Friday, March 25, 2011

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Purple Unicorn ...

My fiction writing class is officially half over.  In the past when I’ve taken workshop-style writing classes, I’ve always managed to establish myself as the star pupil by this point, mostly because I have a lot of free time to devote to polishing and perfecting the assignments.  Unfortunately, this is not your typical workshop-style class.  Most of the writing is done during class, through various creative exercises.  We're expected to write hastily and carelessly for five minutes and then share whatever we've scribbled down.

Personally, I would rather parade around the classroom stark naked than read my unfinished, unrevised writing aloud.  First drafts aren’t meant to be shared; they’re meant to be burned and destroyed.  Even my blog entries are rewritten and painstakingly edited, hence the long gap between posts – and you thought I was just lazy!

The other students seem perfectly comfortable sharing their unedited writing.  There are a surprising number of improv performers in the class – including the teacher, who performs fully improvised musicals (there isn't enough alcohol in the world to get me up on that stage).  I never would’ve guessed that I’d be the only introvert in a writing class.  I’m basically a spectator.  When it comes time to share, I keep my head down and avoid eye contact with the instructor at all costs.

During the exercises, I rarely produce more than a few scattered notes.  Unlike my classmates – who type at a furious, almost maniacal pace without ever stopping – I feel compelled to plan everything out before I write a single sentence.  I’m usually still in the brainstorming phase when the instructor announces, “Pencils down."  Then I sit in disbelief and listen to my classmates share entire stories, with beginnings and middles and ends – and they're not always terrible.

I even struggle with stream of consciousness, the simplest of exercises.  The teacher will ask us to write down a chain of word associations starting with the word "purple."  The idea is to keep going no matter what, but I can’t seem to make it past three words.  Here's a sample of my best work:

Purple.  Eggplant.  Marinara ...  No wait, I don’t like that.  I’m just hungry.

Purple.  Unicorn.  Rainbow Brite ...  Um, yeah, that’s a dead end.  I haven’t seen that show in years.

Purple ....  You know what?  Purple sucks.  It’s by far the least inspiring color.

Yellow.  Banana.  Monkey ...  Oh my God, how predictable.  I hate it.  I hate yellow.

It has occurred to me that my problem might be a lack of creativity.  It does run in my family.  My mother took an aptitude test in the tenth grade, and her creativity score fell into the 4th percentile.  The guidance counselor said it was the lowest score she’d ever seen.  My mother’s achievement score, on the other hand, fell into the 99th percentile.  Come to think of it, that explains a lot.  I might not be able to write spontaneous stories about purple unicorns, but when it comes to achieving good writing, I’ll always pull through ... eventually.

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