We had to write weekly reflections in one of my master’s degree courses. At the time, I worried about beginning school years. Never one to pull punches, to the sheer delight of the overworked T.A who had to read my papers, I claimed the program did an excellent job of having us look at curricular units, at the social and political structures that affected and were affected by education, at how education could be a righteous force for justice, at various social, medical, and learning issues and how those must be addressed. But, I said with the brashness of a 20-something with whopping student loans, what I was most worried about was how to get started.
Every lesson, every suggestion, and every piece of material assumed a start to the year that had been successful. It assumed an established environment, a sense of role and purpose, a smoothness. If we were lucky, we were told to do some icebreakers and go over the syllabus.
But somewhere between “Two Truths and a Lie” and All’s Well That Ends Well was this space, the launching of things before we got into the beefy goodness. The tone-setting. The clueing in of roles and expectations. The welcoming into a new environment. The building of excitement.
Haim Ginott: I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate.
Oh, Haim, I felt that in grad school, I felt it every day as a teacher, and it would be the thing I would flog/praise myself with as I reviewed my work each day. It hit hard especially the first week of school, as those first days were indelible, determining how a student would approach my classroom and their work in it. Those early days when the routine is not yet habit, when we don’t know the players or if we can trust them to get us where we need to go. We sense, we hope, that we will get to normal at some point.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
As writers, we’re the decisive elements in these dynamic little worlds we create as we rub our hands together. And those first few pages are like the first few days of school. That first line is of course the icebreaker, but those first scenes are those first days. We can’t waste them. They matter.
I’ve been avoiding writing my first scene in depth and detail, although I have been doing a lot of data dumps and notes to myself. When I pulled it up this week and decided to get my ass working on it, it had 6500 words (!) few of them connected to one another, a lot of them repeating, most of them unnecessary.
In other words, a mess.
I thought I could clean it up pretty quickly, a day or two, max, no worries. I committed myself to follow through with one of my goals for 2023, which is to share my work more, and bring people in on it at this stage when it is (and I am) more pliable, rather than when it is (and I am) calcified. I had asked my writing group if I could read, which I have only done twice in the two years I have been there.
So it was not a great feeling when I had to ask for a postponement because there was no way that this was going to be cleaned up that quickly, at least not to the point where reading it made any sense. It would have been a waste of everyone’s time.
I am reading next week, hell, highwater, or otherwise. At some point, that first bell rings and you just have to leap and hope a net appears (or you brace for a hearty face-plant. You survive either way.)
Most other scenes are written or almost written in my gigantic draft. In those scenes, worlds, characters, conflicts, motifs, and tone have all been written with the assumption that certain things are established. Now I have to establish them. This first scene will be the one that takes the longest and gets revisted the most.
I am enjoying it. And that’s a damned important element as well.
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