Last month, my husband and I flew 5,200 miles to Dublin and spent three nights there. Then we came home. We didn’t tool around the continent, the British Isles, or even nearby towns. A 72-hour trip to Europe sounds crazier as I write about it here than it seemed at the time, although a woman at the hotel bar pronounced us “fantastic” for making such a whirlwind visit to her country. We were in Ireland’s capital long enough to have afternoon tea, take a selfie by the River Liffey, walk the city, catch a cold, and test the medicinal properties of Guinness.
When we returned, I felt a surge in creativity—to a degree I hadn’t experienced in years. Traveling to a far-flung destination had interrupted my routine, and my routine ways of thinking. I hoped to capitalize on this sense of inspiration by enrolling in an online short-story-writing course I had wanted to take for several months. It started on a Thursday, which was the same day I considered getting my money back. After reading the lecture materials, I discovered that the first assignment—the beginning of a short story—was due in just three days! I didn’t even have a topic.
Over the next four weeks, I met my deadlines and produced a 3,200-word first draft. Waiting for my instructor’s feedback was almost as agonizing as reading it. (I discovered that I would much rather be the person with the red pen.) According to my custom, I focused on the negative aspects of the critique and disregarded the positive. As I proceed to fix the issues with the piece (namely, its lack of an ending that works “in dramatic terms”), I will try to remember and be encouraged by my instructor’s favorable comments.
In the process of penning my first short story since I was a teenager, I made a number of observations:
- Writing is tedious; having written is thrilling.
- Writing is challenging. It makes you appreciate your day job. (“What I wouldn’t give to be proofreading an index . . .”)
- Adding your byline under the title is a heady moment.
- The instant you have a creative breakthrough, the dog needs to go out.
- I can still pull an all-nighter if necessary.
- I understand why writers go on retreats, because writing comes (at best) sixth or seventh, after work, chores, errands, exercise, spiritual practice, meeting the needs of others, etc.
- When you’re writing, every word is a decision.
- It’s good to have a plan, but you have no idea what might come to you in the moment.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne was right: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
- I don’t know why I waited so long.
The question is, will I continue to write creatively outside the construct of a class, without the threat of humiliation for failing to turn in an assignment? I think I have a shot, because I am so good at humiliating myself.