Waystation, by David C. Ake

Now that David has finished his essay, Waystation, for the book, I thought it time to share my first impressions of him with the rest of you. This seems fair to me since all my students love to tell their story about their first impressions of The Mean Professor King.

David was part of my first class of magazine writers at Ball State University. I’d never taught long-form storytelling before so I was unsure how things would go. Fortunately, my mentor — Prof. Bill Drummond at the University of California at Berkeley — was there to remind me that my job was to never let my students do anything short of their best.

Fear, as David writes in his essay, is a powerful motivator.

It was clear that my ways weren’t having an effect on David, though. I figured that meant he had a story that would be worth hearing.

He told me he was a veteran and that he recognized me early on. I responded by telling him that my instructional methods — what I call The Show — wasn’t aimed at him. He should just keep on writing away. (Thanks to his story, I understand what that means. His encounter with his drill instructor shaped how he approaches the world.)

I wasn’t sure if David would make it as a writer. His early work was painfully devoid of heart and soul. He was a newspaper writer tied to the Inverted Pyramid and Timelines. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to pull out scenes in his stories to breathe life into the page.

Slowly, steadily, and relentlessly, he turned in draft after draft after draft. He begged me to fill his page with the red explosion of track changes and comments, the only student I’ve ever had who asked for that. He did exactly what every writing teacher asks: he wrote.

And now, 18 months later he’s the student editor on this project (and the editor for next year’s edition as well), the author of one of its pieces, and the recipient of a prestigious internship in Washington D.C. this summer.

He has earned the title writer.