Finished. Done. Finito. Acabado. Terminé. Fertig. Ti pari. Päättynyt. (That last one is apparently ‘finished’ in Finnish, according to Google Translate. I’m hilarious. Hahaha!) My writing course, the University of Iowa’s How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women, ended on Tuesday at 12:59AM, and I made it out alive! After three weeks of zero ideas and sucky drafts that had to be sent to the electronic version of ‘file 13,’ I was concerned that I’d end up punking out of the five-week course after only submitting three assignments. But I powered through the last 36 hours and wrote not one, but two stories—a total of 4,457 words. I wrote five stories over the course of five weeks, y’all! That’s 12,540 words—the most I’ve written since I was in third form and attempting to write the next best thing in teen romance, Sweet Valley High style. I #didthat! And then I slept practically all day Tuesday.
This workshop has been the most taxing thing I’ve done since I graduated from UWI in 2008, I swear. It has pushed me and stretched me and dragged out the creative writer that had been lying dormant inside of me. For one thing, it showed me that I can write strong child characters. I find it so interesting that my inner child/child character, the one I could barely access in week one, turned out to be the strongest person I have ever written, and she was at the heart of four of my stories. I say ‘person’ instead of ‘character’ because Angeline, even though she is essentially a remembered version of my childhood self, took on such a life of her own. Overall, I learned so many lessons from the videos we had to watch, the assigned readings, and my virtual classmates, and I now have a stronger sense of what my strengths are, and what areas I need to work on.
Firstly, it was reinforced that my biggest strength is creating strong characters, especially my “ability to capture and communicate emotions,” as my trusted beta reader Keresa said. It’s also something several of the commentors in the course brought up. One person even went so far as to say that my child character reminded her of the protagonist in Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light, and the members of the supporting cast in my week three submission made her recall two characters in Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. I got kinda flummoxed, to be honest. I am NOWHERE NEAR their level yet, so it’s beyond amazing that ANYTHING I’ve written could make someone recall something they wrote. I was flattered, flabbergasted, and felt faint. I now need to get my hands on those books, especially Claire.
Another positive that many commentors on each story pointed out is that my dialogue came across as true to life and “authentic.” This came as a surprise to me because dialogue is something I usually struggled with. I would put only the bare minimum of talking in my work, relying on observations, emotional landscapes and the narrator’s voice to carry the story. It’s also quite interesting in this case, because my dialogue was in Patwa (my spelling. I like it this way). Now, I wrote the English words as much as possible, so that the majority of people could at least recognise them, because there were people from all over the world in the workshop. I’m still trying to figure out how to really use Patwa in my writing. I might just press gas on it in the next course I sign up to do.
On the other hand, the biggest weakness I recognised, although nobody made comments, was with regards to my creation of settings, the worlds in which my stories take place. That’s nothing new, as my settings—or worlds, as one presenter in the course prefers—have always been kind of on the thin side, even in my epic teen romance writing days. The fourth assignment specifically called for “immersion,” describing and honing in on the setting and how the characters relate to it, and how it shapes them. I think I got a pretty decent grip on both of these aspects, but I’m sure I didn’t nail the part about comparing the setting before and after a life-altering moment. That’s something to work on next go ’round, I guess. I might need to stop trying to tune out the sights and sounds of my environment and start paying closer attention, because details matter.
The biggest takeaway for me, though, is the assurance that the book idea I have spent years walking around and poking with a 10-foot stick is 100 per cent feasible. I absolutely have it in me to write that book, and this course has given me a number of ways I can now approach it. Procrastinator Tracey hasn’t written a single word not related to work since hitting that last ‘save and submit’ button early Tuesday morning, but it’s all good. I have a few excerpts and books I need to read to solidify which point of view to use, and then I’ll be on my way.
The University of Iowa offers a number of writing MOOCs (massive open online courses) every year, so I’m definitely looking forward to what’s in store for 2017. I might hunt down a few other writing courses as well, so that I can properly work on my instrument and be a shoo-in for grad school when I apply again. There’s an MFA somewhere out there with my name on it, and beyond that, a spot on international best-seller lists. And even further, a Nobel Prize in Literature. Just watch!