I recently signed up for a free online creative writing workshop being offered by the University of Iowa called How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women. (It started on October 11 and ends November 21, but you can still sign up and see what you can accomplish.) The University of Iowa has one of the top rated creative writing MFA programmes in North America, so when my friend Janeth tagged me on their Facebook page, I signed up so fast my fingers were smoking.
The first lesson and assignment is related to voice and identity, how to create “real characters through attention to speech patterns, movements, details, habits; on drawing on life; on cultural appropriation; on likeability.” Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Except the character whose point of view we’re supposed to write from is a female child. And I don’t know nothing bout no kids! I mean, I love babies. But I haven’t really experienced being an active part of a child’s life as s/he grew up. I do alright with teens. I guess they see me as the dorky older sister or friend. I don’t really spend too much time with kids to have any sense of what makes them tick, so I’ve spent all of the past few days picking at and discarding childhood memories trying to find something there I could write about. In the end, I decided to re-purpose a piece I had started in a workshop with Dr Erna Brodber last year about a first-day-of-school experience.
I’m still not sure it hit the nail at all, let alone squarely on the head. As I said, I really can’t relate with children, so I tend to avoid them as much as possible. Or is it that I avoid them so much that I can’t relate? I also found that I am strangely disconnected from my own childhood. Or is that strange? I’m not sure I was a child, even when I was a child. I played, went to school, all of the things kids do, but looking back, I get the sense that I was always trying to escape childhood. I was solitary, always in a book, and most of the books I liked were not children’s books, as I mentioned in my About Me section. I was raised kind of haphazardly between three households, each of which marked me in different ways, and encouraged or necessitated my inward focus, or explicit attempts to be invisible.
I do have memories of my childhood. Many memories, in fact. Some fun and funny, some painful and traumatic. I can remember feelings and details and even how I sought to mentally escape some of those moments. The trouble has been to create stories out of or around them, and pull out a child character who is clear and real. Also, it’s hard or probably even impossible to look back at our childhood memories and not colour them with our now adult point of view, so how do I guard against that?
I’m concerned about how my story will be read, whether it even makes sense to anybody but me. But maybe that’s just Insecurity talking, my bitter inner critic who never lets me get anything done because I’m too busy self-censoring and self-editing. I wonder how my character will be perceived by my peers in the workshop. Will they understand her or get where she’s coming from, even if they can’t relate? Is she too much of an anomaly for a child that age? It’s scary to put my work out to be judged, especially since the character in this case is little me, and she has already been through enough BS. It’s also interesting, these questions I just asked, because they’re versions of the same questions I used to ask myself back then, especially in new situations: Will anybody understand me? Am I too weird?
Older/current me also asks these questions, but I also know the answers: One or two people might, and that’s fine. Absolutely, but that’s ok.
As I prepare to hit ‘send’ on my first assignment, and resist every temptation to backspace it into oblivion, I know it’ll be alright and so will I, even if the only person who gets it is my OG beta reader Keresa, whom I trust, because if it sucked, she would have said, “Tracey, this isn’t working.” So, here goes! *hits Save & Submit button, hides under the bed*