I’m doing something I haven’t done in a long time. I’m taking a fiction writing class.
This may sound a bit like trying to reinvent the wheel. Yes, I do have an entire master’s degree in fiction writing. They why would I take a fiction writing class?
Before I answer that question let me ask another. If you hadn’t driven in a long while, maybe you moved to a place where the public transportation system was amazing, and you returned to sit behind the wheel, how would you feel?
True, that you probably remember the basic function of driving like where the gas pedal is and how to make a left turn, but there would be some timidness to your driving. Everyone in cars around you are zipping through traffic and zoom past you.
It take a bit but you eventually get back into the swing of driving everywhere.
That’s what I’m doing. I’m going back to basics and relearning what I already knew to get back in the swing of things. Or, if you will, I’m doing doughnuts in the parking lot before I drive in the street.
But it has been a long time since I’ve worked in fiction. For the past couple of years I’ve been working in creative non-fiction and poetry. In fact, the last writing class I took was in creative non-fiction in October 2019 and it was amazing.
(As an aside, I do recommend the class I took in creative non-fiction which is specifically for educators.)
I’ve been returning to fiction writing slowly, taking my time and reading novels and short stories, attempting to recall the hard earned lessons. This is something that boxers call getting your fighting weight up.
The return to fiction is just one thing I’m noticing that’s happening during this whatever-day-it-is quarantine.
(I’m still under quarantine, FYI. I care too much about my family to not take the upmost precautions for their well being. )
I am noticing a restart, a return to the beginning, the core of things that are important to me and what I do. I am rediscovering.
And it feels a bit indulgent.
It’s almost like time traveling, returning to my old haunts and approaching things with what I know now. It’s an opportunity to examine things with new eyes … or something like that.
So signing up for a fiction course after writing memoir was definitely welcomed but I’m wondering how other writers go from one genre to another and not miss a beat.
I find that I need to have chapters of my life where I am exclusively writing one thing, completely immersed in that world and then switch to something. For example, I was completely immersed in creative non-fiction when I was writing the memoir. I was reading memoir, essays, craft essays, etc. and taking memoir writing classes.
And during that time I couldn’t even look at a fiction novel or short story.
That says lots about how my working habits. I am an immersive writer; I go all in and am focused on one thing.
I have a couple of small fiction projects I started a couple of weeks ago, an upcoming writing series, and though some of the fiction things I’ve learned have started to come back from my dusty memory, I do remember writing fiction to be easier than whatever it is I’m doing now.
Either I’ve regressed or I have grown. I can’t tell which one it is yet.
Or maybe writing overall is harder now than it’s ever been in my life. The world outside my front door is the dystopian of my nightmares and writing through that is tougher with each passing day. Nothing seems to be right on the page, words are meaningless and how those words are arranged is trite.
And nothing makes sense. What is plot? Is plot important?
Toni Morrison said that it is during turbulent times that writers must go to work. I’ve been showing up to work, showing up to the page and I got…nothing.
But this isn’t the first tough time in my life and it won’t be the last. One lesson that I did learn during my first round in fiction so many years ago is this…
If you show up to the page, even if all you do is stare at it, something will eventually happen.
And it repeats. Show up, write, repeat. Show up, write, repeat.
This is how I’m writing now. I show up not expecting much, I write or stare, and I return the next day to do the same. And somehow, the work continues. Somehow, words get on the page. Somehow, and eventually, a story emerges. Somehow, blissfully, I remember the skills that made me a storyteller to begin with.
Yes, sometimes for your writing all you have to do is show up.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day.