Let me tell you about Writing 121.
Bonehead English. The writing class that even the dimmest bulb can pass.
I failed Writing 121.
There was something of pride in my failure, I think, and something of the all-or-nothing attitude I carry around, that “utter heroics or complete failure” value set I use to judge only my own actions. Writing 121, for those of you who haven’t taken it, has you perform such tasks as write a descriptive paragraph. I believe that was the assignment that got me started, as it happens. Describe something. There was a base 25 points for the assignment; if you did it and didn’t have run on sentences or dried vomit on the page, you got the whole 25. You maybe lost a point for vomit, and got a note in the margin for a run-on. Not a hard assignment to master.
I spent some amount of time searching for the topic that I could describe in a soul-broadening way. I was looking for descriptive passages that would make a strong man weep, would make women look at me with wonder, hands half extended to touch me but not daring. I wanted a paragraph that would make a jaded English teacher cast all other assignments aside and proclaim to the class, “You are all receiving failing marks. This man — this man — has so raised the bar that I must, in good faith, tell you all that it is pointless for you to continue to pretend you may someday master the language. You will never be he, and you will therefor be judged wanting.” Then he would grovel at my feet a bit, and offer to show my paragraph to some friends of his in publishing, who would offer me handsome sums for it.
Not a goal beyond my reach, I feel, but perhaps a goal that was unnecessarily high when the immediate need is to pass Writing 121.
I searched, as I said, for Art. There wasn’t any about. I tried for Deep Imagery, but found that was in short supply as well. Heaving a sigh, I threw my hands up and gave it up as a bad job. If I couldn’t produce Perfect Art, what was the point at all? Besides, there were other assignments to master and shame the mere mortals. You can see how this went — how it had to go. End of term, all was riding on my perfect application of language to a high-point assignment, the pressure was on, and I still needed Art, so gave it up as a bad job.
After the first few I wasn’t looking for Art, I was looking for Pretty Damned Good, but somewhere I had convinced myself that I was a Failure because I wasn’t Perfect. Really, if I hadn’t had all those upper case letters I’d have been much better off.
Eventually, I recognized that I needed to pass as well as any low-forehead mouth-breathing football scholarship gorilla passes, and locked myself in a sauna until I completed the assignment at hand. I sat 45 minutes in that sauna before I laid pen to paper. After 45 minutes, let me tell you, a pen heats up considerably. But my self-imposed standard of perfection was past, and I went on to better things.
I frequently tell people that I haven’t time to write. ”Time”, in this sense, is “Several hours in which I may dither and daydream, practice avoidance techniques, have a few conversations, read something, and eventually get around to tapping at the keyboard.” Less than that, and I just can’t get my mind into the right place, can’t really get into what I’m writing.
So, let us consider. If I sit down with less than the optimal several hours and try to write, what happens? Does the ceiling fall in? The keyboard explode? Will publishing agents leap through the door, pointing accusingly and shouting “Aha! Not perfect art!”? I expect those things don’t happen, but there I go, complaining that if I haven’t time, if I’m too tired to think, if my pants are on fire and my gall bladder has ruptured, then I can’t possibly write — not well, anyway, and I shouldn’t write unless I’m doing it well.
Wait, I hear mournful voices crying out, as from another realm, a colder, more desolate place. I hear the cries of seven failed English classes. It raises goosebumps, doesn’t it?
The past two nights I’ve wound up my ladybug and written for something between 15 minutes and 25; I don’t look at the marks on the ladybug, I just give a twist amounting to a quarter to a third of a turn and go to work. I haven’t been writing well. I have, in fact, been writing tripe. But the story is further along, and tonight when I twisted the ladybug (that just sounds dirty, doesn’t it? ”Hey, baby, want to twist my ladybug?”) I revised some of the tripe I wrote last night and improved it, and the story went further along.
Ooooh — progress. I do that enough nights, I’ll need to start another story.
Crossposted from Epinephrine & Sophistry