I taught eleventh and twelfth grade English for eleven years. People would often say to me, “Wow, you must really like kids.”
Well, I do like kids. In fact, I have two of my own!
But I didn’t go into teaching because I adored teenagers and wanted to spend hours and hours (AND HOURS) in their company. I did it because, as a student, I loved the classroom, especially the language arts classroom, a world alive with stories and emotions, discussions and investigations. It seemed as close to a utopia as I was likely to get. In that environment, I could exercise my passion for reading and writing, think hard about difficult subjects, dwell on the human condition, and wade into the subtleties of literature. Heaven!
My career in secondary education did indeed keep me in the classroom. However, it didn’t take long for me to notice that the grass on the professional side of the desk wasn’t nearly as green as it had been on the side I’d enjoyed when I was in high school and college. As a teacher, I faced challenges I never foresaw as a student, the greatest one being that not everyone shares my interest in literature. Many do, certainly. Some can be convinced to enjoy it or at least tolerate it. Others, however…nope. They just can’t like it.
Oh, the sad life of a teacher whose passion is not shared! To spend hours and hours planning lessons, developing activities, orchestrating enriching multisensory experiences through which to bring works of literature to life—only to encounter, far too often, a student’s indifference, disdain, or grumbles, the very worst of which is, of course, “This is boring.” To hear, with sickening regularity, “Will this be on a test?” and “Can’t we just watch the movie version of this book?” and “May I go to the bathroom/nurse/drinking fountain/vending machine/office/anywhere-but-here please?” To realize, after striving to drum up enthusiasm for a relevant passage, that only two people out of twenty did the reading assignment. Torture.
When I was a full-time teacher, I fervently missed being a student. I will probably always miss it. That’s why, a couple of months ago, I jumped at the opportunity to take a two-week online workshop called Fast Flash, a creative writing class devoted entirely to flash fiction.
Kathy Fish, a matchless master of the micro-fiction form, was to be our instructor. As excited as I was at the prospect of the course (of returning to the classroom, albeit a virtual one), I was also scared. I’d never taken an online class. For years, I hadn’t taken any kind of class. And I’d heard Kathy Fish’s workshops were wonderful but definitely intensive and fast-paced. There would be homework every weekday. Not just writing assignments. Related readings, too! Plus, an expectation that I’d try to read and comment on the stories that my classmates finagled.
How would I handle the pressure?
Pretty well, to my amazement.
Indeed, not only was the pressure bearable; it was integral to my experience. A necessary, invigorating thing. But more on that revelation later. First, let me give you some excellent reasons why you should consider signing up for one of Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshops.
Kathy, herself, is a joy. Her feedback is kind, keen, and encouraging; her exercises and related readings, very inspiring. Also, her writing prompts proved so fruitful—in terms of what my peers and I ended up producing, composition-wise—that they might have been spells, suffused with a magic certain to glean good stories out of us.
In addition, through both her instruction and reflections on our work, Kathy fostered a vibrant community of learners. She is the first creative writing instructor I’ve studied under who has insisted that her students, in their responses to one another, provide only positive feedback. What a wise expectation! Stories frequently draw from the wellsprings of pain, old hurts, loss, and rejection; consequently, writing can be a vulnerable practice. I was grateful for Kathy’s sensitive guidance and guidelines. They promoted compassionate camaraderie. They made the act of sharing our work feel safe.
Finally, the Fast Flash Workshop granted me that previously mentioned revelation regarding pressure, and in doing so, it taught me something about my potential.
Every morning during the two-week course, while I sat at my computer with a few measly hours to complete an exercise, an idea would spring into my head—a way to satisfy the assignment. Immediately, just as I would in the past when inspiration struck, I pondered this idea with skepticism. I doubted the idea. I questioned its worth. I worried that it was…well, lame.
However, I didn’t discard the idea and start over, as I might have done previously. I only had two or three hours to complete the assignment for Kathy and my classmates before my workday started. There was no time to come up with a new idea! I had to stick with it.
And here’s the shocker: Again and again, for the duration of the Fast Flash Workshop, I made the idea that I’d just scorned and mistrusted WORK. I made the leap from idea to creation. I did this day after day. And I did it surprisingly successfully. In fact, in Kathy Fish’s class, I may have written a couple of my very best flash fiction pieces ever.
This positive experience makes me wonder how many times in the past I gave up on an idea too soon, how many ideas I tossed out that perhaps I shouldn’t have so quickly discarded, and how many false starts were false only in my hypercritical mind.
The pressure to complete a work of flash fiction on time made me commit to an idea. It made me commit to myself and have faith in my writing abilities.
I suspect we all must be more capable than we think we are.
Perhaps, if we’re in a writing slump, what we really need is PRESSURE. Deadlines. Stress! Maybe we need to find a way to hold ourselves accountable or have a teacher like Kathy Fish (or a writing partner or an enthusiastic but demanding reader) holding us accountable. Maybe we need to realize that there is no perfect idea. There is only a hardworking writer—one determined to take an idea, whatever it may be, and give it words and make it grow.