Just Write: Week 1, Jan 20

Quite by chance – reading a community centre notice board whilst waiting for my daughter to appear from one of her after school activities – I discovered that there was a creative writing group / course running locally. Thinking that it would be something fun and interesting to do in the new year I had signed myself up prior to Christmas and thought this would be as good a place as any to record my output.

So the first session was last week and it was pretty nerve wracking. I am entirely comfortable speaking and presenting in front of people – it has been a large part of my job for a long time – but there was something very different about reading your own work aloud in front of what were (at the time) a bunch of strangers. Albeit lovely strangers as it turns out.

I will type up each week’s work without tinkering. That does mean that some of it will be pretty raw and some of it will undoubtedly be dreadful – most of it is written in the class in the space of about ten or fifteen minutes so it is largely unedited. However, fortune may favour me with the occasional sentence that isn’t half bad. Even if it doesn’t then I can have a good chuckle back at this in my dotage.

Exercise one in week one was to take a blank piece of paper and brainstorm (that’s not politically correct anymore is it ?) five words that you associate with the word “write”. Then to take each of those five words and come up with five additional words for each – so thirty one words in total as a rough and ready mind map.

Here were mine with the initial five words in bold: Escape – Runaway – Holiday – Job – Calling – Dream – Sleep – Romantic – Future – Ideal – Wonderful – Stuck – Procrastinate – Blocked – Choked – Unsure – Blank – Painful – Failure – Struggle – Esteem – Poor – Fear – Communicate – Reach – Stories – Me – Inside – Touch.

Let us not trouble ourselves too much with amateur psychology at this point… (or the fact that I seem to have missed a word somewhere). The second part of the exercise was to spend five minutes writing a short piece that used all of the words you had come up with. So I had:

The holiday was supposed to be an escape. A chance to runaway. The job was going nowhere, career blocked, and she was facing up to thinking of herself as a failure. The dream, of course, had been different. Now she just thought it was romantic nonsense that had filled her head; stories she’d tell herself about her ideal future. She’d thought it was a calling, not this painful thing it had become.

But the holiday, like the job, like everything, had not been an escape. It was a struggle. Of course it was a struggle; she couldn’t escape herself and what she carried inside.

Again, we may not want to trouble ourselves with the amateur psychology. I didn’t hate it, I guess that’s a decent enough start. I didn’t really like the end though as it felt a bit cliched to me even on first writing, let alone on reading back, but for five minutes scribbling from nowhere I thought it was okay.

The second exercise involved talking about our personal bucket lists (i.e. things you’d like to do before you die) in pairs before picking one of them and free writing about it for ten minutes. In this context “free” writing is simply starting to write and not letting yourself stop for the duration, trying to disregard any internal editing process. That latter point is something I find particularly hard but also may be a big reason why I never make very much progress. Anyway, my piece was about meeting Bruce Springsteen:

The great man, as it turned out, was smaller than I’d expected. Not Bono short. Or Kylie short, but still appreciably less tall than his reputation suggested. He was Bruce Springsteen and if he was at all bored of yet another meet-the-fans-handshake-and-a-few-cursory-words then he didn’t let it show.

“How you doing ?” he asked.

Momentarily I was frozen, utterly terrified. I was having difficulty separating the myth in my head – the quasi mystical mythologiser of American dreams and nightmares – from the man who was extending his hand towards me. The touch of that handshake brought me round. His hands were still slick with sweat, fresh from leaving the stage, and the basic physicality of this made him real to me again. Holding it together I blurted out:

“Great set, great set, it’s… you don’t know what it means to me to meet you…”

He responded with a broad smile and clapped me on the shoulder.

“Hey no problem. Thanks for coming out”.

And then he was gone, on to the next out stretched hand in the queue. The next fervent believer. I watched him go. Definitely smaller than expected but always a giant to me.

Again, I don’t hate it. I do seem to have acquired a habit of pay off lines that might come off as a little too derivative but I did want to give the piece a sense of being self contained, of having a close to it. Not sure why I gave Springsteen the same vocal mannerisms as Joey Tribiani from Friends either… Obviously my short hand for New Jersey. At least he didn’t offer me any “cwoffe”. But I did like the height thing as a way in and he is only 5’9″ ish so it’s entirely possible that I would be struck by that if I ever met him.

And that was week one. It was really good fun. If I’m going to be a frustrated writer then I might as well enjoy being a frustrated writer… and actually write some stuff.

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