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Sunday, April 03, 2005



Snapshots of my history as a writer:

--When I was in fifth grade my friend Alyssa used to come over every weekend and sit with me on the brown couch in the den and write stories about girls who had crushes on boys. Alyssa had a pin that said, "It's better to look good than to feel good." Now she writes for a fashion magazine.

--When I was in eleventh grade I took a creative writing class as my elective. The first ten minutes of every class was dedicated to writing in our journals, and my teacher, Mrs. Wilchek, said, "this ten minutes is my gift to you, ten minutes just for you." I fell in love with imagist poetry and with Howl by Allen Ginsberg. I was part of the International Baccalaureate program, which required a final paper, almost like a thesis, to be turned in during our senior year. I started a paper about the connections between imagist poet William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman, but decided to turn it into a poem. I got a score of 0 on a scale of 0-2.

--The summer after eleventh grade I got into a creative writing program at Brown University, which was my top choice for college at the time. In addition to completing a bunch of little writing assignments, I spent most of my time there focused on developing one story. On my last weekend there, in a burst of inspiration, I decided to weave my shorter assignments together into a piece that was held together by the narration of a radio DJ. I handed this in instead of my story. When I got home I got a letter in the mail informing me I wouldn't receive credit for the classes I'd taken because I'd been disrespectful, and hadn't handed in the story that my professors had helped me with; plus, I had apparently dominated classroom discussion and been adversarial. I didn't own any black clothing - my mom insisted that black washed me out - but I dressed as darkly as possible the next day at school. I didn't apply to Brown.

--In college I wrote a story about a girl who was the opposite of me. It was published in the literary magazine.

--Later in college I left school for a semester and wrote a story about a girl who left school for a semester. I named the main character Angela - a clever disguise. When I read the story now it takes me back to those feelings, to that moment in time.

--In my senior year, in a class about Chaucer and the English Mystery Plays, I got permission to write modern interpretations of the English Mystery Plays instead of handing in traditional essays.

--At my first job out of college, I wrote poetry mocking corporate speak - "let's double click on that idea."

--In my mid-20s I took a personal essay class at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The assignments got me writing like I hadn't written in years, ideas and images just flowing out of me. Excited, I signed up for advanced personal essay writing the next semester. It was the worst writing workshop I'd ever taken. The teacher and other students were on auto-pilot, comparing every piece submited to an unwritten checklist: show don't tell, check; use dialogue to tell the story whenever possible, check. That was their level of engagement. I produced some of the worst things I've ever written in that class. When they trashed something I wrote about two young Afghan women I'd recently met, I went to the bathroom and sobbed hysterically, even though I knew it was terrible. Driving home from our last meeting I pulled over and threw away my folder with everything I'd written in the class, taking great pleasure in the melodrama of the gesture.

--I enrolled in a screenwriting class. I loved the structure of the approach - so much effort to map your story out upfront, so that by the time you started writing, you could just play. I'm about halfway through the first draft of my first screenplay, and it's the most enjoyable writing project I've ever undertaken.

--Last May I started writing every day.

--Lately I've started daydreaming about freelancing.

To be continued.

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