Last year, I enrolled in a creative writing class at Madison College. It was 16 hours of emotional torture, and I’m really happy I did it.
My intention, or hope, was to unlock something in my brain, a jumpstart give my non-fiction copywriting more spark. On the first evening, my classmates—all women, a variety of ages—took turns introducing themselves. They all arrived with a distinct backstory and purpose for being there. Some had big ideas they wanted to publish and just needed a little focus. Others were there to enjoy the exercise of writing itself.
By Week Two, I felt a deep panic start to ripen in my gut and glide through my veins and sweat glands. Our instructor gave us one exercise on main character development and another posing “6 Big Questions To Create Your Story” and the realization slammed into me like a semi: the rest of the class had fantastic plots and interesting characters percolating, already looking forward to the final assignment of sharing one page of their story with the class. I was starting from scratch, armed with experience in deftly rearranging words to fit someone else’s brand guide or a 30-second voiceover, but without any stories of my own to tell.
For the next few weeks, I played along. I furtively scribbled worksheet answers, changing my story every time: from a political campaign manager with a #MeToo secret, to a horror/thriller, to an elderly woman blackmailing her neighbor into committing a jewelry heist. As my clever classmates shared incredibly creative dialogue and beautifully drawn tableaus, my voice dropped by decibels and I crouched further down in my seat.
Finally, by Week Five, I landed on a story, something that had made a few brief laps around my mind over the years and then scattered away to some private waiting room until I was ready for it.
That release from stress and worry also made the class more fun. The instructor assigned a worksheet to match a series of quotes with a series of characters. Instead of making obvious pairings, I just thought of what would make my husband and me laugh (matching the quote “Your future depends on the decisions you make today” to the Pot Smoker instead of the High School Principal or giving 7-Year-Old Colin the quote “I just got my first break-up text today”).
On Week Eight, each writer read their pages aloud to the class. I was blown away by how much care and thought everyone put into their piece, how original their plots and settings and characters were, and how they infused their distinct personality and, in some cases, very personal life stories, into their words and their new worlds. (Bravo, my fellow writers! Bravo!)
The class wrapped on Dec. 13, 2018, and it’s taken me an entire year to feel brave enough to share my one little page. Please enjoy.