The Grinnell writer dropped her forehead onto her arms in abject despair. She lay there, limp and hopeless, like a corn doll abandoned in the rain. The husks of her notebooks lay about her, fluttering idly in the Iowa wind that whistled through the partially open window. A page of one particularly kind and caring notebook draped itself across her shoulder in a reassuring way. It’s all right, sweetie, that touch seemed to say. It’ll all work out.
The writer had bigger things to worry about than talking notebooks. It was two hours before her Craft of Fiction class, and she still had no idea how she was going to end the story about General Partitions’ visit to the laundry mat. She had typed only one sentence, the curser blinking menacingly after the small, plain period.
“Where are the ‘mats’ at this socalled laundry mat?”
She couldn’t bear to look at the sentence one more time. She was doomed. No late fees. No hidden charges. Just straight up doomed.
Of course, this never actually happens. Not only are Grinnellians generally sane enough to know not to take advice from stray sheets of whispering paper, but the creative community here is so strong that any despairing writers only have to click their poetic heels three times and they’ll have five peers sitting in the living room of Mears Cottage discussing potential directions to take General Partitions and his matless laundry mat.
Both the students and the English department are wicked supporters of writing. And even more students are writers than are active in the community. This past semester we received more than 120 submissions of poetry, prose, and creative essays to The Grinnell Review, our student literary magazine. But if anyone does want to be active, it doesn’t just stop at submitting to the magazine. Let’s take an average week in the life of me, Molly Rideout, aspiring novelist, not-so-good poet, and champion swimmer in the pool of the Grinnell writing community.
Sunday: I get up early before anyone else and spend my morning in one of the classrooms of the JRC developing stories on the dry erase boards. Writing on the walls makes me feel important and powerful. During my night shift at the library, I interrogate my supervisor on his latest screenplay about an editor who gets duped into publishing a worthless, contentless book. I contemplate if those same tactics could work for me.
Monday: One of the three days of the week when I have my Craft of Fiction class. Each of us brings in scenes from stories we’re currently working on for feedback from our peers. Students from any major can take the Craft classes, so we get a nice variety of perspectives. I took the Craft of Poetry class last semester with Professor George Barlow, who has got to be one of the coolest cats in Iowa. He tells stories about farting poets.
Tuesday: I spend two hours of free time between class and lunch working on the story I outlined on the dry erase boards. Sometimes I fall asleep too.
Wednesday: Another Craft of Fiction day. At night there is a meeting of Grinnell Writers at Large, an unofficial club that meets and workshops pieces the members submit. It’s a lot like any of the Craft classes, only you can submit anything, you don’t have to come every week, and we only grade you based on the number of cookies you eat. Wednesdays are also Build-Your-Own-Burger day at the dining hall. Maybe I can write a story about that.
Thursday: The English department brings in an awesome visiting writer like Ana Castillo or Adrienne Rich to read to us and answer questions about the writing process. They tell us where they like to write, how they got published, and whether they prefer the Mets or the Yankees.
Friday: Last day of Craft of Fiction. That night, we have fun partying with friends. Every once in a while a group of us drives to Iowa City where we run around, eat good Indian food, and listen to other cool writers read from their work.
Saturday: A good day to start doing some of that homework. There’s usually a lot of writing involved, but none of the fun stuff. Unless you find “Use of Photographs in Nabokov’s Pale Fire” to be fun, which (to be honest) I kind of do. Oh well. Even the writer’s brain needs a break from creativity every once in a while. Sometimes it’s good to just regurgitate literary criticism onto a computer screen in 500–700 words and not have to wonder where exactly the mats are located in a laundry mat.
Molly Rideout '10 is an English major from Madison, Wisconsin.