Camilla’s pain rolled past me on the conveyor and I looked away. I felt uncomfortable, intruding as I was into the private lives of Liz and Sandra and Elizabeth.
My three items reached the cashier: the Globe, the Enquirer and a croissant from the bakery.
I included the croissant as my last hope to hold on to the hem of dignity as I suddenly recognized the true value of self-checkout and wished my small grocery store offered it.
Refusing to look up and mumbling “Really, they’re for an assignment” would not persuade the cashier on their own that I do, in fact, have a little class. In the end, a package of Hostess Ding Dongs would have gone just as well with my tabloids, though not with my coffee.
Julia Cameron observes in this week’s selection from The Right to Write that “writing doesn’t have to know where it’s going.” It seems that is no more true for me than this morning.
I just completed a piece of writing that knew exactly where it was going. It’s the kind of writing I get paid to do, and from an academic and professional standpoint, it did everything it needed to do. In five well-ordered pages I broke down the complexity of an insurance contract into layperson’s terms to explain why a claim must be denied.
The writing followed all the rules I know.
Big words and circular legal-speak made simple. Check.
Nobody gets sued. Check.
That last one is always a big deal.
It was good writing, and approved by the client without so much as a comma moved.
I never smiled once.
But then I moved on to another project. I peeked again at the stories of Whitney and her addictions and Caylee’s mom and her I-don’t-know-what. I blushed again, and then finished the assignment I started in the bleachers during a long weekend of basketball.
Cameron suggests that to be a good writer one “must be willing to be a bad writer.” She goes on to say this:
I know a beautiful woman who always ruins a good outfit by adding some outlandish something — a veiled hat, a poinsettia for God’s sake tucked behind an ear, a giddy chiffon scarf. This is a woman that men adore. Even while her “sisters” sniff at her fashion errors, men trail after her with fascination. There’s something a little enchanting about the mix and match that doesn’t match.
Prose can benefit from a little lurid flippery. The understated, carefully modified, exclamation-points-only-with-papal-permission prose that we learn in school that actually bores a lot of us out of writing. “If you can’t say anything nice — or nicely — don’t say anything at all” we are taught, and we learn the lesson well. If only we could give ourselves permission to write “badly,” so many of us would write very well indeed. (p. 23)
So I pulled out my notebook and went back to work on that tabloid story I’d been writing. (Really, it was only for the assignment. Would you like another croissant?)
I had no idea where I was going. But as I filled pages with the secrets I’d unearthed about my family’s ancestral alien associations, I caught myself snickering from time to time. (I stopped as soon as I noticed. Here, have a croissant.)
I won’t say I found the project fully liberating. Though perhaps it did give me just enough leeway to give L.L. Barkat’s monstrous prompt a go.
But I surely did enjoy it while my thirty minutes of (sanctioned) bad writing lasted.
Now, I’m on my way to throw my magazines and a piece of bad writing away, and warm a croissant.
:: ::: ::
nancy’s hcb book club
Nancy’s Just a Minute
L.L.’s Writing Theft
Glynn’s The Right to Write: Laying Track
Monica’s Book Club Week 2
Ann’s Imperfect Conditions
Cassandra’s Living With My Writer
Maureen’s Creative Rituals
Photo: tabloid magazines on my desktop, an odd match for the likes of Peterson, Roberts, DeKker, Miller and my Strong’s and Vine’s.