A little over a week ago, I signed up and attended a writing workshop called "No Experience Necessary." It was billed for very beginning writers, advertised as getting a very very brief look a a lot of genres, including short fiction and essays. I thought for a moment whether this was the right class for me: after all, I've been writing, in one form or another, ever since I started reading. I started out with my own Dick and Jane stories, except I thought my children had more interesting names than "Dick and Jane."
Should I instead have taken a more advanced and specialized class instead, one that focused on essays or on syndicating your own column, or on spiritual writing?
I decided to go for the beginner's workshop after all, because I wanted to recapture something, I think. I wrote my last short story when I was about 23 years old. I haven't written any fiction since. I think I'm better at the craft of writing, shaping sentences, putting metaphors out on paper than I used to be. But for some reason I've become timid about "making it up."
Our workshop for beginners included some "prime the pump" writing exercises, including one where we wrote about a painful episode from our past for about twenty minutes. Write straight prose, he told us. Do not talk about how you felt. Just describe, as accurately as you can remember it. (He also cautioned us not to use a memory which is too painful to share with the class.) He read a few of our memories out loud; I was really impressed with what he found in our rough ideas -- even mine. Perhaps I'll post it later.
But that wasn't the best part of the morning. The best part of the morning was the story we wrote, as a class. We started out with two characters, and two names: and voted on every aspect of the story as it went along. Would the first character by male or female? Female, most of us voted. We voted on their names and on their ages (Liv and Marty, 63 and 45). We voted on the era they inhabited and the setting of the story (a cemetery? a bus stop? a ship crossing the Atlantic ocean?) We voted on their relationship (neighbors?, mother and son? doctor and patient?). I caught myself, for the first time in a long time, getting caught up in possibilities as I have not in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, as Marty and Liv meet at a cemetery, both grieving losses, at least one of them harboring a secret. (Is anyone else interested in this story now?)
Every once in awhile our teacher would interject a comment about doing these workshops with children. When asked to brainstorm character's ages, for example, they would often shout out possibilities that we adults would never think of: 20,000!, someone would say -- or minus -12. They would imagine robots and babies and monsters as possible characters for their stories. I remembered those days when I imagined more possibilities, real and fictional, for my life, when I did not judge my own ideas so harshly that I stopped having them.
I miss those times. I think that last Saturday, I saw those possibilities again, for the first time.
While we're up north this week, up in the Lake Country with Scout, I think I will try some creative writing. Only, maybe I won't try to be so serious. Maybe I'll try to write poetry and little stories about small things, funny things, and make it up as I go.
Would anyone like to come along?