Maybe I didn’t learn what I think I learned about writing so the idea of unlearning could be a figment of my imagination.
Which is broad, deep, and wide, if you hadn’t noticed. My imagination, that is.
I don’t recall getting much direction on my writing prior to high school. After gaining access to Honors English, I felt my senses dulled by attempts at getting me to understand Shakespeare. I still have no clue what most of his writings mean. After all, there were no alien worlds or creepy creatures (despondent humans notwithstanding). Iambic pentameter was never a strong suit. Thus, it didn’t hold me.
However, those teachers set me up for a measure of success in college English (thanks especially to Mr. Sowa). Despite my confusion over Shakespeare, a bit of it sunk in; I quoted (what I learned was an obscure) something in a Freshman paper and my instructor (a teaching assistant — I had the option to take Honors or regular course and of course, I took the regular one. After all, why work hard when you can skate a bit? It was a good thing because I could essentially sleep through English whilst Calculus kicked my hindparts) was amazed that I knew whatever the reference was. He asked me where I learned it and when I said high school, he told me he hadn’t been exposed to the piece until he’d gone to college.
Good grades in those early courses enabled me to take up an English minor with a focus on creative writing. I had the pleasure of meeting poet Amiri Baraka, whose insight into writing and life and art and being and everything was a great inspiration. I went to hear him every chance I got, whether it was as part of a class or just because word got around that he was on campus not teaching but talking, chewing the fat, telling it like it was, giving insight and schooling us on a world all around us that many of us were too blind or stupid to notice. He and other faculty like him at Rutgers opened my mind. They didn’t stifle my writing, didn’t tell me that my ideas were too far out (which was the message I’d gotten before from grade school teachers and after from writing courses I took on my own when I had delusions of grandeur that I could be the next King, Bradbury, and Hurston all rolled into one female body): instead, they encouraged me to think deeper, to show more, to take chances.
I think of them now as I put quill to papyrus again, of how stories don’t have to be safe. How stories can take chances, stretch limits, and open minds to possibilities.
I wrote about 200 words in my space epic yesterday. I stopped when I got to a cliffhanger moment because whatever comes next needs to marinate a bit. I am not rushing through the words, taking time to research terms and make notes. Will it get published? Who knows. Will it be the next best thing in science fiction? Who knows. But I am unlearning what I (thought I) learned about stories that get published and become the next best thing.
And that’s good.