What we’ve done here

We’re at the end of a long and tortuous road. Tomorrow night is our celebration dinner for The Invictus Writers: Volume One and we’ll be taking time out of finals week to spend a few moments together before the old gang disperses and the new one takes over. I have to say that I’m bothered by the fact that I have to say goodbye to a group of people I’ve come to know and respect, but, as I’ve said before, I’m quite excited to see what they do out in the real world.

I’m also excited to meet a new group of people united only by a common interest and a tormenting professor. That’s right, newbies. I can’t wait to hear your ideas and doubts, and I can’t wait to see you get lost in your stories. That, for me, has been what this is all about.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve worked with Tiffany on her story about a mentor gone bad. I looked at her first draft and saw that she was writing everything that she felt rather than telling a story, an unfortunate side effect of not having taken Brad King’s Intro to Magazine Writing class.

Even though Tiffany hadn’t been tortured by writing tools like “The Hero’s Journey,” she had gusto and badly wanted to tell her story. Together we built road maps for each scene and relentlessly scrutinized each sentence, making sure only necessary parts were making it to the next draft. We pruned and slashed and refined.

Over time, she and I both saw the rough edges being smoothed out, and her story took shape. Instead of sharing feelings, she was sharing scenes from her life that told a more important universal truth: sometimes mentors don’t turn out the way you expected. At the end, she read over all the work she’d put in – all the while working a full time job during the day – and she could see that the final draft of her story had power.

She was using words like scene, act, and sentence rhythm to describe what she liked about her writing. She saw the story’s “web.” But what lingered, even as the final draft was sent off to be copy edited, was the satisfaction of knowing that her next story will be even better.

Tiffany has endured a writer’s crucible and still wants to do it, and that I think, is what separates writers.

In the final weeks of production this project has become about learning that writing is a craft, not a talent. It’s a craft like carpentry. Any fool with a stack of wood and primitive tools can put a chair together. But if that fool continues putting together shoddy chairs and each time learns a little bit about themselves as a carpenter, eventually style and beauty will emerge in their work and people will come to revere them as a carpenter.

Learning a craft is all about doing it over and over, and sometimes getting lost in it. That’s what I hope the new group learns. When you’re deep into the 11th draft of a story and you feel like you’re about to go insane, but you push through it just to get one more draft done, you will understand. We are not born with the ability to write and real talent is rare, but we can become writers if we choose to continually refine our craft over a lifetime. For some in the group about to take off, I feel like they truly understand that now.