Tuesday, February 05, 2008

She Said: I Heart Positive Reinforcement

AnnieThe nearer this class got, the more my excitement became nervousness, which then became scared shitlessness. Now that it’s over I want to live there, leaving only for lemon and brown sugar crepe breaks.

Even though "Writing the Unthinkable" was "marketed for 'non-writers' like bartenders, janitors, office workers, hairdressers--anyone who has given up on 'being a writer' but still wonders what it might be like to write," it wasn't until reading Anne Elliott's blog describing the not just encouraged but mandatory anonymity that I said, "Sign me up!"

And I don't just mean no-last-names anonymity. We're talking Deep Throat anonymity, the kind that allowed you to read your work out loud and be nothing more than a disembodied voice to your classmates. Not that this was enough to get me to participate; some of us require an anonymity of even greater depths. I call this nirvana state annienymity.

Regardless, I still managed to freak myself into a panic attack: What if the rules changed? What if reading out loud is now mandatory? What if it always was but my subconscious desire read the word "voluntary" simply as a coping mechanism? What if my high school nemesis is there, or worse, my WBF (work boyfriend, people--don’t pretend you don’t have one)? What if someone writes about their childhood abuse and it gets all group huggy except the girl with the dead heart looking for a way to escape this freakshow? What if everyone writes about their childhood abuse and I write about my cat?

Silly rabbit, self-induced anxiety attacks are for kids! Even if my expectations hadn’t been wholly (albeit singularly) nightmarish, they’d have been far exceeded. Lynda Barry created such a self-affirming, encouraging, relentlessly hilarious environment that I was grinning for two straight weeks afterwards. I’d have paid $200 to attend even if we’d never picked up a pen. It wasn’t being exposed to new ideas as much as the fact that they were ideals I’d somehow abandoned over time. And they make as much sense now as they did before I exchanged my soul for a cube and a crappy salary. But this was a writing class and there were pens, and lots of paper.

Things we learned:

KEEP THE PEN MOVING even if you think you don’t have anything to say. When your thoughts are stuck, write the alphabet, the thoughts will catch up.

THAT’S JUST SOME ASSHOLE. Even if you don’t write crap as a habit, there will be times when the devil duckie on your shoulder is just a big fat bitch who says things like, “You suck. You suck and you can’t write.” And so on.

Now, imagine you’re writing away at your fave coffee-hole and some douche stranger said those things to you. When your friend came out of the bathroom and asked who that was, you’d say, “Just some asshole.” Point being, if you wouldn’t listen to the asshole outside your head, don’t listen to the asshole inside your head.

YOU’RE AWESOME! GREAT JOB!! For those who did choose to share their work with the class, Lynda would kneel in front of them as they read and the rest of us doodled. When they were finished, her only response was a heartfelt, “Good, goooood!!” When everyone who wanted to read had, she reiterated this mantra, not just to those whose work we just heard but to everyone: “And everyone who didn’t read--great job! You’re awesome!”

Tell someone they’re awesome, even if it’s yourself. Because 1) It’s true and 2) It’s nice to hear.

I HEART POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. Seriously, you’d think my evil stepmonster had me locked in the crawlspace (she didn’t) with only the dementors whispering lullabies in my ear (they’re not real), the way I ate the stuff up (true story). And none of it was even personally directed at me!

It’s amazing what effect a non-judgemental, like-minded environment can have on a person.

Read what HE SAID.

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Annie is an old friend of NMP and occasional guest blogger. Read her bio.

Try a "lite" version of Lynda Barry's technique: check out WordFlame!

Books by Lynda Barry: