Actually, in my college days, the words flowed waaaaay more than the wine — to which anyone who knew me in college can attest.
Lately, I found myself wondering: was I really any good as a young writer? In my current state of momnesia, I can only just remember the days when I could sit down and pound out eight or ten pages in an afternoon. Is my mind playing tricks on me or was there really a day when it all came so easy, writer’s block was a myth and I was so gosh darn productive?
And then memory lane fell into my lap while I was trying to clean out the sewing room.
I found a box of old writings and laughed myself stiff leafing through them. Not that the writings themselves were very funny. In fact, some of them were terrible. Embarrassingly awful. Too crummy to even throw away. I have to preserve them so I don’t forget The Author as A Young Woman. What’s strange is that the writing tells me more about who I was at the time — what I was reading, who was inspiring me (whose style I was copying, let’s just be honest), how I felt about love, life, ambition, etc. — than anything about the characters I was trying to create. It was an archaeological exploration of my old self through a literary lens and, if it doesn’t sound too narcissistic, it was fascinating.
I won’t be including embarrassing excerpts or the few ideas that I might actually dust off and rework, but some of my premises included:
- Christians sold into slavery in Ancient Rome (ala Lois Henderson)
- a marriage of convenience and infidelity in turn-of-the-century England (E.M. Forster, sans the irony and social commentary)
- an independent-minded young woman avoiding marriage in turn-of-the-century England (Forster again)
- several iterations of teenage girls, usually poor and downtrodden but determined, growing up in the small town South in the 1950s, 60s or 70s (not sure where these came from but there are a lot of ’em)
- at least two Gothic ghost story/thrillers set in rural Great Britain (certain to be lifted from the Bronte sisters)
- an FBI agent trying to track down a female assassin for the Mob (don’t know where it came from but it’s terrible — completely cringe-worthy)
- a dystopic sci-fi thriller about a series of murders in a Virtual Reality theme park (I think I had just seen that terrible movie, Virtuosity)
- a kidnapping set against the backdrop of an international incident with a few rogue Navy SEALs thrown in (Can you say Tom Clancy?)
- something that sounds a lot like a Red Dawn rehash, but it’s only a page-and-a-half, so I can’t be sure
- a murder-mystery detective story (which I actually finished!) set in New Orleans (which I had never actually visited at the time I wrote the story)
- a tragic and ickily melodramatic romance in post-World War II England about a sad-sack veteran who meets an equally sad-sack concentration camp survivor who is (for no evident reason other than because she’s a concentration camp survivor) dying a slow and poignant death, but slowly and poignantly enough that our ex-soldier can fall in love with her at first sight, bring her flowers and make lilting and meaningless remarks about war and life and love and … ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Lots of “letters home,” lots of hokey and obvious symbolism (gag), and a quote — no lie, a freakin’ literary quote — at the beginning of each chapter. If bad writing were a crime, this one story would serve as a damning rap sheet all by itself.
And in all of that, I still found several salvageable pieces of decent writing (or at least decent plotting) that I might try again sometime. I also found some respectable poetry, even some that wasn’t free verse. (Although I’m surprised by how dark some of my poetry was — not to mention the flat out lies, including a complete fraud about life being like a cigarette, as if I’ve ever smoked anything in my entire life. Write what you know? Feh. Only the pikers do that.) I haven’t tried my hand at poetry in ages and might have to give it another whirl.
So after all that introspection, wondering if I’m now less good than I used to be, I have to conclude … maybe. I’m fairly certain neurological atrophy has taken its toll on my facility with the language. I’m not so deft as I once was, nor so fast. (I used to have a really cute body, too.) But — hooray — for all that I’m older and slower and occasionally dumber, I am much wiser. I have a better grasp of the human condition. I really know about love now, I don’t just infer what ought to be true. I get the purpose of character. I understand more about the Craft of Writing, too.
The words are fewer, yes, but that may be a good thing. Fewer words lend more power to those that remain. Less wine flows nowadays but, I can only hope, it is more potent, richer stuff than what I cranked out a decade ago. Only time will tell.
But at least I don’t put quotes at the beginning of chapters anymore. Progress.