Though I love to write, I’ve always felt intimidated by writing fiction. In college, as a literature major, I avoided taking creative writing classes, limiting my writing to literary essays and research papers. In various jobs, I have written business proposals, grants, newspaper articles, press releases, and even our school alumni magazine. I write for this blog. However, I’ve never written fiction, until this past week, that is.
It’s not that I just hadn’t tried it. I had been afraid of it! I attended the University of Iowa for graduate school, and many of my classes included the students of the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I listened to them talk about their own writing, as they discussed the authors we read for class, and I read some of the work they shared with me with a sense of awe. I was far too intimidated to attempt to take a writing class while enrolled as a graduate student there. But after finishing my graduate degree, I signed up for an evening class to give it a try. It was my one attempt at learning to write fiction. The teacher, a published author and former professor for the Writers’ Workshop, was very encouraging, but I was disappointed in myself. However, it was one of my classmates who really made me think that writing fiction just wasn’t for me.
She was a very nice woman in her 60’s, a former fashion model who’d spent years living all over the world. Using her vast reservoir of life experience, she wrote a story about a fashion shoot that she had been on in her youth, which included a boa constrictor. She wrote about how the flashing lights frightened the snake, which began to tighten its hold around her neck. She wove D.H. Lawrence’s poem, The Snake, throughout her writing, conveying her feelings of terror that the snake would hurt her, with compassion for the fear that it must have felt. Her story wasn’t really fiction, but it was an excellent example of creative non-fiction. Her writing was beautiful, and so intimidating to me that I felt like I just couldn’t imagine having the ability to write something of that nature. I decided that I couldn’t, and then I made the decision not to try. I took that class nearly thirty years ago, and I never did try to write fiction again!
So, here I am, having spent years teaching my own students how to write fiction, while validating that horrible phrase, “Those who can’t do, teach.” A student asked me just this year if I was planning to try a writing assignment that I had made for my students. I told her that I love to write, but that I prefer to write non-fiction rather than fiction. As I made my excuses, I felt bad. It was actually quite embarrassing to admit that I couldn’t do it, but I was still asking my students to try.
It was my brother’s encouragement that helped me get past that barrier, and the time off that I knew was coming over spring break. Thinking back on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, I’d have to add to the need for a room and include a child still in school, and a husband at work. As I was typing out my, “I can’t do fiction,” return email to my brother, I thought, why not try it? So I deleted my email, and began again. I told him that I would give it a try.
I expected to disappoint myself, but then something happened during my attempt as I experienced the fun of creating a character that I like. I experienced the joy of wanting to know more about her, and learning about her as I was writing her world into existence. I experienced the pleasure of not worrying about what I would DO with what I was writing. I was just writing, and it was a creative, exciting way to spend my vacation. Pages poured out of me.
I can’t wait to sit down and continue her story, to explore her life further. I look forward to the relentless editing process, as I refine my words, images, and figurative language. I have discovered that I am my own worst critic, but that I can choose to silence that voice for the pure joy of the experience of writing. So that’s what I’ve done, I’ve conquered a fear, and given myself permission to enjoy it.
So, I no longer fear writing fiction. I also don’t care that my writing wouldn’t stand a chance against writers like Barbara Kingsolver, or the great Virginia Woolf! What I like most about this experience is that I’ve faced a personal fear; I am no longer giving in to my own belief that I can’t do it. I love to write. Period.