Ready, Set, Go…For the Jugular

Tell us your Secrets

For reasons unknown, I used to teach creative writing. The don’t-think/just-let-it-rip type of teaching, and depending on how willing/able people were to try it, I was mildly successful. I taught this way because it was the only way I knew – or know – how to write. Not suited to everyone, I found out.

But once, a student came back to class and said she let it rip for a half hour straight and apparently, she’d dug deep, pulled out something painful. Her eyes were huge, her voice shaky: “It scared the hell out of me!”

I was young, and as you might have guessed, not a great teacher.  Great teachers clarify, illuminate, impart useful information.  (What made me think I could do this???) So while I felt for her, I had no words to explain it.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I have those words.  I could have told her that yeah, writing can be scary. It can be painful. Because writing is a risky business. Because it’s about letting go and going for the jugular. Because fiction writers have to be prepared to go for their own jugular and dig up their darkest secrets — over and over again.  Agatha Christie put it succinctly: “writing is torture.”

While I’ve never been scared by what I’ve written, I can say, letting the story go where it’s wanted to go, I’ve been surprised by where it’s gone and what it’s revealed.

I’ve read that writer Doris Betts – who writes both novels and short stories – once said that the novel is prose growth, and the short story is prose revelation. This explains a lot to me! It explains why, when my short stories work well, they give me the chills. (I have one particular story that still gives me the chills!)

In any case, if I were ever to go back to teaching (not!), I‘d still use the let-it-rip type of teaching. It’s what I believe in, it’s worked for me and it’s worked for thousands of other writers.

So here’s what I know: I know what works for me, and I know teaching is not for me,  But I very much like certain writing prompts. So how about this one: Write a piece of fiction that reveals something you have never told anyone before.  Don’t think, don’t judge. Just go….

If you get something that scares you – or gives you a little chill – awesome! 

:)

 

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2 thoughts on “Ready, Set, Go…For the Jugular

  1. Wow, Laurie, and you weren’t even in my class! :) And yes, it does take a lot of guts to put yourself into your writing, but if you don’t, the writing usually falls flat. So congrats to you on your almost-nervous breakdown! Hope you finish that novel.

  2. Sue, I do this and it is very therapeutic, but also quite frightening if you are willing to write honestly. I actually started a novel and scared myself with my own revelations of my past and even my denial on my current situation and I literally had to stop or I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. So, there it sits in a strangely named file on my hard drive. I may go back to it one day. I may just delete it one day. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself into a piece and then share it with the world. It is almost like inviting your whole family to watch as you get a physical at the OB’s office.

    Bravo on doing this blog. I am really enjoying it!

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