I attended my first creative writing class during the week. Despite a distinctly nervous start, I’m pleased to say that, on the whole, the experience was a positive one; one which I am keen to repeat next week.
Interestingly, in the immediate run-up to the first session, I found myself obsessing about purely practical issues: how to time my arrival; where to park cheaply if I had time enough to walk from there to the venue; where to park if time was running short; what to take to write on (should I start a new note book?); even what to wear (not because I’m vain you understand, but because in my, admittedly distant, experience, when attending educational establishments in the depths of winter it pays to layer your garments in order to accommodate the wildly varying environmental conditions which prevail within).
I suppose these concerns were merely a subconscious displacement process to avoid the more obvious worries I was having about the course and whether my efforts would reveal shortcomings in my writing I hadn’t been aware of.
As it turned out, I was stuck in rush-hour traffic (those hours spent planning my journey didn’t factor that in, did they?), and was forced to park in the most expensive spot in the city. But I wasn’t late and didn’t miss the ice breaker, in which I somehow managed to reveal to twenty complete strangers that I’d read neither Margaret Atwood nor Zadie Smith. Was that a sharp intake of breath from the other side of the room? It was more probably my nervous imagination. Although I think I detected it again when one of the younger students announced that the first book she really remembered reading was Harry Potter. Jealousy of youth: it’s an ugly thing.
Naturally enough, the aim of the first session was simply to get us all writing. I had anticipated this and yet….and yet when it came to it, I found myself floundering; I was all at sea, swimming against a thick tide of wordlessness.
The task was simple enough: write about a room as seen from the outside; the things you can see, what you can smell, anything you can sense, without stepping inside. We were given ten or so minutes. Instantly I was transported back to that moment in an exam for which you know you are poorly prepared: the clock starts ticking and everyone else starts scribbling immediately, whilst you are left clutching your pen optimistically, its nib hovering just millimetres from the paper.
I stole glances at my neighbours; how was it possible that they had already filled lines of their notebooks? I simply couldn’t think of a room; my mind was as blank as my paper. No it wasn’t; my mind was blanker. The paper I use has lines and a margin.
Part of the issue is that I’m not used to ‘free writing’. It isn’t something I’ve ever practised, although I know many writers do. But even with the guideline of a theme of sorts, I found it incredibly difficult to get going. I’m putting it down to nerves and fear of failure.
At the end of the exercise I stole another glance at my right-hand neighbour’s notebook. What I’d mistaken for lines of prose ten minutes earlier, were those all-too familiar markings of a writer desperately searching for inspiration: single words plucked from the air, arrows, crossings-out and doodles. We whispered conspiratorially to each other: ‘they’ve all written so much’, ‘how do they do it’, ‘I can’t possibly read this out’.
And of course, to my growing discomfort, some of the work which the students proceeded to read out was really very good. My meagre lines of description would never stand up to the abstract prose I was hearing. Several students appeared to have written reams of stream of consciousness á la Proust or Joyce; insightful words which begged further exploration. My own, in comparison, seemed child-like and amateur.
I declined the tutor’s kind offer of reading out my effort to the class and steeled myself for part two of the exercise: I was now to describe walking into the room from the point of view of someone who ought not perhaps be there. I experienced another fleeting moment of panic before my muse finally turned up, (perhaps they’d had trouble parking too. I’ll make sure we car-share next week). Suddenly I knew what to write, and although I didn’t achieve a particularly impressive word count, I was much happier with this effort; so much so that I even read it to the class, notwithstanding the sweat prickling behind my neck. I think someone might even have commented positively; I can’t be sure because the sound of relief in my head drowned anything else out for a few moments.
Towards the end of the class, the tutor read her own effort out, and to my delight (and further relief) the first part of her piece was as descriptive as my own, unheard, scribbling. Not for her the abstract, literary lines some of the students had come up with; instead well-observed, insightful and poetic words.
This is not to denigrate the work of my fellow classmates; I look forward to reading and hearing more of their writing. Indeed, one of the things I’m most looking forward to about the class is sharing such different styles and forms with each other, and learning from them all.
Above anything, what my first foray into Creative Writing has taught me is to not doubt my own abilities and, perhaps more importantly, to be brave. Finding the courage to share my work, to release it into the wilds of the classroom where it must fend for itself, was a difficult, but important step to take.
I took it and am still standing.
© flyingscribbler 2013.