A few weeks ago, I began following the blog of a new friend, Neekswrite, who gave herself a challenge to write very short stories or poems, with the prompting of three randomly-chosen words by bloggers. She’s done so, admirably, for the summer.
The idea was taken from a scene in the Meryl Streep/Robert Redford film Out of Africa, where Streep’s character played a similar parlor game much like the task Neeks has set for herself, spinning a tale using the three words chosen by her guests.
Since I came across Neeks’s blog, I was stunned by the simplicity of the exercise. Using the words “Magnolia, Contemporary, Glistening” she created a story about the captain of a paddleboat, at the turn of the 20th century. With “Elephant, Book, Chocolate” she wrote a fun poem that reminds me of nothing so much as the Star Trek Cmdr Data’s “Ode to Spot“. I quote Neeks’s work here:
Oh thou elegant elephant!
With appendage long and nimble.
Thy stupendous auditory organs
pale in comparison only to thine buttocks.
I like Neeks’s work. I’d love for you to read her stuff and subscribe to her fun blog. I certainly did. But that’s not the entire purpose of my post today. Neeks has prompted me to ask myself, for the first time in 9 months, “What the world am I doing” with my writing? On Dec 31 last year, I promised myself I’d start writing. It was a New Years’ Resolution of sorts. My personal goals were (1) to get into the habit of writing again. I hadn’t done this for months. The year has 365 days. I wanted 240 blogs by the end of the next year. I’ve written 170 blogs so far. (2) I needed to get used to being honest about myself, and my situation. I’d write whatever I felt, and leave no topics “untouchable.” If I wanted to swear a bit, I’d cuss a blue streak. If I wanted to write about religion, or my family, or gay bashing, I’d do that as well. If I wanted to admit that I’d been sexually abused as a child, I’d go ahead and blog about it. In short, my goals were to write often, and to show some cojones while doing so.
I think I’ve largely accomplished the goals I’ve set for myself. For a few weeks I’ve been feeling that my posts were increasingly “me” centered, and I’m sick of talking about that particular subject. Writing my posts has been not too difficult. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m not really challenging myself anymore. I’ve grown used to writing as a part of my daily regime. I generate about 1,000 words in 45 minutes, and the op-ed essay format comes quite easily for me. I seldom have to revise, except for the occasional typo or point of clarification.
So, what’s this have to do with Neeks and her blog? It’s time for me to stretch myself a bit. I haven’t written fiction in five years. My father has been urging me to do so. I have several friends who would say they’d be happy to read any book I wrote. I’ve sternly insisted that, while I’d love to, I’m good at the thousand-word essay and don’t really want to leave that format. In short, Neeks has reminded me that I’ve been a coward.
Writing fiction has always been more difficult for me. It’s simultaneously more challenging, and infinitely more gratifying. A few months ago (there was snow on the ground at the time, so I guess it would have been January or February) I bought $100 worth of books with titles like Writing a Novel For Dummies. I read them with fascination and shelved them. I remember thinking at the time, just before tossing the whole idea into a dusty corner of my mind, “I can do this!” I have the skills. I have the talent. So why am I not doing it? The short answer is I was scared.
Funny. My “Our Gay Neighbors” post has been read 625 times, and has received 40 comments. It’s been my most controversial, and most popular piece of writing. I endured a couple weeks of controversy, arguing, and even hatemail due to my views. But I was scared to write fiction?! I haven’t got any original ideas, I kept telling myself. What if people laugh at me? Odd. I think I realized a couple weeks after “Our Gay Neighbors” was published, that I could stomach people disliking my writing. I continued to write anyway. Continued to espouse my views. But I was locked into the illusion that I couldn’t write fiction. Too many obstacles. Too hard. It’s not writer’s block I was suffering. It was more like writer’s constipation.
So, Neeks, I was wrong. You opened my eyes to the silliness of my claims. I’m going to start writing fiction again, and soon. I may even steal a few of your three-random-words, and try my hand at that exercise, just to wet my feet. I’ll keep this blog going, of course, with daily posts. But it can’t be all my writing. I was meant to write something else. I know it. We’ll all have to wait, I guess, to see what’s in store.