Failing to mention either the most rewarding or the most distressing aspects of learning to write would be to tell an incomplete story. I have an intimate yet erratic relationship with writing. I am a most ambivalent lover. Stopping to glance at my watch, my fingers still poised above the keyboard, I have smiled, amazed to find that I have been in a state of bliss in which hours have passed without my noticing. I have also flushed and sweated as I stared at my computer screen, reading my own text over and over again, vainly trying to anticipate the criticism I correctly supposed would come.
I love, adore, am devoted to, am crazy about writing. The limitations of words are nowhere more apparent that when I try to describe my pleasure, joy, delight, satisfaction at using, playing with, relishing, wielding them.
I know about writing; well, the truth is that I sometimes know how to write. How it is that I know how to write is something I don’t know a lot about. I am a creative writer and a formal essayist. I am humorous and deadly serious, courageous and terrified. I write fiction and essay, poetry and prose. That makes me the teller of lies and truths and, perhaps occasionally, a bit of Truth. But I am fragile, so fragile.
I can write when approval is heaped on me, layered like blankets; give me flannel, cotton, polyester blends, wool and down. Regardless of their weight or numbers, they never smother me or weigh me down. In truth, they barely keep out the drafts. I am grateful to be able to report that I have been wrapped tightly in such comforters as:
“Good point . . . very impressive work . . . excellent . . . outstanding job.”
“Very good essay, with clarity and insight.”
“A strong paper, certainly no surprise.”
“Your responses are extremely convincing.”
“You are the real thing.”
“You make great use of critical texts.”
“You are one of the best prose writers in this class.”
“An outstanding essay. I enjoyed reading it immensely.”
“This paper was as superb as I knew it would be.”
“It is a great joy to read your essays and diaries, Shirlee; you write insightfully and gracefully.”
“This if one of the best papers I’ve gotten in years. I shared it with a colleague of mine.”
“You are one of the smartest students I’ve ever taught.”
Actually, the last quote doesn’t quite fit here, but it remains one of my favorites and I slip it in at every opportunity.
All of this warm and toasty stuff would be a lovely place to leave my story, however, there is more. Layered in warmth though I have been, should the wind blow, should the softest breeze stir, my teeth begin to chatter, my lips turn blue and my hands shake so hard I can’t seem to hold a pen. This is the part I hate, despise, anticipate with anxiety, dread.
In a recent creative writing class, two short stories and a few poems are made bloody, stabbed again and again with an unrelenting red pen, and I am...