I think I’ve lost perspective on this writing thing. I can’t tell what’s good or bad anymore and I don’t trust my instincts at all.
For instance, I wrote the piece below for a prompt in tonight’s writing workshop.
I thought it sucked. In fact, I got to the end of this scene and still had time, so I wrote a whole paragraph about how it sucked.
I almost didn’t read it. I didn’t want to waste everyone’s time, especially after some folks read their prompts and they were exceptional.
But I did read it. I figured what the hell. At least I could make the other writers feel better about their work.
And it was very well received. The workshop leader thought it was “well crafted.” And others in the workshop seemed to like it too.
I am learning and I’ve picked up some hints over the weeks, but I’m also more tentative now.
It’s like the more I learn about the craft of writing fiction, the less fiction I write. This prompt is the first time I’ve written a fictional piece in quite a while.
They used to just come out of me. One thousand word stories that might have been good and might have been crap, but were natural and free-flowing and at least I was writing them.
Now I’m worrying too much about point of view and adverbs and introductory clauses. I type a sentence and then re-write it and again. I can’t get past it to write the next sentence.
And if I do get past the first sentence, I go for a while and give up because I don’t like how it reads or I don’t know where it’s going.
Do all writers struggle with this self-censorship?
I think maybe the whole thing was too new when I signed up for the workshop. I should have just enjoyed the writing for a while before starting to think about structure and feedback, before taking more than a one night prompt workshop.
It’s almost like it’s taken a little of the joy out of the process for me.
While I may have lost perspective on my writing, one thing I’ve gained during this process is greater observation skills. In my constant search to find things to write about, I’m watching and listening more closely, noticing things that would have gone right by me before I started the project.
Like the young man dressed as the Statue of Liberty dancing outside the tax preparation office. Or the article on the radio about the guy shooting his wife while driving.
I might have registered these things before, but I never would have thought about them again. They would have gone in and right back out of my brain.
Tonight, for instance, I was headed home after the writing workshop. I was sitting in my car at a stoplight, when a car pulled up in back of me.
Between the street light and my brake lights, I could see into the other car when I looked in my rearview mirror.
Both the driver and the passenger were young men. They were wearing sweatshirts with sports teams or some sort of insignia on them and baseball caps. They were both thin, tough looking and smoking cigarettes.
Suddenly the passenger put both hands in the air and moved his head back and forth, dancing to the music they were listening to.
But he did it in perfect time to the jazz music on my radio.
The young man was most likely dancing to some hip hop or death metal band I’ve never heard of, but from my perspective he was grooving to Miles Davis.
He looked incredibly graceful and almost beautiful. Timeless, really.
I suddenly pictured him and his buddy smoking their cigarettes in an exclusive little jazz club in the city instead of in a beat up old car on a deserted street in Vermont.
I liked seeing these young men in a different light. And I don’t think I would have noticed them before I started writing.
So while I may have lost perspective of my own talents, or lack thereof, I’ve gained perspective of the world around me.
When asked on his deathbed about the best day of his life, he didn’t recall the day he won the lottery or the day he married his wife or even the day his son was born.
No, it was the day he adopted his beloved cocker spaniel Wilbur that came immediately to his mind.
“Your dog?” The young reporter looked up from her notepad.
The old man nodded solemnly. “Wilbur.”
The reporter cleared her throat and bit her lower lip. He could tell she didn’t know what to say.
He took a sip from the straw his nurse offered him.
“Wilbur. In fact” he announced, “I’m leaving my entire fortune to him.”
From the shady edges of the room, he heard a gasp. His son rushed into view.
“You’re leaving millions of dollars to a dog? What about Mom? What about me?”
The old man nodded to the nurse, who ushered the reporter out the door.
His son paced beside his bed while his wife slowly approached him. She lowered herself into a chair carefully. She had fallen and broken her hip last year and hadn’t been very mobile since. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it with more force that he thought she had left in her.
She leaned into him. “If you really left all your money to that damn dog, I’m never going to speak to you again.”
The old man laughed and then, unable to catch his breath, coughed. Neither his son nor his wife offered him a drink.
Finally he regained his voice. “Luckily that shouldn’t be a challenge since I’m dying.”
The nurse returned carrying Wilbur. She put him on the bed next to the old man where he curled up, his head under the old man’s hand. His tailed thumped against the sheet.