The Short of It

Dublin

A street in Dublin

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.

reviewsOver 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:

  1. Writing is tedious; having written is thrilling.
  2. Writing is challenging. It makes you appreciate your day job. (“What I wouldn’t give to be proofreading an index . . .”)
  3. Adding your byline under the title is a heady moment.
  4. The instant you have a creative breakthrough, the dog needs to go out.
  5. I can still pull an all-nighter if necessary.
  6. 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.
  7. When you’re writing, every word is a decision.
  8. It’s good to have a plan, but you have no idea what might come to you in the moment.
  9. Nathaniel Hawthorne was right: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
  10. 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.

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2 thoughts on “The Short of It

  1. juliecgardner

    I love that you did this.
    My husband (who is in surgical sales) rarely can take time off for more than a long weekend. His territory is simply too fragile, the surgeons too demanding, the outcome too important.
    In the past 15 years we have taken only two vacations that were a full week long.
    Two. I think I need to propose the whirlwind 3-day trip to Europe to him!

    (Do you want to watch my dogs for me? Ha!)

    Reply
    1. karengreenfield Post author

      Ha! It’s actually a four-night trip, because you spend the first night on a plane. I hope that doesn’t preclude your going. I definitely think you should do it! Be crazy. And fantastic.

      Reply

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