I’m back in “The Crypt” after having attended the last of my two writing classes for this semester… THANK GOD! It’s been a brutal four months but I made it. Coming down the steps tonight I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.
When the semester began I thought taking creative and fiction writing classes would be a breeze. I figured after spending the last sixty years earning two Master’s Degrees, a Doctorate and half a dozen Associates and Bachelors I’d be used to writing by now. But I was wrong. Oh Lord how I was wrong.
The kind of writing I’d done in the past had been all academia. I’d been taught how to write for an audience of experts in the field who were already familiar with the topics I was discussing. I was entering a conversation so to speak where I had to find a way to insert my own ideas while acknowledging what had been already learned. It was less personal and more cold and fact based.
But writing short stories was a completely new experience, and a very rough one at that.
We started writing the very first day of class so the instructors could see where we were at individually. My first paper came back covered in so much red, I had to go downstairs to make sure my blood supply hadn’t accidentally leaked on it before I turned it in. After I was sure that hadn’t happened, I began to wonder whether or not I should invest in red ink stocks before the semester got any further. At this rate I’d have made my money back and then some just on my homework.
But things started to get better after that. Both instructors really started breaking things down into plotting, creative thinking, pacing, point of view, voice, and so many other things. I began to see how important it was to have a good idea of where you were going with a story. I tried different methods of plotting my stories including the wall method which kind of got out of hand at one point.
Eventually I wound up using a ‘loose outline’ to help guide me. I tried the traditional kind of outline where I clearly had everything planned out from start to finish, which worked, but it didn’t quite feel right sometimes. I’d be working a scene where suddenly I’d have a flash of inspiration which I felt would really make the story more exciting, but it would totally break away from the outline I had so painstakingly perfected. So I discarded the new idea and stuck to the plan, but a part of me would keep wondering “What if I had used that idea?” To make things worse this kept happening, so I consulted my instructors who told me to not be so rigid and to maybe explore some of those other ideas after I shared some of them. One told me, “As long as these ideas enhance the plot and still lead to the ending you have in mind, explore them. It sounds as if you could’ve really added a new angle to some of your characters and let the reader get to know them more personally.”
So I went back to my laptop and began anew. I slowly began to understand that what I was being taught in the classrooms were tools and guidelines, not step by step “you have to follow these instructions to the letter or you’ll fail” which was the way I’d been taught in my other classes in the past. Plus, I had to get to know and understand who my new audience was and what they expected of me. Eventually, I thought back to when I would tell stories about some of my old friends from vaudeville, the wars, and my childhood to others who knew my secret. Once I started thinking in those terms I quickly found my ‘voice’ and the words started to come more easily.
Once this happened my grades began to shoot up. I still wound up with a B in both classes, but that was because I started out so rough at the beginning. But tonight, one of my instructors pulled me aside and complimented me on how far I’d come in just one semester. She was really impressed at how I had learned to capture the voices of my characters as well as describe the settings from different eras in history. “It was like you were really there…” she told me at one point. Naturally I had to keep my mouth shut on that point, but still it was quite the compliment.
My other instructor advised me to keep practicing during the holidays and to take his next class in the Spring which would be more advanced. He thinks I might be able to try submitting a few of my short stories by the summer if I keep this up. So that is exactly what I plan to do in between visiting some of my extended family during that time. I need to be in Connecticut by Christmas Eve, as Jason and his family will be expecting me. Plus there are a few others out that way, I can drop in on as I make my way to New York and a few other places along the east coast.
I find myself smiling now as I sit here at my favorite table in my club. This had been a very rough semester, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Writing has opened up whole new avenues for me both mentally and emotionally. I’m using my artist’s eye to observe what goes on around me, but now I’m using words as well as paints to capture certain moments. It’s wondrous really and I can’t get enough of it. I want to keep doing this for as long as possible. I have so many stories to tell already as well as the ones I’ve yet to experience and share.
A part of me is actually rather eager for February to arrive so I can try and take my new skills to the next level. But I remind myself that I mustn’t forget to live in the here and now. For stories are all fine and good, but being able to draw from life makes them extra special. Not only to the reader to but to me. So before I write some of those stories I must live and experience them first.
From where I’m sitting I can see the window looking out onto the steps that lead down here. I can see it’s snowing and now I have a hankering to be out in it. I want to feel the flakes hitting my face and watch how it transforms the neighborhood. Yeah, it’s time to go out and make some more memories and have a bit of fun I can share in my writing one day down the road.