‘Good’ Writing

Today in Writing 3 we were asked to turn in a reflection of what we believed was ‘good’ writing. Our professor gave us complete freedom and told us to choose any format we liked. I went for the creative-fiction-prose approach and wrote up a scene of a mother who discovers the body of her son. Pretty dark, I know, but I wanted to test the emotional impact of the writing.

To do this, I drew up two samples. One was the scene written in a way that I felt was ‘weaker’, and one was written in a way that I felt was ‘stronger’, i.e. the way I would ideally write it. Here are the two samples:

Sample One: 

I entered the house and took note of the silence. But then again it was always this way. My son, who was always home when I arrived from work, was not one to make noise. Usually, I would walk by his room to check on him. He would greet me with a weak smile, and I would look at him and think about how much brighter his smile used to be before he was diagnosed with depression.

“Hi mama,” he’d say.

“Hi habibi,” I’d reply.

Today was no exception. I walked up to his room to check on him, but things were different. My son was not in his bed. I took in the sight of him hanging. He had taken his own life.

Sample Two

Let me tell you about the moment my son became a statistic. I walked into the house, and all was quiet. But that wasn’t odd, really. Rami made as much noise as someone who spent all day swaddled in bed scrolling through Instagram could make. Every day when I’d come back from work, I’d pop my head into his room to check up on him. He’d look up, pull out an ear bud, and try to smile in a way that was meant to fool me into thinking he was doing better. Just once I wish I could’ve fallen for it.

“Hi mama.”

“Hi habibi.”

Today, I went to check on him as always. I walked across the hall, pushed open his door, and there he was. But he wasn’t on his phone. In fact, his phone was on the side table, and his ear buds – much like Rami at that moment – dangled off the edge, hanging silently in midair.

Okay, which one hit you harder? My intention was that the second one would have the stronger impact, and I thought without a doubt that my classmates and professor would agree. But they didn’t.

I explained my reasoning for why I originally believed the second one was stronger; I gave the characters more of a personality, tried to show readers what kind of relationship the mother and son had… The grief, I believed, was in the details. But, according the class, the details served more as a distraction.

My professor said that because the first sample was so stark and mechanical, it reflected the chilling nature of the truth this woman was about to uncover in her son’s room. It reflected the general ‘wrongness’ of the atmosphere, and ultimately the simple, blunt language pierced the heart more acutely than sample two.

It’s never easy to take criticism, but having heard their thoughts, I do sort of agree with them. There are strengths in the first one that the second one could have benefited from. Perhaps it would be better to write more in the style of sample one. Or, maybe I should try to merge the two styles and apply the strengths from both?

I’m not sure yet. I’ll definitely need to think about it more.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to place your work under other people’s microscopes. Feedback does help you grow, as a writer and as a person.  Learning to let go of your ego and listen to what others have to say is actually really humbling once you surrender to it. So bring your work to class, show it to people, and take what they have to say into serious consideration. It’s worth the risk, and you’ll probably end up discovering weaknesses in your writing that you never noticed before. (Also, nothing equates to seeing people get emotional over something you wrote, so if it does goes well, it’ll be really nice and you can feed off the validation for a while…just saying).

If you like, let me know which sample impacted you more and why. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

See you soon.

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Car Crash

I accept that everything happens for a reason. I only wish I knew what those reasons were. It’s the speculation that wears at me more than anything. When you’re as anxious as I am, it doesn’t take much to send you down a rabbit hole of your own thoughts. The slightest push and your foot slips, dirt crumbling beneath your heel. You fall and fall and your fears whisk by. You watch them go up and away as you go down and further down, until all at once you hit the bottom, the impact like a car crash.

But at the bottom there are no answers either. It’s silent. And dark. The only voice that comes to you is the echo of your own voice, bouncing off the walls. “God, let this be within your blessing,” your voice says. “God, let me have this thing, and let it be good.”

You look up at the hole from which you’ve fallen. You can see the sky, blue, and the grass at the edges of the hole, a green and marvelous crown, swaying in the sun. You wish you hadn’t been so foolish. You wish you had made better choices. But you know, in all honesty, that your decisions had felt good in the moment. They must have…

Still, there is nothing for it. You’re still down here, and the world up there. You make yourself small at the bottom of the hole, ashamed, and wait for the more clever version of yourself to wake up and pull you out.

Resolutions

There’s about five or six of us enrolled in Modern English Literature. It’s such an intimate class, we don’t even take it in a lecture hall. Instead, it’s held in our professor’s office, where we scatter ourselves among her couches and prop notebooks up on our laps. Modernist literature is known for focusing on the internal mind, on the consciousness of its characters, and so maybe that’s why it feels so much like a group therapy session whenever we come together. It’s as much a study of ourselves as it is of literature, and we’ve learned a lot about each other.

So, it was no surprise when, the other day, our professor interrupted class to ask us each what our resolutions were for the upcoming year. We sat in silence for a moment, thinking, not sure what was too personal to share. And then a friend of mine spoke up.

Her resolution, she said, was to give up overthinking.

Oh, I thought, that’s a good one. And I could see a similar realization wash over the other students, as well. Perhaps it’s just uni culture, but we really are just a group of anxiety-ridden young adults. Our collective fear is something we bond over – joke about even – but we all know it isn’t always so easy to laugh about.

Our professor, who has the perceptiveness of a loving mother, took note of the faces in the room. She could see that we related to my friend, and she began to tell us about how she, too, had been an anxious student. However, with time, she had trained herself to  take things more easily. She took a moment to remind us that nothing is worth a sleepless night, that we should learn to say ‘so what?’ more often, and that, most importantly, we should never allow other professors – who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and inexperienced – to bully us into feeling inadequate.

It’s funny how we think we already know these things, that we don’t need anyone to remind us, but when you hear them after being in your head for so long, it can be like having a fog you weren’t even aware of lift suddenly. All at once, you’re aware of all the nails you’ve bitten off, lying in a heap in your lap, aware of how vigorously you’re fidgeting in your seat, of how fractured your mind is, thinking days, weeks, even years ahead. It’s good to work, to excel, but it’s also okay to not constantly be doing something.

I’m writing about this because it’s Christmas break, and for the last two days I’ve done nothing but lie around in various positions and think about all the things I should be doing. Coursework, projects, writing – even leisure reading has become a chore. I attach urgency to everything in my life, and it’s exhausting. I do think being ‘productive’ is healthy, but only when one is able.

So, yes, I do want to work and create – of course I do – but not in a way that constantly makes me feel like I’m being chased. There are no teeth yapping at my heels. I have time. I’ll get things done. And even if I don’t do as well as I want to, well then – so what?

See you soon.