Dress Rehearsal


I enjoy teaching writing, although as I freely admit to students, one does not actually “teach” another to write. You can guide them, make suggestions, demonstrate technique, but the bottom line is that one learns to be a writer, by, as someone put it, “applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

One of the things that is coming out in the Narrative Writing class I am teaching now, is that there is no ONE way to write. The textbook we have on writing short stories talks about sitting down and letting the story and the characters take you where they will. In another place, authors talk about not knowing what is going to happen before they write it. Well, that may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. Not at all.

I compare it to giving an oral presentation. When I have something important to say, I rehearse it in my mind before I ever open my mouth. I work out the logic, the flow, the impact of my statement. If I didn’t do my own dress rehearsal in my head, I would be a lot more nervous when I actually spoke. As it is, I have spoken in public many, many times. The times when I get in trouble, when I make a fool of myself, is when I haven’t really thought it out before.

That’s how writing is to me. I have to see it in my head first. When I am writing fiction, I try to see the scenes in my head–what color is the wallpaper, where are the rooms situated, where is the table, the desk, the chairs; where is he or she standing–before I put it on paper. And once again, where I get in trouble is when I can’t see it properly.

There is also the danger of seeing it too thoroughly, and then feeling an obligation to describe it exactly as one sees it. I have never felt that way. Just as my outline is detailed at the start and less detailed the further along it goes, I want to provide room for the characters and the story to grow. I do keep the story in check a bit, because inevitably there is a final destination that I have planned for the story. But I want to provide wiggle room as well.

That explains why I am struggling at present with my writing. School is starting and I have other obligations going on. That is taking up a large portion of my brain at present. But as things slowly get under control, I am having inklings of inspiration. I will probably write up a short story in the next week or so and try out a new idea I have. But first I need to let it simmer and gel into a more cohesive vision in my head. More later.

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