Friday, June 19, 2009

vs. the empty page

In 2005, my best friend loaned me 3 books on writing fiction. I had been inspired by his success in chasing his dream of writing, and felt a deep urge to put some of my own ideas into words.

I began doing some writing exercises, saving the results to a folder buried deep on my computer, for nobody else to read.

I did five exercises. And life caught up with me and I didn't do any more.

I took those 3 books out today, from the deep recesses of a bookshelf. I cracked them open. I found the exercises, and dug out the documents I had written. I read four of them. Somehow I missed the fifth. One of them was really good -- a comic story which failed utterly in accomplishing the desired exercise but somehow stumbled onto genuine humor about my own flaws.

I had forgotten I had even written it.

The others, well, they were exercises. Not every workout ends up with a pretty result.

Late tonight, when the house was dark and quiet, I cracked open the book and decided to do the next exercise. I opened up a word processor and stared at the blank page for several solid minutes. I brought up my web browser, hoping I had a new email to distract me. Nope. I tabbed over to Facebook, and clicked "Refresh." No new posts from my friends.

Fine. I tabbed back. Stared again.

And then I began typing. It came out slow and disjointed, but it came out.

When I saved the file, I realized I had already done the exercise in 2005. I compared the two results, written 3 and a half years apart. The topic was supposed to be a couple pages describing a difficult, painful, or partially forgotten memory. Back in 2005 I had written about an interaction between a 16 year-old and his mother, based clearly on my own life (but with all the names changed). It read like a scene in a story, but perhaps one where the star of the story is just a little too self-aware for it to be real.

In 2009 I wrote about a friendship that collapsed due to a series of events that started when I was 13 and wrapped up when I was 16. It read like a letter, or perhaps a blog post. First-person, no names changed, very little subtlety.

I re-read them both. I don't know which one I like better. Neither is a fun read. The story from 2005 is more polished but less honest. This year's story is nastier and sadder, but isn't as good a read. I imagine this has more to do with what I've been writing for the past year (aka blog entries and professional emails) than anything else. In some ways, the story I wrote today makes an excellent prequel to the one from 2005. Chronologically the two probably even overlap, although in the years that have followed the memories formed two distinct chapters of my life with nothing to tie them together.

In any case, it's a sort of victory to start the days with those books buried away and end it with a triumph over a blank page. We'll see where it goes from here.

No comments: