written me to say that he had revised a series of essays, he'd sent them out to publications, and most had been rejected, as a mentor, I'd feel gratified and hopeful that the rejection would not create a cicatrix that could not be healed. Michael Krieg persevered all these years, he developed his craft, and brought a story to fruition and publication. As his mentor, I am chuffed, as the Brits would say.


I often have to remind my students that there are many ways to get published these days, though the frustrations are legion. No writer likes the business of writing; it has nothing to do with the writing  process itself. But we press on, we never stop writing, revising, or submitting our work. Not to mention that we can self-publish books, or publish our own literary magazines, newsletters, or blogs, such as this one.


I  never try to convey a message, I just want to tell a story. Why that story in particular? I have no idea, but I have learned to surrender to the muse.  -Isabel Allende   



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