An author is reading this page. She or he has written every verse that has ever been written and has used every word in the dictionary at least once. She or he is suffering from a lack of inspiration, due to the critique of possibly another English major. This critic is secretly a tambourine player at heart, and he slept in all his classes but yes, sadly it is still true. He is an English major. So he knows better than anyone what the poet he’s reading means. The meter is off, off to the races. The rhyme is chaotic and rather despotic covered in chocolate. And you are reading this, my dear reader, wondering “It has all been done before according to my critics, so how can I do anything new?”
You, yes you, sitting there in your chair, are in an amazing world of technology, of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These are places that the traditional media cannot hope to reach. They are sudden and instantaneous, and heartfelt.
The most beautiful thing about good writing, I have found while doing this collaboration with the lovely wordsmith TheFutureIsBright, is that I no longer care if my writing is good, new, or exciting. I just write what I want, when I want to. I don’t have to write poetry, nor do I have to write two thousand words that I don’t connect with. I just write what I want to. I write for myself, so that at least I enjoy the work.
I will now give you some advice, if you don’t mind. My best work came because my critics despise it. I used to care about the most insane and petty things a critic said to me, simply because I was putting things online, where anyone could see them, and anyone could comment. . One of my favorite criticisms ever, was that my poetry was like nailing jelly into a tree. She said something quite inspiring. The two words are something I live by daily. “It’s impossible.”
So it became my mission in my life to find out all the possible ways you could nail jello to a tree. As you can imagine, my search as to if you could nail jello to a tree was met with weird videos on YouTube. After seeing many videos I asked myself “Can you freeze Jello to the tree using liquid nitrogen. That was the next phase in my journey to find the impossible. I found that if you did indeed freeze jello, it would become brittle and break. I was ready to quit until I thought “Well you can’t nail jello to a tree, but can you staple it?”
Five seconds later, a video entitled “Team Llama, Stapling Jello To a Tree” appeared. I clicked amused, doubting that it would mean anything. The girls in the video went through three experiments, which you can see in the video I shall link here.
The girls were able to staple jello to the tree depending on how you look at it. This leads me to my next point. The ones criticizing your work, who say it’s wrong, have never tried what you are. That is liberating my friends. Criticism is the ultimate creative license in the world, because it allows you to explore new things, and do things that others call impossible.
Writing allows us to experience life in a way that is new and exciting. I can honestly say to you that I never would have known if you could indeed staple jello into a tree, or if you froze jello in liquid nitrogen that it would become brittle but I am glad that I know. Criticism of a person’s writing is like nailing jello to a tree. You don’t really know if it will work, but you need to try it.
The most beautiful thing that I can tell you about writing is that I don’t understand English terminology. I couldn’t tell you what iambic, trochaic, spondaic, anapestic, or dactylc meter is. In fact, if I didn’t have the internet and we discussed meter, I would likely tell you to go check it.
I learned the most about writing when I entered a top NY college for English. I learned the first lesson of writing when I ended up passing out in my dorm room and sleeping through the first day of a creative writing class. I saw the teacher in the hall later that day, and I excitedly went to her to say, “Hello, I’m one of your students.” when the dreaded words came.
“Who are you?”
Those words, if you are a writer, are the equivalent of shattering your hopes and dreams. When you are a college student, you don’t know who you are, and that is lovely because you have no boundaries you have to follow. You have no limits to your creativity, your muse, whatever you wish to call it. You are at once free to love and life at last, and yet trapped by the pitfalls of expectation, of bias, and prejudice. You are expected to at once know who you are, and explore, which is gratifying and terrifying in equal measure.
I told my professor my name, and she warned me if I skipped two more times, my grade would drop. So I entered the class for the first time that next week. What I saw shocked me.
The class was arranged in a circle, with the teacher sitting to my left in the middle. I remember having the distinct thought “She wants all the attention focused on her, which is why she sits in the middle of the room.” We were then instructed to tell our most interesting weird detail about ourselves. As everyone took their turns, I started to panic.
“I don’t have anything interesting about me to tell”, I thought. When the teacher called on me, I gulped. The gulp was inaudible but to me, it sounded like a bomb.
“Damien, what’s weird about your life?” This, I learned, is the second question that shatters your hopes and dreams because nobody wants to say what is truly weird about them. As writers we capture the weird in prose that we agonize over for eight hours and have edited and reedited to be brief, precise, and most importantly clear. Speaking immediately of our weirdest detail often leads to unexpected funny moments. Such a moment was about to happen.
“You want the real weird thing about me? I hate writing but I’m an English major, and I hate English too.”
The entire room went dead silent. I was terrified. I was in a creative writing class, and I just said to the teacher “I hate writing and I hate English too because I don’t understand the mechanics.” I then thought, “She did say ‘Tell me the weirdest thing about your life’, and there it is.”
The moment felt like forever when the teacher finally said “Well there’s a lot you can do with an English degree!” She seemed to be forcing her smile when she said this, and her voice was full of the mock cheerfulness they only teach you in Education classes. I had to hold back my laughter as her response hinted at the dreaded assumption every English major must face from every single classmate, teacher, janitor, grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunt, second cousin and absolute stranger in existence.
“You’re gonna be an English major.” Is it just me, or did everyone cringe? It’s almost as if there’s an unwritten rule (and remember, unwritten rules are meant to be broken) that every single person who thinks you’re taking English must say the word “gonna”, instead of “going to be” so that you, the supposed English teacher can correct them. In your mind, if you’re an English major, you want to correct them through clenched teeth. You would love to scream “It is ‘going to’, not gonna! That makes you sound stupid!“
The person will almost always say something with a cheap laugh to the effect of “Ha! You need to study English more because I said ‘gonna’ and that’s wrong English!” This common phenomenon might be a secret game everyone and your family got the rules to, but you never understand!
The teacher went on to say that writers write what they know. I grinned at the idea of telling her that by her theory, I must know vampires, werewolves, and sadomasochistic lesbian killers, but thought better of it, given that I just made the room silent once that day. The teacher said we had to type a story by the end of the semester and we were off for the rest of the day
I went back to my dorm after class and looked online, and this is what I saw:
“Assignment 1 – Write a few names for some characters.”
This drove home the first lesson I want you to know.
Lesson 1 – You do not need an English degree, or even to understand English beyond capital letters, commas, and periods, to write a novel.
When I read books, I learned all I needed to know to write them. Writers often more times than not, emulate the people they read, incorporating phrases, ideas, concepts and other such material in their own works. This is excellent because eventually you’ll find your voice, and only you know yourself inside and out. Writing is a wonderful tool to calm down from a stressful day. Need to walk the dog? Write! Need to wash a cat in a bathtub! Write! I suppose Lesson one can be summarized as “Just Write Stuff on Paper”
Lesson 1 - You do not need an English degree, or even to understand English beyond capital letters, commas, and periods, to write a novel. Just Write Stuff on Paper.
Lesson 2 – The Classroom Is a Completely Different Environment Than When You Go Out To Work
When you take a creative writing class, you are expected to write something by the end of the year. When you are first getting published, someone has to read and enjoy your work. Often times, readers are too critical and don’t see the brilliance of it. Unlike with teachers, you can shop around for someone who does. The teaching environment never helped me become a better writer. In fact I dropped the class after that day I mentioned above because I didn’t want writing to be my job. I want writing to be the backbone to my life, my escape hatch to another reality. If you get published, congratulations, but if you don’t, you’re always have the writing to help you in any situation.
Lesson 3 – It’s Opposite Day Whenever You Are Unfairly Criticized
Some of my most beautiful experiences came from unfair and unjust criticism of my work. I am overjoyed often when I receive negative comments just as much as positive because I know my work made the person respond. The key to dealing with negative criticism is if you yourself enjoy what you’re doing.
Lesson 4 – You Won’t Know The Rules So Break Them All
I believe this is the biggest lesson I have learned by doing this collaboration. For the first time I don’t feel pressured to crank out five chapters, seven poems and all that, and I’m writing what I want to, my way. I don’t care if it gets featured, or if I get a featured author spot. I’d like the recognition, but I don’t care. I’ll keep writing no matter what.
I almost forgot the most important thing about writing. If you ever get told that it has all been done before, and that it’s like nailing jello to a tree, remember this simple rule.
Lesson 5 - There’s Always A Way
You have jello, a nail and a tree. How do you nail the Jello to the tree? Put the nail through the plastic and hammer the nail into the tree! In other words, what you see will be seen by somebody, someday, and sometimes, that’s enough to keep you happy. With the advent of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube and yes, even Protagonize, your work can be seen by millions! Just remember if you make another person happy with your writing, it’s the greatest feeling in the world and you’ve succeeded as a author!.
Gee, this went on way longer than I thought it would. I’d like to thank all of you who have commented faved and recommended this collab. It means a lot to both TheFutureIsBright and I to get all this love. You guys are all inspiring and keep us going.
Please continue to read our collab, and if you really like it, send it to a friend via Twitter or Facebook if you want. Thanks for reading this long essay and until next time, constant readers.