I’ve been thinking about how I write lately. My wife gave me a membership to the Indiana Writers Center for Christmas last year. One of the benefits is the ability to take classes on an array of topics including short stories, self-publishing, developing characters, etc. at a discounted rate. A very discounted rate. I’ve been looking over which classes I might like to participate in and realized that a lot them require sharing work with peers. Shocking, right? Writing classes that force you to accept feedback from others? Preposterous!
There’s something asexual about writing and posting things on a blog. Not asexual. Singular? How about non-threatening? Yeah, let’s go with that. There’s something non-threatening about posting things online. Somewhere in the back of my head I realize this is open to literally anyone in the world and yet, it doesn’t really bother me. If someone likes what I write they “like” it and/or share it. Sometimes I’m lucky and they start “following” me, which is a huge compliment and not creepy in any way. But if a reader doesn’t like my writing they don’t have to do anything but simply move on with their daily lives.
Sharing work with another person, in person, is nerve wracking. I hated sharing papers in college. Professors I could handle disappointing, but my friends? Ugh. On the other hand that was “scholarly” work. Being critical of someone’s ability to cite sources is very different from critiquing someone else’s imagination. So I’ve been considering what it is I write, why I write. How I write. So much of it never makes it here. Five thousand word stories don’t typically go over well in a sound-bite world. Consequently I don’t usually see my own works in their entirety.
In order to get a jump start on my unavoidable anxiety about sharing my work with others I’ve started to go back over text I haven’t touched in a while. Partially to pick out what I might like to share, but also to see how I would describe myself if someone ever asks. Rereading stories written months ago has been a lot of fun. And, I’ve learned a lot about myself because of it. Writing is an extension of the way I see the world. So I had to smile a little when I realized I’d developed a bit of a habit.
It doesn’t happen all the time but I think my favorite short stories are the ones that have a sudden shift in them. I hesitate to say twist because that implies the shift occurs suddenly, like the forty-five degree angle in a Z. But that’s not what I do. The shifts in my stories don’t always happen in the same place or the same way. They’re more like the gentle curve of a J. They happen in the middle, toward the end, at the end or curve back around. And when they curve it’s just enough to let you think you’re headed one direction only to realize you’ve turned to face the opposite.
After a little thought this wasn’t surprising at all. Life can sometimes seem like it’s full of sharp angles and detours. Pull back from it a little and the angles become gentle turns. Really zoom out enough and you come to realize that it’s just another line. The joy comes from understanding how those lines intersect to form a giant web of connections we can barely recognize. Continuing to zoom out one comes to see that eventually it all becomes a spot. Like a fleck of paint cast out on a canvas left unintentionally in plain view.
That’s what writing is for me. I easily get wrapped up in concern over whether or not someone will actually like a story but by the time I reach the curve of the J I don’t really care anymore. Stephen King wrote once on the old saying that it’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey. That’s what it is. That’s what just about any art form is. It’s a brave exploration of the depths of the human experience. Mine and yours. Hopefully with a little more practice I can share more of my experience going forward.