My typical morning starts with a cup of coffee and a Gmail chat with Dave, who is still up in California, burning his late-night brain oil. This morning, he cut right to the chase:
Dave: Hey Mary! When are you going to post another blog post so I won’t be the top any more?
This is how you can tell that my brother is not a real writer. Real writers live for exposure. If he were a real writer, he’d keep quiet and hope I’d never find the time to blog again, and his post would remain on Gydle’s homepage for eternity.
The point was hammered home this Saturday at a writing workshop I attended. I rarely go to workshops, because I’d rather just sit at home and write than go and be reminded by a professional that I have no idea what I’m doing and get first-hand evidence that there are tons of people out there who write infinitely better than I do. Every time I go to a workshop I leave with a wicked case of writer’s block. (It’s a lot like my reaction to department stores. I get paralyzed by all the possibilities and invariably walk out empty-handed.) But my friend Liz convinced me to go to this one because it was going to be given by Geeta Kothari, a writer and teacher extraordinaire. It was great and I came away inspired. Blocked, but inspired.
We did some exercises and read some bits of short stories, concentrating on writing about objects instead of writing about what our characters are thinking or feeling. Objects have a wonderful way of introducing you to their owners. Which of these sentences is more interesting?
“Mary owned a Lamborghini, and secretly loved the way it made people’s heads turn as she drove past them wearing her Dior sunglasses.”
“Mary sat behind the wheel of her fire-engine red Lamborghini, Dior Sunglasses perched on her nose, staring straight ahead, an amused smile playing at the corners of her mouth.”
I’m already sick of Mary in the first sentence and I made her up myself.
When Geeta asked for volunteers to read aloud the results of an exercise she’d assigned, hands popped up all over the room. Brilliant things came out of their mouths. For the last exercise of the day we had to write a 26-sentence story, in which each sentence began with a sequential letter of the alphabet. One sentence had to be 100 words long, and one a fragment. We had 26 minutes. For example:
As she was taking the cake out of the oven, the phone rang. “Bill, can you get that!” yelled Geeta. “Coming,” he yelled back. “Damnation!” she said, looking at the cake. Every square inch of it was burned, and an acrid stench was permeating the kitchen. “For you!” yelled Bill from the living room. “Geeta!” “Hang on!” she said, opening a window. “I’m coming!”
Here’s another one:
As soon as his back was turned, she took out the envelope. Biting hard on the plastic cover, she broke the seal and shook the little green pill into her hand. “Come on, come on,” she said impatiently to herself, willing her hands to move more quickly. Drinks were on the way; it was now or never. Every time she thought of last night, her heart clenched in her chest. For once she would be the one who called the shots. Given their past history, no one would ever suspect her of anything. He’d always bragged about what a perfect couple they were, hadn’t he? Intimate, happy, eyes for no one but each other? Just as those thoughts raced through her head, he turned and reached for her hand. “Kill me,” he said, smiling, “ cuz I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.” Laughter rang out around the table. “Maybe I will,” she said, smiling innocently.
You should try it. It’s really fun.
At the workshop, I wrote a piece about a runner named Molly with a heel problem (painfully autobiographical). Big action took place when she bent down to double-knot her shoelaces. I managed to come up with sentences starting with Q, X and Z and felt hugely proud of myself. My longest sentence was a whopping 120 words, involving a lot of stretching exercises and thoughts about permanent foot injury. I noticed that the engineer to my right hadn’t been able to finish. I was tempted to raise my hand when Geeta asked for volunteers, but didn’t. Disaster averted — listening to what the others had invented in only 26 minutes, I started to feel like a mangy Shetland pony in a stable full of sleek Arabians. These were real writers — they clamored to share their 26-minute chefs d’oeuvre, their voices full of pride as they bore witness to the flexibility of their brains and the rapidity of their penmanship. And their stuff was really good! What was I doing here? Sure enough, paralysis set in, and I had writer’s block from Saturday evening all the way up to this very minute, when Dave’s plea to get him off the homepage gave me the nudge I needed.
Thanks, Dave, for being a cryptographer and not a writer! Usually my prose paralysis lasts for weeks; this block was busted in record time! Now that the dam has been broken, the ideas are starting to flow again, and the words will follow.