Inspirationally Challenged


During my ever-s0-brief stint in college, I had problems with, of all things, English.

That’s a little embarrassing to admit now, but it’s true. I struggled with English. Not so much the class itself, but the assignments. They didn’t seem to be much related to English as a language, and they certainly didn’t do much to enrich my command of it either. There were a series of papers, given by a young woman with thick glasses who was, as far as I could tell, trying to assert her position in the class over the students. In retrospect, this was likely because she wasn’t very much older than we were, was a bit mousy and mealy-mouthed, and not very intimidating or commanding as a classroom presence.

At any rate, she issued stupid assignments, didn’t provide any instruction, never taught from a textbook (and if there was one I can’t even recall it anymore), and took every opportunity to make sure we were reminded she was in charge. She took a particular shine to me. I was going through some personal things at the time, and wasn’t the best student in the class. She wanted to make sure I understood there would be no leniency with her. She got the message across, loud and clear.

At any rate, one of those particular assignments which I didn’t understand (and still don’t twenty-odd years later) was for us to write a paper about how to do something. It could be anything, she told us, but had to be the instructions on how to do something. The style we took — instructional, procedural, technical — was up to us. It had to be so many words, typed with thus-and-such line spacing, page numbers here, name and title there, yadda yadda, blah blah blah. We had something like a week or two to do it, so it shouldn’t have presented any problems.

Except I wasn’t a very good student, and I’m really bad about being told what I have to write about. When you give me confining parameters, I go blank. This was no exception. I couldn’t think of a single topic about which I knew enough to write a “how-to” manual. I also don’t like being told how many words it has to be. Margins, line spacing, all the formatting? Fine. I can live with that, although I must confess, as an artist, aesthetics are likely more important to me than most. But I can handle those aspects of the assignment. The topical assignment? Well, that sucks, because what you think is interesting and what I want to write about may not be in alignment.

So, I stewed about it. Since I was young and fairly inexperienced with anything but schoolwork, I considered asking someone else. But, that would be even more restrictive. I’d be relaying information from a third party, information I probably wasn’t familiar with. And I wasn’t very good at “putting things in my own words” (that was a real buzz phrase when I was in school). So asking for input was essentially out.

Finally, a couple of nights before the assignment was due, I decided to write the paper on how to write a paper. I ground away at it over the next couple of nights, along with my other assignments, and I turned it in on time … one of the rare occasions when I did so.

When we got our papers back a few days later with grades, there were a few the instructor held aside. She told us before she gave them back, she wanted to read some of them aloud and anonymously to show how the different approaches to the blah blah blah were yadda yadda, and how blah and yadda were blah yadda’d. Okay, whatever.

She grabs the first one off the stack and sets her unattractive backside on her beat up old schoolmarm desk, looks at us all and says, “I don’t like when people write how-to papers about how to write how-to papers. I think it’s a cop-out and shows a real lack of creativity, and generally I give it an ‘F’ without even reading it.”

There I sat, filling my Fruit-of-the-Looms with rice pudding, hearing I’d just been given an “F” outright, without consideration, for doing something I thought was incredibly original and creative, because it showed a lack of originality and creativity. And she’d never bothered to tell us the topic was off-limits, either. She never gave us the rules. (Bitch.)

She continued, “… but this one’s really well done, and I thought I’d read it for all of you to show you how the style was addressed.” She then read my paper to an appreciative audience who all giggled at the appropriate times, and gave only positive feedback. No one said anything negative, and no one knew it was mine. Unless the beet-red color of my face and sheets of nervous sweat running down my face were a giveaway.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I got an “A-“, marked down from an “A” because I didn’t do an original topic. I stopped and considered asking her what how-to article I could have written that hasn’t, somewhere, already been written to make it original, but refrained. What could an 18-year-old college student write about that hasn’t been written about before? The stupidity of her statement gave me clear insight, even then, to the mentality of the person I was dealing with. So, I took my low “A” and left in peace.

As an aside, I ended up failing the class for not turning in an assignment by the deadline for the umpteenth time, but that’s neither here nor there.

The point, if you can use that word here, of this post is, right now, I’m feeling very much the same lack of inspiration I felt when I faced that mousy, hard-assed instructor with thick glasses and a chip on her shoulder all those years ago.

I’m starting a second novel. I’m using characters I’m familiar with, because I just finished a novel with them in it. I have a general idea for the story, and I thought I had a plot, too, but danged if I do. When I looked at it after the initial excitement wore off … well, I wasn’t real fond of the plot after all. So now I’m three installments into a serial novel which doesn’t have much to support it.

This probably isn’t a problem for good writers. Weak writers, inferior writers, however, are easily flustered and put off from their initial stories. We flee instead of seeing what can be done with what we have — trying to make it better or revising as necessary. And weak, inferior writers use the snag as an excuse to stop writing. Good writers, on the other hand, probably don’t start writing until they have the general plot worked out in their heads (at least) and are excited and happy with the direction it’s going.

I am not one of those writers.

So, I know a few of you have come here hoping for the next installment. And I really wanted to give it to you — really, I did. I just … can’t right now. I don’t have it, because I haven’t written it, because I don’t like the plot my wife and I dreamed up as much as I thought I did.

Fortunately for me, it’s Christmas Eve, and no one’s likely to be around to notice, but when you get back, you’ll find my justification. Just like that English teacher, so long ago, you’ll have to decide if this lack of creativity should be dismissed before it’s even read, given the worst of all possible assessments and discarded. For what it’s worth, I’m telling you the God’s-honest truth, and I’m humbly sorry for it. If I manage to rescue the story, I’ll come back and continue it. If I don’t, I’ll probably remove the old installments and go forward with some new ones … after I have a plot worked out and like it.

Or maybe I’ll just write posts telling you how to write posts for a blog. Would that be worth reading?

God bless and Merry Christmas, everyone.

-JDT-

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11 thoughts on “Inspirationally Challenged

  1. Hi, Undercanopy, and thanks for coming by to visit! I hope you stick around, read some stuff, and tell my former English teacher to shove her thick glasses straight up her not-very-pleasant backside. 😉

    Thanks for the support, and Merry Christmas!

  2. Don’t belittle yourself because you’ve lost interest in a particular project. I can name a half dozen manuscripts that I started which I felt very strongly about, but the feeling subsided after five, ten, twenty thousand words. I hold onto them in case I ever get that sudden spark of inspiration again. But the thing to remember is this: there is always another story to tell.

    And that is why we write.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    Ian

  3. Knyt, I disagree SO MUCH with your statement about good/bad writers. All writers have false starts, moments (or days or weeks) of self-doubt, times when they must reevaluate their stories.

    You’ll be fine, my sweet, you will get through this. I have faith in you.

  4. @IanTHealy – Hi, Ian, and Merry Christmas to you and your family! Always nice to see you again!

    Thanks too for the supportive comments. I don’t think I’ve lost interest in the project yet, but I don’t like the plot of the story. The idea itself is okay, but not the plot. I think. If there’s a difference. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about how it could be made better, but nothing has jumped out, grabbed me by the lapels and started screaming in my face.

    With supportive friends, around, maybe something will soon though! Thanks again, and God bless.

    @Sherri: Hi, Sherri, good to see you again! And Merry Christmas to you and your family, too!

    Thanks for having faith in my ability, but … well, we’ll see how things unfold. LOML has faith in me too, but faith has let us both down before (Lord knows!), and there’s always that creeping doubt.

    In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. I’ll write again, sometime, whenever genuine inspiration hits. I understand lags, but I just never really got this one off the ground. I don’t think it’s a statement about my ability as much as about my seat-of-the-pants writing style that gets me into trouble. I’ll go back to the drawing board and see what comes out of it.

    My assessment of good/weak writers isn’t entirely my own, either, but I understand if you disagree with me. Most folks disagree with me at some point along the way, so feel free to take a number and get in line. I don’t bite, and I don’t take it personally. And, yes — all writers have moments when they stumble over something, I’m sure. I think my good/weak assessment comes from how they deal with those things.

    I don’t know if you consider yourself a weak writer or a good one, but until recently, I’ve always thought I was a strong writer. Then I started exposing myself to people who actually are strong writers and the difference in working styles, experience, prose … everything — it all came clear. I have to figure out whether that means I shouldn’t be pursuing this or whether that’s going to tick me off enough to make me work harder. (So far, it’s the latter.)

    Anyway, thanks for encouraging me and have a very Merry Christmas! God bless you all!

  5. Hey there! I wanted to check out your blog and realized I need to come back when I have a little more time! I really enjoy fiction and I’m looking forward to reading some of your work. I hope you and your wife have a great Christmas! Blessings!

    p.s. I had an English professor who got more distracted than the students did during class. Sometimes while teaching she would completely zone out and start talking about the squirrel playing in the tree outside. At least yours attempted to teach you a little something!

  6. Hi, WhatanAmateur, and thank you so much for coming by! I really appreciate it, and welcome!

    I’d be honored if you decided to read my fiction. I always love hearing from my readers. However, because I know you’re a believer (as are my wife and I), I need to warn you in advance about mature language. Heh.

    Other than that, please feel free to indulge! I have my completed manuscript, Ghost Hunters, on it’s own page so you can find it in a single place. I also have a Wiki site that has a lot of my fiction on it, too. If you want that URL, let me know and I’ll provide it to you.

    God bless, and Merry Christmas, and thanks again for stopping by!

    p.s. – I still don’t know what the teacher was trying to “teach” us, but your English prof sounds like the Chem prof I had. He was a tough one to learn from because he had the attention span of a housefly.

  7. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! I hope ya’ll have a wonderful Christmas and even tho this isn’t Thanksgiving I’m thankful I found you and your lovely wife. And Dillon. :op

    Raga

    PS. I hated every single aspect of school and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. That teacher sounds like every teacher I ever had except Mrs. Hunt in Kindergarten.

  8. Hi, Raga, and MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and your wonderful little family!

    Thanks for being here, being so faithful, being so supportive and patient. We’re more than grateful to you.

    I always wondered how people like that even got jobs as teachers. Seems like they’d know how bad they are and not do it.

  9. I think I’m actually back into a routine now and can get back to routinely stalking the blogs of my friends. I just saw your comment and look forward to reading some of your work. Yes, I’m a believer and I appreciate your concern. Don’t worry, though, I don’t live in a bubble and won’t take offense.

    I’ll start with what you have here and then move on to Wiki.

  10. Amateur – Hey, welcome back! Hope your holidays were wonderful and prosperous, richly blessed and filled with laughter ’til your cheeks ached!

    I appreciate you coming by and reading. It’s an honor, and you’re always welcome to comment and critique. Thank you again!

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