A few months ago, I returned from a vacation at the Grand Canyon. After tackling some new terrain, I was feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle some life goals too.
With perfect timing, there in my Facebook feed was an advertisement for a short story fiction writing workshop. It met on Wednesday nights for an hour and a half, and it ran for six weeks. I could handle that! It wouldn’t interfere with my work schedule. It was a short commitment, and it would be the chance to try fiction writing again.
Our main assignment for the workshop was to write a short story. The only other guidelines were that the story had to be ten to fifteen pages long, double spaced, and emailed to the class the Friday before our next meeting. I was in the first group, so I had a little more than one week to prepare my story.
I discovered my love of writing in third grade. Our teacher would display a slide from the projector, and we had to write a story inspired by the scene in the picture. In those days, I loved to write about ghosts and haunted houses.
When I was in middle school, I wrote dramatic stories, almost soap operas, and I’d pass them to my friend in class. (For my younger readers, we’d pass notes in class like you text in class.) I knew I had a good story if I could make her laugh.
In high school, inspired by Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, and always pining for some boy at school, I wrote poetry. It was the first time I remember being struck by words and having the urgency to write them down.
As an adult, I write constantly- I always have a notebook with me to capture a thought. When the notebook isn’t nearby, I scribble plots and character ideas on post-it notes and any piece of paper I can find. However, this workshop would be the first time in several years where I’d have to develop a fiction story from the beginning, middle, and end—and it would be read and discussed by other people.
My game plan was to write the main story on Saturday and Sunday, then I could take the rest of week to edit, and the story would be in good shape to submit to the class by the Friday.
In preparation for my first day of writing, I wrote down a few ideas beforehand. I let my brain wander around the potential plot, characters, and dialog- and I had visions of pages and pages just pouring out of my head once I sat down to write.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. I set up my laptop in the dining room on Saturday. The house was quiet. I wrote the first sentence…then, another sentence and a bit of a paragraph. I tried some dialog. The rest of the afternoon was spent writing,
getting up to get a glass of water,
running upstairs to switch over the laundry,
…and thinking more.
At the end of five hours, I only had three pages.
I was a little disappointed, but it was only the first day– right?
On Sunday, I read my pages from the day before, and I started to edit. I didn’t think I was supposed to start editing so early in the process (Isn’t that what the experts say?), but as long as my fingers were typing, I was writing. And as I continued to write, my main character faded into a secondary character, and my story started to take an entirely different direction.
I tried not to panic when the work week started. I still had so many pages to write! I wasn’t even sure I liked what I had written so far.
How would I find the motivation to write after working at a computer all day?
–And this was essentially the whole test. Right here. If I wanted to publish a book someday, I would need to find the time and motivation to write around a full time job and my other life obligations. If I couldn’t cut it for a six week workshop, then my long term writing plans would never happen.
On Monday night, I came home from work, ate a quick dinner, and returned to my laptop. My nighttime creativity kicked in, and my mind entered the zone. The writing was surprisingly easier. I was focused and fully engaged in the story. My brain finally stopped spinning with the everyday nonsense that runs through it. It was like meditating…disciplined, but fun, freeing, and energizing. I had finally tapped into the story.
I had to stop myself around 11:30 that night. During the rest of the week, I wrote during my lunch hour and for hours after work. By Friday (er…around 2 a.m. Saturday morning actually), the story wasn’t perfect, but I had something to submit to class.
What I learned:
- If I want to take my writing from post-it notes and notebooks to an actual structured story, I must sit and write. I must sit and write consistently.
- I have to write through the bad stuff to get to those inspiring, creative moments.
- I have to trust the process, and I have to let the story take its own direction.
- The first submission doesn’t have to be perfect. There should always be a plan for editing.
The best surprise was that I had the energy to write during my lunch hour and at night, even after a long day in the office.
I’m also happy to report that the workshop itself went well. While our stories were discussed, we were instructed to sit quietly and listen. The class would discuss the story as if the author was not in the room. My fellow writers were gracious in their review. They discussed what was working in my story and where they wanted to hear more. They provided valuable feedback for my next round of edits.
The workshop was a great way to kick start my fiction writing. It was fun to use the creative side of my brain to invent a story. It also reminded me of the daily discipline I would need to move forward…and that even a few pages at a time would move me closer my life goals.