Last Story of the Season!

Last week was the last round of classes for my graduate semester, and of course I had signed up to have my story be workshopped on the very last possible day. That meant that I was slogging hard through the last weekend of the semester, right up until the deadline. The good news, though, is that I felt inspired.

When you’re working on a new story, there’s often a very sharp difference between one that has only a small spark of energy in it and one that really has your full interest and attention. When a deadline arises, a story has to be written whether you are really invested in it or not, but the experience of writing it can be so different! Instead of feeling like I was chained to my chair for the weekend, exhausted at the prospect of dredging more words out of myself, I stayed focused, asking myself questions about what was best for the story rather than how I could quickly get to the end.

This story was inspired by a few different things I read or observed. One was a science-fiction story I read years ago called “The Tourist”, which I always thought had a very intriguing concept. I won’t spoil it for you; try and find it and read it for yourself. The other thing that got me going was a recent bus trip I took to visit home. On the way back to New York, I was sitting on the bus waiting for it to take off, and feeling a little sad and thoughtful because of my reluctance to leave home. An old woman got onto the bus and sat across from me after climbing the steps with difficulty. She was waving to a young woman in the terminal through the glass door, who was holding a small baby and waving the baby’s arm in a goodbye. Even though the doors were closed, the woman continued to say very softly, “Bye, baby. Bye, baby.” She kept saying this and waving for the long fifteen minutes it took for the bus to load and take off. I found the moment very moving, and I knew immediately that I would write about it.

I handed in the story in a daze, exhausted, unable to do much editing at all. I included the cautious note for my classmates that it was only a first draft, but it ended up being the best workshop of the semester, with many people agreeing that it was their favorite story of mine and was really fantastic. It’s wonderful when you get an idea and you feel the strength and capability in yourself to do it justice. And then you begin. Writing with that confidence can often turn a very small or shaky idea into a great one, I think.

One comment

  1. Trevor says:

    I made the mistake, going into my first university creative writing workshop, straight from high school, having not worked on any type of portfolio, at all — which, of course, meant, that each of the four stories that were to be submitted that year (each having to be a minimum of ten pages and in their second draft stage) had to be done from scratch. Add to that that you couldn’t major in creative writing until your second year and had a full university schedule of other courses you had to attend to and, well, I feel your pain. Or at least, have some vague, not very pleasant, recollection of it. Worse still, being a perfectionist, meant that I struggled with not only trying to get words on a page for my creative writing endeavours but for all of my other essays, as well. It was hell. I still don’t know how I got it done. Deadlines can be magical things, I guess, as you yourself recently discovered.
    Anyhow, I wish you the best of luck for your creative writing pursuits and advise anybody wanting to take creative writing at the university level to go in with some work already prepared (or at least have a first draft of it). You’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
    Trevor.
    P. S. At least you got to work with genre fiction, Blair. Even that was denied us. As a sci-fi/fantasy kind of guy, having to suddenly switch gears and familiarize myself with a type of writing (general fiction) that I would never had otherwise attempted, was yet another handicap that I had to deal with (I sort of cut the difference and went with a magical realism/surrealistic approach, which, thankfully, was acceptable and saved my bacon and a topic which, I believe, you recently blogged about). You’d kind of wish they’d tell you about these things in the course syllabus before you consigned yourself to a year of pure torture. WARNING: Enrolling in any Creative Writing course may not be for the faint of heart.

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