This week’s exercise based on Dickhead by Tony Hoagland:
Create a colloquial, witty, but vulnerable older narrator who’s remembering a painful situation from when he was young. Although the situation is painful, he presents it with in a playful way, with a lot of humour (and again the love for language!). The overall tone is light-hearted. The voice is quite intimate, and speaks more directly to the reader (as compared to the Duncker piece).
Yikes, this was a tough one. Normally I would have some ideas swirling in my head during the week, playing around with them in my mind. By the time Saturday rolls around, I would just sit down and work on it during the weekend. This week however, I still had several ideas open on Saturday, one even involving a stray cat as the narrator, but I didn’t know how to proceed with any of them. I started writing, stopped writing, started again etc. but for some reason it just didn’t feel right. I was missing the crucial element, an object or word which signifies hope for the narrator, like the word ‘dickhead’ in Tony Hoagland’s piece.
In the end, my colleague Michiel saved me this afternoon. I was completely stuck with my ideas, and he just gave me a simple idea to work with. Keep it simple, he said, the exercise itself is already hard enough. His suggestion actually fit quite well within the exercise, but I still had to write it of course. So I basically stopped working from 14:00 – 18:00, and I was just working on my piece (I figured I’m entitled to those hours seeing how much I’ve been working in the last few months). Considering the time, I decided to more or less copy Hoagland’s structure in my piece, and even to reuse certain words and phrases. But I was appalled by the piece, convinced that it was horrible. I even contemplated giving up, but in the end I managed to finish something.
And to my surprise, people actually liked the piece! To be honest, I personally liked the 2nd paragraph as well, which was something I came up with quite quickly, but I thought the other parts were disjointed and just plain bad. The only criticism was that I should have elaborated a little bit more on the negative experience; it didn’t become really clear what difficulties the narrator was having, although there were hints to that. Well, I had to agree, and in fact I already expected that. I was desperately trying to come up with a suitable image in put into the story, but wasn’t able to do that on time. Well, at least it’s a positive sign that I already anticipated beforehand what criticism I was going to receive.
P.S. I decided to split the post into two parts (and will do this for the older ones as well), one containing the process and criticism of the exercise, and the other containing the actual piece I wrote for the exercise, because I felt the posts were becoming a bit too long. Also, I’m going to put my stories (or parts of stories) into a single category to make it easier to find. I swear this is not a blatant attempt to boost my page views! Honest!