Monday, February 25, 2008

Show and Tell Tuesday – Monday Edition

My junior high English teacher would occasionally assign creative writing exercises. Nothing complicated. Just write a story then stand up in front of the whole class and read it aloud. Already having a mortal fear of public speaking, I dreaded these more than any other adolescent embarrassment. My first few attempts were horrible, mostly because I was trying to write A Story, and the silence of my classmates when I read them at the podium confirmed my hunch that I sucked. Then finally, in sixth grade I think, fed up with the torture of these silly assignments, I thought, Screw it. I’m just gonna write something ridiculous.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, throwing caution to the wind and thinking you don’t really care about what anyone says. But, at least for me, about five minutes before you’re supposed to deliver, your hands get cold and sweaty, your heart skips several beats and you start thinking, Shit. I severely fucked up. I actually have to READ this. And you try to determine the most believable way to fake food poisoning.

I wrote a James Bond parody about his ex-partner, James Stocks, who was stationed with 007 on Wall Street where they were known as Stocks and Bond. I don’t remember anything else about the story. I’m sure it was dumb. But what I do remember is my classmates laughing at all the right places. If you’ve never had a room full of your peers laughing at your jokes, I strongly recommend it. It’s one of the best natural highs available. From then on, I was the guy who wrote funny stories. And once you develop a reputation like that, you can write anything and they’ll laugh, and I was sure that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

Then I got to high school and my English teacher there gave me a C- on our first writing assignment, curing me of any silly notions I had that I could write. So I spent most of high school dreading English, dreading writing, and even dreading reading for that matter. But then, my senior year, I transferred to a large public high school, and one of my teammates showed me the novel he’d written. Sure, it was Star Wars fan fiction crap, but I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Here was this high school baseball player who’d written a novel just because he felt like it. And thought, Screw it. I’m gonna do it too. And I’ve been trying to do it ever since.

When did you know or decide you had no choice but to write?


Anonymous said...

I'm totally addicted to making people laugh as you describe.

I'm not sure if I've reached the point where I "have to write", but I immensely enjoy writing and getting that feedback from the reader. It's something I enjoy.

Great post.


Phoenix said...

I submitted my first story -- to Highlights -- when I was eleven. Typed on pale blue paper with hand-drawn illustrations.

Reading funny stuff you've written out loud, though ... that takes guts. People are sooo fickle. The first story of mine that published had a humorous twist. The story itself wasn't funny, just the ending, but people thought of me as writing funny stories. So much so, I began to believe I was a humor writer. So during my scheduled reading at a SF convention, I read my newest story and, flutter my heart, garnered lots of polite chuckles and even a guffaw or two. I even saw Roger Zelazny break a smile. Yes!

Another week, another con, and I trot out my audience-proven high-comedy story. I read, come to a hilarious riff, pause for that ba-da-boom effect, and -- nothing. Dead, dead silence. Bored faces. People slithering out of the room before I'm even done. The. most. humiliating. moment. in. my. life.

It broke me. Ever since I've only written dark, angsty stories where the body counts are high and the MCs' spirits are beaten low and kicked to the curb time and time again. Much, much safer that way...

Robin S. said...

BT- cool story about your story. Seriously cool.

And by the way, I'd give that high school English teacher of yours a D for dunce (you thought I was gonna say 'dick', didn't you? Well, you're right, I did, and then I backspaced over it and typed 'dunce).

Anyway, I knew I wanted to write "a book" as I thought of it, from the time I was seven or eight years old. I remember stapling papers together and drawing a cover. And I remember starting to write something, but not knowing what story to tell. Books were magic. Books were better than life.

Started again in ninth grade, after being a voracious reader (one of those geeks whose big goals was to read the entire encyclopedia - sure,like that happened, but I know all about abacuses and aardvarks, by God, then on to the entire fiction section of the school library (yuk-so many crappy, boring books, even back then, it didn't work)then on to the Great Books list for my age group- which I just about got through). In 9th grade I had a very perceptive English teacher, you know, one who actually liked kids and actually taught, who'd give me extra creative writing pieces to do, which got me going again. I felt like maybe I could actually do something, but it didn't last long.

Happened again senior year in high school, and that time it stuck for several years. Long, boring story why it didn't work out, but I never forgot, even though I rarely felt deserving enough, whatever that means, to call myself a writer. But I've always wanted to be, although I've rarely said so, up until recently.

Sarah said...

I don't know when I started writing - sometime after my wonderful 4th grade teacher introduced me to reading. And I was hooked on escaping into another world, being someone else.

I wrote poetry at first. Lots and lots of poetry. Moved up to the occassional short story by the time I was in 6th grade. Put my stories and poems together into a 'book' to try and bribe my 6th grade teacher into liking me.

I was in advanced math and science classes and english took a bit of a back seat for awhile. But I kept writing. I joined the creative writing club in high school. Got 2 poems published in the regional high school magazine.

But two main things influenced me:

1. I wrote a short story during lunch in the cafeteria. Several girls sat with me and passed the pages around as I wrote them. It was heady.

2. I submitted a story to a magazine at 15 or 16 and got a detailed rejection letter. I took it badly and vowed never to submit again. It took almost 30 years before I did submit again. And now I'd kill for a detailed rejection letter. Oy!

I will never stop writing. I hope to be published some day. I think I'm getting closer.

ChristineEldin said...

I love Stocks and Bond! That's very clever for somebody in high school (I think!)

When one of my college professors read *my* essay as an example for the other students, then did it again and again and again...That was a high. I've always wanted to write, but have been afraid. I started almost 2 years ago, and can't believe it took so long to just let go.

Sarah said...

BTW, BT. My girlfriend has added your blog to her daily reading list. No pressure, man.

McKoala said...

I have to write to scratch the itch inside my head. I think it's all the people trying to get out.

They're wheeling me off now...

Ello said...

Good story! I have to say that English was always my best subject and I was fortunate in having English teachers who always told me what a great writer I was. Kind of spoiled me for college since my first writing workshop instructor ripped my writing to shreds. I then wrote a very a story about me, written by someone who hated me, and made it very darkly funny and macabre with the narrator trying and failing to kill myself. For some reason, my instructor loved that piece and gave me an A in the class, even though she had been giving me nothing but Cs before then. It was weird. It was also in college that I was subjected to workshops where the other writers took incredible pleasure in ripping apart and taking personal pleasure in tearing other writer's writing to shreds. It put me off of writing for awhile. But am finally back to it.

Wonderwood said...

I always liked to read, as far back as I can remember. I read S.E. Hinton's books, and Tarzan, and Old Yeller so many times I used to know them line by line. And I liked to draw when I was younger, and was fairly decent at it. I didn't start writing until college, and then it was just dabbling, screwing around. I did that for a few years and then just kind of forgot about it as other things took up my time. Came back to it a few years later but never seemed able to finish a story (might have had something to do with this little thing called alcoholism, but I can't swear to it). But over the years I always thought in the back of my mind, I could write a book.

Almost five years ago I put down the bottle and started doing some things I'd always thought I could do, like write a book. I've been at it pretty seriously now for about 4 years, and I love it. Writing, for me, is a kind of spiritual journey, and I savor the creative process. I also enjoy working at the craft, especially when I can see that I'm getting better (or at least, think I am).

Great post, BT, and I enjoyed the comments as well.

blogless_troll said...

Great comments, everyone. These are some cool stories.