“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” — Mark Twain
I know a thing or two about writing. When I taught eighth graders, I managed to get them to produce some pretty good stuff.
We hit all the genres – memoirs, persuasive pieces, and even the dreaded five-paragraph essays, a beast known only in the classroom and nonexistent in the real world. I’d pull out my well-worn bag of tricks filled with lesson plans that guided middle-schoolers to brainstorm, zero in on topics, and write first drafts. Then we revised – my specialty. I pushed them to show, not tell, to use sensory images, to explode the big moments with details – we called them “snapshots” and “thoughtshots” –inner dialog, flash-forwards, and flashbacks.
Of course, except for some snippets here and there to model a strategy, I didn’t do much writing on my own. Not with heaps of papers to read and grade. I could get kids to write, just not myself.
When retirement rolled around, my excuses for not writing vanished. I joined a group at home and plodded along. I managed to get a few things published in our annual literary magazine, and the Chicago Tribune printed a Christmas memory of mine. I started a blog when we went to Paris, and kept it up sporadically.
Then, we became snowbirds. I couldn’t do the pool and the beach every day, so I decided to find a group. How fortunate I’ve been to land in the Lifelong Learning Academy’s Writing Workshop.
I may know a thing or two about writing, but these people know everything. And, they’re nice to boot. No one has scoffed or rolled his eyes at my attempts, and I’ve been showered with sound advice and suggestions. I’ve branched out into fiction, and have been attentively listened to and nudged to do more.
And, I’ve had the privilege of hearing other writers, far more skilled than I’ll ever be, share their work. Each week, we class members are treated to a cornucopia of good stories. I’ve sat on the edge of my seat, wondering if a young servant will push the button on the suicide bomb he’s wearing. I’ve traveled to India, and shared an expat’s excitement at wearing a glamorous golden sari at an elegant party. I’ve hopped on a horse, and felt the undignified thud of an impetuous girl’s fall from his back. My heart has been broken by the abuse and cruelty that rained down on a sensitive little girl who loved a stray cat. I’ve even seen how to plan the perfect murder.
One writer has invited me to Maine, providing a funny and factual behind-the-tourist-traps glimpse of what Mainers (or is it Maniacs?) are really like. A story of the Cuban Missile Crisis has had me holding my breath, and I’m still wondering what happened to the main character’s lover Arlette. I’ve vicariously spent a frigid December in Superior, Wisconsin, meeting the soon-to-be in-laws of a shy law student, then shuddered in horror as I’ve witnessed the atrocities in the trenches of France during World War I. A sleazy PR guy with the smart mouth and an appetite for pain meds has kept me laughing and guessing what he’ll do next. In a story set in pre-WWII New York, I’ve felt the frustration of a teenager who’s forced to share her bedroom with her nasty grandmother. I’m captivated by a novel set the Underground Railroad that has illuminated the lives of slave and slave owner alike. I can’t wait to know what will happen next.
The workshop’s three hours zooms by. The rich stories, the writerly conversations, and the occasional reminders about dangling modifiers from our resident grammarian are just plain fun for a writing geek like me.
This season’s session is ending, and I’m going to muddle through without my weekly dose of inspiration. Signing up for next year’s sessions? You bet! As Snoopy says, “It’s exciting when you’ve written something that you know is good.”