“Maybe it’s. time for you to write some poetry,” my writer friend said.
“Yeah, right,” I said, knowing full well that I have a snowball’s chance in you know where of writing a decent poem. She went on to say that a lot of the stuff (see how good I am at thinking of just the right word) I’ve written in the past is already like poetry—just needs a little doctoring up.
I appreciate her words of encouragement, and maybe one day I’ll give poetry a shot, but right now I just want to write a decent short story. I know how to do it. That’s not the problem. I can talk about conflict and resolution with the best of ‘em and can easily spot the structure in other people’s work. I can even write decent beginnings and endings. With the help of my critique group, I’ve learned a whale of a lot about decent dialogue, the importance of setting a scene, how to develop characters, and dozens of other elements of fiction that I didn’t know about six or seven years ago.
Why is that? I’ve wondered about that lack of knowledge many times over the years, and the only answers I’ve come up with are that (1) I read more nonfiction than fiction and that (2) I don’t have a vivid imagination. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good novel and can get lost in a well-crafted short story. But honestly, I’ve never studied fiction writing as a form until recently and have spent my entire professional life reading and writing nonfiction. And while I’m being honest, I’ll go ahead and announce that my grandchildren have written short stories that demonstrate more creativity and promise than anything I’ve written so far. Maybe they’ll give me some tips.
Back to structure. I’ve been working on an awakening that I experienced in a Nashville bar and grill a few years ago. My husband had one resolute goal: hearing some live music performed in Music City on a Saturday night. I won’t go into the story right now. I’ve written and rewritten it so many times that it’s lost its energy. Stale and flat. A man in my critique group made a sole comment: “It’s not juicy enough.” And you know what? He’s right. I swallowed my pride and looked through the middle of the story, the part where some action should be taking place, and yet all that’s happening is people talking…and they’re talking in a forced, artificial way. Boring.
In discussing the issue with a writer par excellence yesterday, she suggested that I put it away for a while. I’ve been doing that off and on for three years. After assuring me that she had dozens and dozens of such stories, I felt better. That’s when she suggested poetry. But I’ve got some other ideas cooking.
Enforced isolation has given me more time to read and reflect, not just on what I read but also on the world and its people, situations, and history. I see more clearly how being raised in the American South in the 1950s as a white girl influenced my worldview. Rocket science, right? Seriously, I’ve been so busy getting and spending all my adult life that I haven’t had the contemplative time to process the imprint of society on all of us.
Next up, gender issues. Or social injustice, intersectionality, kindness, or the importance of being a decent human being.