Sunday, February 11, 2007

Only one great line

Tonight I finished my part of chapter 9 of Behind the Naugahyde. It's weird because the idea for Behind the Naugahyde really came from how much Jenni and I wrote about our jobs in e-mails and on live journal. We started thinking we could write a novel.
I just told Jenni this recently, but when we started and even now, I felt this horrible pressure about writing my part. Jenni would always have an amazing way of dramatically retelling stories. There were so many times when the muscles in my face would hurt from laughing so hard. I, on the other hand, wasn't so clever at writing them. I knew Jenni's part would be fabulous and mine would not be. For what we've gotten done, that is true.
Sometimes it scares me that I feel so much pressure about writing. This isn't the first time I've felt pressure to make something good. Of course all authors want to write great things so I'm sure I'm not alone.
The first time I remember having this incredible pressure to write something was in my tenth grade American Lit class. We had to write a poem for some reason, I don't really remember. It was one of those on the spot assignments that I absolutely hate. Anyway, I wrote the first line "She's in love with herself". My teacher came by and just started raving about what a great line that was. "It's a beautiful opening line. It's so powerful. I instantly want to know more about her." That' probably not what she said word for word but it was similar to that. Of course the first line was the only line I had and then I just became run over with this pressure to write lines that were equally great. I sat there forever trying to figure out what else to say about her that would be powerful, something that wouldn't disappoint the people that wanted to know more, like my teacher. Well time was up so I scribbled down a few meaningless lines about how she thinks she's all that, I can't even remember them now. I turned it in completely heartbroken that I had only one good line and that I my never have a series of great lines that make an unforgettable work of art.
I don't know what I ever did with that piece of paper. I'm sure I threw it out because it was awful and I didn't need the constant reminder that I cracked under pressure. Also I think I'm a bit of a coward and don't want to have it sitting around. I might be tempted to try to see what I would have come up with if I wasn't under the pressure of the time restraint. Of course I would always be under pressure with that line because my teacher had put that comment out there and because I want every line of everything I write to be one of those great lines.


jenni said...

I started reading your story about the assignment and immediately felt horrified because I gave the very same assignment to my AmLit 10th graders... AND MY FRESHMAN! I thought to myself, how many countless lives have I ruined?! How many creative geniuses have I crushed and shattered? Then I read on and realized that your teacher had only given it as an in-class assignment. Oh no, no, no! See, there's the problem. Poetry is always-always-always a take-home assignment. And it's always-always-always followed up by Ms. Lamb's poetry jam, in which each and every student volunteers (and they all will volunteer eventually) to read their poem. Immediately following the reading of the poem, there is an instantaneous eruption of poetry jam snapping and/or golf clapping (a distant cousin of the poetry jam snap, but for members of the crowd who are too uncoordinated to snap repeatedly), such that teachers from down the hall tip their ears and say "Oh, it's Lamb and another one of her poetry jams." I especially like the students that, eschewing the 12-15 line requirements, write things like "I / like / all / birds / and / they / like / me. / Nature / is / good. / Yes, / truly / good." And tell me that they were inspired by e.e. cummings. How can you fail with that sort of tenacity?

Also, I just did a fun activity with my freshman called looping. You write for 5 minutes on a set topic, then reread and pick your favorite/best line (your "one great line" for that piece, I suppose), then you rewrite that line down below and use it as your prompt to write for another 5 minutes. Reread, pick the best, rewrite below, use as the new topic, repeat. Freshman can only do it for 3 rounds before complaining, but I bet as an adult writer you could fill pages. Maybe you can try this activity with that one line?

Lastly, I feel uncomfortable with the phrase "one great line" since you have so many more than one! :)

Ashley said...

Jenni, I am so glad you don't torture your students with on the spot writing assignments. The only thing worse than that is when the teacher makes you read them out loud immediately after. You have no time to edit or realize that what you wrote is completely horrible.
Looping sounds preety cool. Maybe I could try it as a mega blog entry. Hmm...