I have always found it hard to start essays, narratives and even informal e-mails because I am too wary of the word choice, the flow and the organization of what I am writing. When I signed up for Contemporary Creative Non-fiction, I was convinced that I will learn how to write without straining myself that much but apparently I was flat wrong. Writing is more intimidating and slower than ever because now I pay attention to so many more variables: rhythm, sentence structure, blank space, repetition and what not have come into play. Now when I read and write, I both agonize and thrive. With a different eye, I look at what my peers and professionals have written, studying styles, concentrating on details, exploring new techniques, dissecting and analyzing to sift out the things that really work and eventually incorporate them into my own writing. For example, the way Jo Ann Beard plays with narrative distance in “In the Current” influenced my 100 words on “Lightning” and Moore’s “Self-Help” (yes, I checked it out) stories written in second person inspired the form of my final piece.
Of course, as a beginning writer, I could not possibly identify all the reasons why a particular piece of writing worked or did not work – this is exactly where class discussions, workshopping and blogging came in handy. Other people’s ideas helped me see things I would not have noticed on my own and provoked me to think in new ways. Criticism of my work was crucial – although I did not have a chance to go back and fix the flaws of my existing pieces, I knew what mistakes not to make in my future writings. I believe I gave back to the group as well. As a child, raised in a post-communist pseudo-democratic society, I never knew what it meant to voice my opinion and to have people who actually listen. This class gave me a stage to say what I wanted to say, and even though it was not much, I am excited that people actually felt inspired by some of my advice. In this course, I discovered the power of collective thinking and the effect that I, 1/17 of the class, have on what we all do. Becoming more confident in and outside of the classroom – this is my little (r)evolution.
As my ability to read critically and communicate my observations as a writer evolved; so did my writing skills. My first narratives were very broad and wishy-washy unable to convey the uniqueness of my subject matter (“Geo Milev” Mathematics School) but as the term progressed, my writing took a more focused and specific direction. I traded writing about too many things at once for concentrating on a moment. My pieces became more personal, descriptive and vivid, allowing the reader to live in this moment. Stranger Studies was a turning point in my writing style because it showed me the power of language. In as few words/sentences as possible, I sketched so much – appearance, motion and attitude. There I made a personal discovery – that I enjoy writing amusing illustrative short stories. This was further confirmed by the fun I had writing most of the 100-word stories, for which, along with constructive criticism I received many comments like “Hahaha”, “LOL” and “This is hilarious.”
While I am satisfied with my short narratives, I am not exceptionally happy with my braided essay, and I guess one of the reasons it did not turn out that well is the fact that I am a terribly slow writer. In addition, I was way too obsessed with figuring out how to make all of its disparate parts work together. In fact, I was so obsessed that I eventually overdid my essay – my transitions were great, very smooth and all but it was so partly because throughout the whole essay I was essentially talking about the same thing from different points in time (yes, my dear readers, I did a great job in boring you all with my little generic soap opera). Lesson learned: I can bring my essay to life and make it more dynamic by not being afraid to distance the individual topics of my braids.
I was just beginning to get the knack of writing, when we had to make things more complicated by complementing this ancient art with the contemporary image and sound. Again a lot of fun and struggle, especially because I had not used them before to aid me narrate. I spent a good amount of time toying around with the extremely simple-at-first-glance image-and-sentence-matching exercise because I wanted to make sure I could escape from the cliché and the obvious. The “dancing” class was fun too and made me ask myself how people would react if they hear the same melodies accompanied by lyrics. Maybe they would move differently influenced by the meaning of the words? (I for one would not change my reactions because I still have a hard time comprehending songs). All the knowledge I piled in about a week culminated in my unconventional multimedia piece, which people would either love or hate. I took chances with it by having too many black screens in the first part to correspond to my self-conscious state and by misleading the viewer at the end of the first part that my piece is over, leaving the character two-dimensional. The piece is by no means great but I tried stepping outside of my comfort zone and I am happy I did. Another concern about my multimedia is that at the end my images become way too literal, but given my narration, I could not come up with anything else. Maybe the narration needs to be fixed? Hmm, something to think about.
While I am still on the topic of experimenting and feeling uncertain as to how what I create is going to be received, I feel it is time for me to give an explanation (justification?) for my final project. As I already mentioned, I enjoyed Moore’s “How to become a writer” so much that I read with pleasure almost the entire “Self-Help” collection and under its influence I felt like writing about nothing else but “you”. I also knew I wanted to write about something funny because I seem to have a bit of talent to make people laugh. I remembered my coming to the States about a year and a half ago and all of the confusing yet comic situations I had because of cultural differences. Feeling that if I write about myself and my adventures in the USA, I probably would not tell much to my American readers and probably would not amuse them, I decided to reverse the roles: to have an American in Bulgaria. Now, some might accuse me that what I have written is fiction but I will remind them that my piece articulates what will happen to any American if they go to my country; it is exactly the opposite of what happened to me. No matter how I had written it, the main idea would have still been the same: that when you go to some place new, you have to be ready not to understand and to make a fool of yourself. However, in its present version, my final project is much more interesting, informative and amusing for the American reader.
In sum, I find most of my works far from perfect but I also realize that there is a lot of thought and potential in them. With each passing day, I can definitely see improvement in my creativity and my ability to articulate myself but there is still a lot to look forward to. I know that to many it might seem that I have not written much outside of what was required for the course but this does not mean I did not throw myself entirely into the craft of writing during this J-term. In fact, I give myself thumbs up for my effort because I spent a lot of time trying. While I suffered over every word of a single of my 100-word pieces, my peers probably wrote four of them, much more beautiful and intricate than mine. This does not make me feel bad at all for I am interested in the process and the lessons I learn from it. I will give myself a B+ for the great effort and not so great work. It is not so good, I know, but I will keep on fighting.
Thank you for this unconventional, mind-stretching J-term. I loved every bit of it!