Writing Lessons for the Student of Storytelling


[note: if the title and structure seem familiar, it’s quite intentional that I paid homage to the great Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal; it seemed the most appropriate tip-of-the-hat as my final essay while studying abroad in Prague during the summer of 2012]

Just as I had come to Prague with an optimist’s endeavor for self-discovery, I now face this final chapter of a student’s reflection with a cocktail of hope and trepidation, something that is not so very uncommon among the enterprising youth who seek both to gain ground in growth and at the same time maintain some sense of childlike wonder, perhaps two divergent missions, but to hell with the naysayer that wags a finger at the dreamer’s right to progress, a balance that I myself have long searched for and now feel the slightest bit closer to after surviving what I would consider a writing boot camp, well, maybe not a boot camp exactly, there were never any unreasonable demands, like having to wake up to Reveille at dawn and write a novel by dusk, but I can say that every assignment felt a lot like a twenty mile run through the rain, ending with an army crawl across a football field of mud, the sort that sucked on me when I tried to pull out of it, and accumulated in inches on every limb so that even when I freed myself from one wet, boggy pit, it released me begrudgingly and continued to fight against my ever-slowing forward momentum until finally there was only sheer willpower to see me through to the end, and that is something that I’ve never boasted to having harnessed, however, between deep breaths and failed plans of attack, I somehow managed to triumph over my own self-imposed mental obstacle course, feeling all at once chewed up, spit out, and victorious, although not so foolishly proud that I was ever in any danger of falling victim to hubris, because I knew that the next time I was to square off with yet another blank page, it would intimidate me as if it were the thirteenth Labor of Hercules,  and the pushing of the boulder uphill repeated: pace the room, stare into space, feel inadequate, question existence, crest the summit, receive the next assignment, and find myself back at the foot of the mountain once again, battle-worn and almost imperceptibly stronger to show for it, but even that 5% increase of strength served me as stoutly as it could, like a Chihuahua in the Iditarod, doing its best, but only able to cover minor ground, so really, even as I sensed my creative muscles building, their limited lifting capacity still handicapped me, a shortcoming that most earnestly broadcasted itself when push came to shove and the guillotine (thy name is Deadline) hovered ominously above me, ready to sever the head of my essay from the rest of  its body, leaving me with a decapitated mess instead of the beauty queen I’d envisioned when first conceiving of whatever concept that seemed so brilliant in the beginning, and too often did I feel the dread of this premature birth, as though I’d been forced into a back alley C-section that cut from me a bloody, underdeveloped baby who I was too ashamed of dragging with me to Bring Your Daughter to Work Day (see: critiques), and yet, at least there were signs of life, something that in the past would have been glaring absent, solely a series of ideas jotted in the sidebars of my notebooks, existing only as potential and never as reality, which is in itself a familiar security blanket, one that lets a young artist play Genius Dress-up, pretending that their “high-brow” musings could one day grow legs and climb rapidly into the exclusive echelon of The Elite, another great voice of a generation, but of course this ego-driven aspiration works against the more substantial goal of putting words on paper, to strive for something so audacious (pause for self-reflexive moment) is the antithesis of motivation, paralyzing the writer, or worse, turning their own pen into the mighty sword they throw themselves upon, preferring to remain silent instead of disproving their fallaciously latent talent, which is why over the course of this course (over the course of this course), I’ve done my best to turn a deaf ear to the self-negotiations that prompt me to question the craftiness of each sentence, the finesse of every word choice, clevernessclevernesscleverness, and to instead push past the haze of second-guesses and into the concrete world of just doing the damn work, which is admittedly a new territory that forces me to unfold the map of my brain, gain my bearings, and design an actual route instead of trying to purely intuit whichever direction would be the least harrowing, the most effective, and maybe even passably scenic, but in what way can an old bitch teach itself new tricks: by force, unfortunately, and so I have tried to build the bridge between fickle, free-spirited inspiration and tangible evidence that I, at times, have actual thoughts in my head, thoughts that, as I have come to learn, are most potent when I’m just shaking off the residue of sleep, transitioning from the unconscious to the waking where there exists a miasma of imagination, but it is an elusive catch, so all I can do is be ready, net in hand (aka, writing pad on nightstand), for anything worthwhile that may come within arm’s reach, and sometimes there is only the sound of my alarm clock, but occasionally I am inflamed with an arousal of “Artistic Morning Wood,” when all I can do is grab my pen and jerk off as quickly as possible, or find myself with “Creative Blue Balls,” unsatisfied, ideas scattered like cockroaches when the lights get turned on, and then the tipping point see-saws away from the realm of inspiration and towards the more fundamental arena of putting on pants, brushing teeth, feeding self, and forgetting anything worth a damn that I may have whipped up before digging out the sleep in my eyes, a cocksure metaphor that doesn’t let me escape the idea that maybe I will never be able to call upon my elusive muse like a snake charmer with a fluted gourd, but am completely at her mercy, wrestling when she wants to wrestle, and dancing when she wants to dance.