After two days of trying to write a short story, I am pausing for reflection.
Yesterday, after class, they came to see me, two of the Five Writers group that I’m supervising as extracurricular work. We’ve been writing together since the fall and the most recent prompt that they accepted was writing a short story; we looked at techniques of setting, and dialogue and talked about the complexity of taking an idea from one’s imagination and translating it to the page so your reader sees what you envisioned. As a writing teacher, I know the importance of writing alongside students, so I decided to join them as part of my own struggle to grow and wrestle with a writing life.
Both of these young women who sat, masked and distanced, are beautiful humans, complex and thoughtful intellectuals who possess a love of literature and humanities; I have taught both of them in grade 11 and, now, grade 12. We have forged a connection through words and I make a point of centering theirs. A month has passed and they are struggling with their ideas and reaching out for advice. I felt a lack in this area of the craft despite knowing the theory, and knowing how to find themes, literary devices, and apply the formulas of analysis to artistic form. But, I’ve never written a short story.
This might not be the most settled time for me to be writing a short story, since there are many personal and professional battles in my wake, but I decided to use this as the moment to gather more from the creative resources within, to mine that spirit which drives us for connection and reflection. And, so, I began to write, and the story has moved and shifted in ways that have been unpredictable. And, yes, I have a plan (sort of) and I definitely have thematic ideas that I want to convey, but the product and the process are challenging me in ways that I couldn’t understand had I not done this.
We talked about our ideas and what is happening with our writing. One fears that her vision of the story will not be understood and she has made several attempts, but her writing stutters — she feels unable to bring the story to the page. The other, too, imagines a story, plots out its parts, but can’t seem to bring it together “into a cohesive whole”. I thought about our processes of writing and wondered if a part to whole or whole to part framing of the writing might be helpful.
I shared my thematic idea:
I’m hoping to convey a message about reckoning with the past, with our own past as a way of moving forward. I was thinking about the ways that photographs can provide a sense of the past that isn’t real and yet being in the moment is so ethereal, so transient and living is like looking through the front windshield of a car while glancing back in the rearview mirror. We are trying to live forward while looking back.
I then shared the process over the past two days and the fact that the story morphed and changed as I wrote while I kept trying to keep this centre of meaning. It sparked a shared recognition and a lightness filled the room; they were both able to see themselves in what I had shared in my writing experience. Although I know that my craft is limited, I just don’t know how limited unless I try and fail and try again to reckon with this writing life.