OCEANSIDE — For over a decade, the creative writing course in MiraCosta College’s education program has helped aspiring writers find their voices.
The class is geared toward older adults, according to student Rahn Harding, though he said that the group is diverse in terms of age, race, gender and ethnicity. The youngest student in the class is around 20 years old, and the oldest have been in their 90s.
The class is laid back, Harding said, and doesn’t include a grading system.
“It’s more like a workshop,” he said.
The instructor gives out prompts, and the students will write a story and then read their work out loud for the other classmates to hear. The instructor and students then critique each other’s work.
Harding, like most of the other students, is a retiree. Originally from Philadelphia, Harding first arrived in California as a young Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. He later moved back to Philadelphia and worked as a teacher for several years before returning to Oceanside in 2016. Not long after that, he joined the creative writing class.
Harding prefers to write non-fiction stories from his life.
“I came from a very poor, urban setting and I have a lot of stories that I’d love to share that are sort of parables of life lessons,” Harding said.
Harding is currently working on his personal memoirs and is searching for a publisher.
Lydia Cutler, a student in the class, is a published author. Her book “Four Countries One Life” tells the story of her road to the United States and where she is today.
Cutler, who lives in Solana Beach, was born in the Soviet Union to a Jewish family. Over the years, she spends her time traveling through different countries before finally coming to the United States.
“It’s about my way, my road,” Cutler said.
Cutler wrote pieces of the story over a period of 20 years, not thinking that it would eventually become a book. She published her story after joining the creative writing class about three years ago.
Cutler didn’t want to take another English class and go through grammar, so she went straight for the creative writing class.
“I didn’t want any more grammar, I wanted to write,” she said. “I’m very happy that I started the class and definitely will continue.”
When she first joined the class, Cutler was nervous to read out loud because of her accent. Luckily with the help of her peers and the instructor she was able to get over that fear pretty quickly.
“The teacher said, ‘You must write, you have a voice,’ and that’s why I was not afraid to publish my story anymore,” Cutler said. “(My teacher) was right — I do have opinions and a voice that is not like anyone else’s.”
According to Cutler, it makes sense to continue learning how to write and improving one’s skills if a passion for writing exists. Critiquing each other’s work is especially important as part of this process, she said.
“It always makes sense to listen to people who are around you and who also like to write,” she said. “Listen to them because you can’t listen to yourself. You lose if you only listen to yourself.”
Vista resident Dave Dekker, another classmate, had dreamt about writing a book for a long time before joining the class. He said the problem was that he didn’t know how to write a book.
“I’ve been a businessman all my life, so I knew how to write a letter. But I never knew how to write a book,” Dekker said.
Since joining the class four years ago, Dekker has written 50 stories.
Dekker prefers creative non-fiction.
‘I start with a factual premise, so I start with nonfiction and then change it to fiction,” Dekker said.
Similar to Harding and Cutler, Dekker also bases his stories on life experiences.
As an aeronautical engineer, Dekker was involved in three airplane accident investigations. One of those investigations was on site, which was an experience that stuck with him and that he included in one of his stories, along with one of the other accident investigations.
“Some things stick in your brain,” he said. “Like a bad event.”
Dekker encourages everyone, regardless of age, to join the class- especially if they like reading and writing.
“Everybody has a story to tell,” Dekker said. “You just have to learn how to tell it.”