Long Story: The Writing Process
After Mr. Fay-guns, my sick 10th grade English teacher, finished talking (or rasping) about the writing assignment, we students just sat at our desks and wrote (or thought about writing). If anybody complained about writing, we were told to shut up. I think the cure for writer’s block back then was “Shut up!” “Shut up!” makes sense. You can’t talk yourself out of writer’s block, but you can write yourself out of it.
One English teacher (not Mr. Fay-guns) used to force students to write “I don’t know what to write about” until they thought about something to write about. I don’t know if that helps writers get good ideas, but it kept students from complaining about writer’s block.
The writing process has changed a lot since I was in high school. Back then, we had to hand-write everything. I’d try to cram my rough draft onto one sheet of paper. Then when I edited it, I’d cross a bunch of stuff out, jam new words and phrases between lines and write sideways on the margins. As ugly as it got (and it got ugly), I could always figure out I meant.
Back then, there were no graphic organizers for brainstorming. There was no color coding of sentences during the revision/editing process. There was barely even an editing/revision process. There was no peer editing where other students who knew nothing about grammar or punctuation try to make corrections and instead (probably on purpose) make things worse. We just wrote a sloppy rough draft and crossed out a bunch of stuff we didn’t like.
Since there were no computers (and nobody wanted to use a typewriter), students would then hand-write a neat final copy. The final copy would get graded with a bunch of red marks and (usually) a low grade. The student could then make corrections for a better grade. And that was it.
And if we ever complained about writer’s block, the teacher told us to shut up (or a more polite version of shut up).
I’m not the kind of guy who gets writer’s block a lot, so I wasn’t told to shut up very often. I usually have a lot of ideas when it’s time to write. The problem is that I have a lot of bad ideas.
So as I sat in Mr. Fay-gun’s English class while most students stared at their papers or at the clock or at Denise (the cheerleader with the really nice legs), I had several ideas floating around in my brain. But they weren’t any good.
I could write a story about Denise’s legs. It would be very descriptive, and I’m sure I could have added some conflict, but Mr. Fay-guns would read the story and maybe some other students would too, and then I would get a reputation as a pervert. Back then, I was a quiet guy, and people left me alone. If I became the pervert, then people would no longer leave me alone. I saw how (other) perverts got treated at school, and I couldn’t risk that by writing about Denise’s legs.
I had a fantasy story that I wanted to write. But back then, only weird kids wrote fantasy. I was considered quiet, but I wasn’t considered weird. The weird kids who liked fantasy talked about it all the time with each other (and sometimes to me), and they were okay, but I didn’t want to talk fantasy all the time (I wanted to talk football). I just wanted to read fantasy every once in a while. So I couldn’t write that story either.
Even back then, I considered my audience, and that’s very important for a writer.
Then there was Denise’s bad idea, the one about the girl who couldn’t think of anything to write for English class so she failed and it ruined her life. Denise was going to write it, and it probably wouldn’t be very good, but if she read it to the class, she’d nail the delivery so that the story would sound a lot better then it really was.
Yes, her idea was stupid, and I knew it, but I was still drawn to it, just like my eyes were drawn to her legs. It was a bad idea, but I could make part of her idea work. In fact, I could tweak the idea, combine it with some other bad ideas that I had, and maybe, just maybe, I could make a decent story out of it.
I do this a lot in my life. I have a lot of bad ideas. But I’ve learned that if I combine a bunch of bad ideas, then something good can happen. Or something really horrible.
And this is how Long Story was created.
To be continued in Long Story: Bad High School Memory.
Or to start Long Story from the beginning, read Long Story (Part 1): Teachers with Funny Last Names .