I was nervous about this challenge when my sister asked me to do it with her, but, not being one to pass up a good challenge, I gave it a try anyway. I had always been interested in writing, though I knew I would never be “A Writer.” Authors always say that they write because they cannot not write; that the words and characters and plots must be expressed, and if they were locked in an empty room, they would have to find a way to write on the walls, with blood or something. (Maybe I only go to readings by very intense authors?) I enjoy writing, and always have, but I have never felt that way about it. I feel that way about reading, without which I definitely would not survive. But writing? Not so much.
I wrote a lot, for a long time. Poetry, some short stories, pieces of novels. (Don’t all English teachers have secret novel writing projects somewhere?) Just for me, as a way of expressing myself, and with my students, so we could all write together.
I screwed up my nerve one fall and took a short story writing class through the local writing project. I had worked with the Oregon Writing Project before, and had taken and enjoyed classes on memoirs and poetry, and wanted to explore writing short fiction. The teacher was a published author, and we had to submit some of our work and an application in order to be accepted. I was accepted into the class. The other students were much more experienced than I was. Several of them had had short fiction published already, and all of them were working on pieces that they were going to submit for publication in a variety of literary magazines. One was writing a book. I was a little intimidated, but stuck with it. We had guidelines, and writing conferences were to be supportive and not critical. I had ideas I wanted to explore, and concepts I thought might make interesting stories. I read and admired the work of the other students and our teacher, made supportive comments and asked questions about areas that seemed to need work, and made suggestions or comments in response to specific requests from the authors. It was interesting reading the stories of the others, even though they were sometimes in genres or styles that I don’t much care for. They were talented and interesting people, and so they wrote interesting stories. Then it was my turn.
I was eviscerated.
Truly. I would not have allowed my students to make the kinds of cutting, non-supportive, and, frankly, unhelpful, comments that were made to me. Every one of my classmates and the teacher hated everything about my work. Genre? Trite. Also, I was doing it wrong. Diction? Trite – that is, when it was not simply cliche. Voice? Unconvincing and undefined. Plot? What exactly was the point?
I endured this for the first piece, and submitted a second, and endured it again. The second time, the comments were as barbed, but a good deal more perfunctory, as the others seemed to have decided that my work really was not worth the time needed to read and think about responses, or even to discuss it. I refused to submit the third piece, failing the class (which was quite expensive) rather than putting myself through that process again. I came to agree with their last stinging question: What was the point?
I closed my notebook. After a lifetime of writing, I did not write again. For years and years.
So going into this project, I had baggage. I was nervous about finding things to say, and about strangers reading my work, and about being judged. Especially since I am not in a traditional classroom every day, and did not feel that slices of my life could meaningfully contribute to discussions on teaching practice. I have read some very good slices this month that do exactly that. In many ways, my posts are trivial compared to those who are able to reflect and dissect their big issues on a daily basis.
Something happened in the course of the month, however. Some of you found my blog and really liked it. I have some followers, who are not related to me and thus obliged to read my writing! You wrote comments of encouragement. You let me know when you enjoyed my writing. You told me I was funny.
You gave me back my voice.
I enjoyed every minute of slicing this month. I enjoyed reading other people’s ideas and trying out new concepts. I enjoyed finding different methods of recording bits of my day, and different aspects of life that might, in some way, resonate with others. I enjoyed thinking outside the box for ways to be “not boring” – for myself, writing every day, and for anyone else who might be reading. I rarely had trouble finding a topic.
Thank you for the challenge. Thank you for a supportive group of people struggling to create a new writing habit and make time in frenzied lives for even just a few lines every day. Thank you for a place to share my writing, and yours, and for the peeks into your lives.
Thank you for my voice.
You can bet that I’ll be back!