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I once went to a writing seminar with a select few of my peers from the English department in grade 9.
The organization running it, whatever they call themselves, cocked up our schedules when we arrived and we all ended up having to go to the same two seminars instead of the ones we signed up for.
The worst of the two was run by a woman that, by all accounts, was the flakiest flake to ever make some money off a book and think she was an artist, and then become a flake when the creative energies went to her head.
This woman, when she wasn’t shrieking about the powers of the subconscious in you’re poor, bored ears, was truly a treat to watch. Her hair was spiked all around her head like an enigmatic dragon might get when, after all her little babies have flown the coop, the old lizard wants to feel young and unique again. Giant bell sleeves covered in tacky red floral designs waved back and forth like possessed curtains as she swayed and gestured with her bony arms, trying breathlessly to explain to us the importance of not picking our pencils off the paper. Her various facial wrinkles were stark and apparent when bathed in the light reflected off her chunky, oversized earrings and her old eyeballs bulged comically while she explained to us the philosophy of the comma. I was entranced.
Her entire purpose for being there seemed to be to peddle her ‘new’ writing exercise called “Hot Writing”. Essentially, one would begin writing and not stop for at least half an hour-- until you were pulling material from your ‘gut’ and not actively thinking about what you were putting on the paper. This, she shrilly explained, was meant to stimulate ones subconscious in order to produce better writing.
After a sample session of this steaming pile of “Hot Writing” (shortened to 10 minutes in the interest of time), she had us share what we wrote with the group. The results were predictable—not only did nobody come up with anything mildly good, but nobody was happy with what they’d written. A good number of people could barely read what they’d written because they’d been scribbling so fast—as if writing faster would make her disappear back into the ether. When one is using writing as a hopeful defense mechanism against other writers, the quality of the writing is diminished some. Yes, they might have pulled it from they’re ‘gut’ and it somehow connected to their subconscious, but that doesn’t guarantee that anything written will be usable in the slightest way, nor does it guarantee the annihilation of scary, dragon-haired writers.
I understand the concept of getting ideas down on paper and not breaking your chain of thought by stopping, but the ability for a writer to ‘come up for air’ every once in a while to at least read over the last paragraph they wrote is often paramount. If this woman, during those 10 minutes, caught anyone stop, read over, erase or slow down, she’d swiftly address it with the flick of her waxy wrists and squawk “Keep going, no stopping! Write, people! Write!”
And yes, I’ve left her name out of this article on purpose—I can’t remember it. Despite her wonderfully hammy disposition and her absurd appearance, all memory of her name, and even the title of her book, escapes me. In the grand scheme of the writing industry, that’s saying something when you can’t remember the name of someone that resembles the love child of Yosemite Sam and post-murder Lady Macbeth.
If anything, the whole experience just reflected badly on the organization running the seminar. Yes, she was a flaky twit—but some artists can’t help but be flaky twits. Occasionally, it’s up to the bureaucratic, left-brained people to keep the flaky twits of the world in the correct place. The flaky twits just do what they know—which is usually flaky art—and the left-brained people just need to put them somewhere and say “make this kind of flaky art here so that both of us make money”. At least then the flaky twits have something productive to do so they don’t all eventually develop heroin habits or get jobs writing greeting cards (a fate worse than death).
Instead, they let a flaky twit loose in front of impressionable teenagers and sat back to see what would come of it. In this case, it was a wrong move on the part of the left-brained people, and could eventually lead to them footing the bill for pricey child psychiatry.
The really pressing question in my mind (other than how, after hearing her read a passage of her book, she ever got published in the first place) is why the people running the seminar thought she’d be a good author to feature. Maybe her book came out rather recently and she broke even on the first month’s sales, or maybe the seminar just ran out of money and needed an author on the fly (to bring the number of writers they had up to exactly two). Maybe someone running the seminar was just getting off a strong anesthetic taken for a recent triple bypass and they genuinely believed that she was the next Dorothy Parker. In my opinion, I’d assume the desperation option right away, but it does seem suspicious that she was printed by a publisher with a decent reputation.
Either way, even my ability to give this woman the benefit of the doubt dwindled away completely when I saw that she wrote “keep on riting” on the autograph she gave my friend. I doubt that she simply missed the spelling while “Hot Writing” the autograph; I saw her lift the pencil.