We Wrote In The Trenches


I remember my first fiction workshop.

We had moved from Nebraska to Iowa so I could attend the University of Iowa. I had not even been accepted; we just moved, and we did a lot of things back then motivated by blind hope and faith. The stuff we do today is tampered with more practicality, mainly because my sleep apnea is now treated and I’m not thinking out of my butt. Back then though, the University of Iowa said my GPA was too low, and I was turned down.

We had moved with the expectation of my enrolling in school; we had not planned on not getting in. So off to Kirkwood Community College to raise my GPA. I felt like that kid in the movie Rudy–you know, that kid who wanted to play football for Notre Dame so bad and he went to Holy Cross, then played on the second string team, and everything turned out just fine because he played that one single game. Yeah, I felt like that kid.

Kirkwood ran fiction workshops in UoI’s shadow. We whispered about the workshops in secret, in shame, and yet we reveled in that shame. We were proud we weren’t the hoity-toity. We wrote in the trenches, our faces in the grime. We were the real writers.

There was the paraplegic who wrote stories about superheroes–men who could fly, who were impervious to bullets. There was the untreated sleep apnea guy–oh wait, that one was me. And the stay at home mom who wrote not fiction but true life stories, except we didn’t know she was writing her memoir, and she would scream and scream and break out in tears when we critiqued her work and the paraplegic said, “What’s the hell wrong with you woman? I’d haul off and hit you if I could.” And I fell asleep most classes and the teacher cried and cried, “My class, it’s falling apart. None of you are taking this seriously.”

Except we were all too deadly serious. Our writing revealed truths we refused to admit any other way.

I wrote this piece titled “The Ring,” a story I will never ever share because the writing is so so bad, and we all have our share of bad drafts; the trick is in knowing when the writing is bad because you are so often blinded by conceit.

“The Ring” was about my ex-girlfriend because in my sleep deprived world, despite being madly in love with my wife, despite I had a daughter and my life was pretty dang perfect, pretty dang exciting–your brain obsesses within the past, within moments you can’t ever return to, moments that were impossible to begin with.

What I didn’t get about writing back then was that is how writing works, the real hard art of it, that is. The obsessing over an idea, the concern over comma placement, the creation and recreations of entire worlds.

The woman who screamed and screamed, the paraplegic who created his freedom on the page despite the trap of his body, writing is always self-indulgent, selfish, a living in two worlds.

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2 thoughts on “We Wrote In The Trenches

  1. I skipped that stage – most of my writing has been solitary, and I didn’t really get started on much fiction until I was way past that age, and then I did the classic thing of killing off someone who annoyed me in my first mystery novel.

    Writing is the way I think now.

    But I missed that stage of sharing, of having other perople’s standards applied to MY words. However frantic and crazy, it must have been fun.

    • Alicia,

      Something I tell my students every semester is that writing doesn’t have to be done alone. Hopefully, by the end of the semester, they get that. And it’s never too late–join a writer’s group (online or in real life), take a class, sign-up for an MFA (gads, i just did that last one), find friends to read and comment. Blog. 🙂

      And writing is definitely the way I think too. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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