Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I'm pretty sure that I've repeated the phrase, "Where were all these ideas when I needed them in college?" several times over the last few days. I just noticed that I posted the summary on October 10th, which means I finished the outline around that time or soon after. Which means I've written 8 chapters and 80 pages in less than a month.

Excuse me while I let out a lot of expletives...in disbelief, mostly.

Here's what I remember about college writing classes: none of the stuff I wrote for those classes was anything I was going to continue working on afterwards. We all wrote different types of fiction, if it was a fiction class. Emerson was a pretentious school. I say that lovingly. That extended to workshopping. It was more critical than constructive. I got the word "saccharine"(someone's word of the day) thrown around about stuff I'd written more than once. Oh, yeah, then there was "fluff."

I had one writing teacher for Fiction II, who tried to get us to lift our fiction skills.Kimberly McLarin writes a lot about race and race issues. It's heavy, serious stuff in some ways, obviously, and she wanted us to write stories that had some substance--any substance. It's hard to get substance out of 19-year-olds, especially relatively privileged ones who were able (mostly through bank robbing and loan carrying) to attend Emerson. Note that I was one of maybe two so-called minority kids in a class of 12 or 15.

I remember the class trying to puzzle out what she meant by "Fiction is not real life. I need more description. Okay, but why did that happen? It needs to have a purpose in the context of the story." I can understand and appreciate all that now, but at the time? In Fiction One, we'd worked on basics, like dialogue. Realistic dialogue, realistic fiction. I got tripped up on the difference between realistic and real.

Just because a story is meant to be realistic does not mean that it follows the pattern of real life. I used to use the "oh, but it really happened that way" excuse for some of my stuff. That's great and all, but fiction is an organization of life. There's a character who grows, there's a point in the theme, there are events to move it along. Everything has a purpose.

I'd write, but there'd be no overall point to it. What was I trying to say? Did I have anything worthwhile to say?

I remember often feeling like I wasn't digging deep enough. (Digging deep being a popular phrase at Emerson; we were mostly artsy-fartsy kids, after all). I wanted to be able to combine description with emotion in my narrative. It felt to me that I never quite succeeded. I tried writing stories about friendships that were changing, a couple in a crisis in their relationship because of a loss; depression, but nothing rang true to me. The emotions weren't translating and it was frustrating. The characters were flat or blatantly autobiographical. I think I just felt out of my depth a lot of the time.

For all that I've spent the last years going-going-going, I think I've grown the most as a writer, and as a person, this year.

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