As I sit at my desk in my new office at Utah Valley University I realize that I have a blank page to be filled. How will I fill it? How will I take the experiences that have brought me to this point in my life to write the story of my life to come? Will I always make good choices? Will choices from the past come back to haunt me? How will I fill that blank page? And as a writer, how will these experiences affect the lives of my characters as I write their stories?
I attended a two day writer’s workshop by Orson Scott Card last summer. We were assigned to interview someone in the community to obtain a backstory for our writing. My partner and I found a women sitting at a table in the coffee shop of the book store. After a moment’s hesitation at being approached by two unknown men she decided to join us at our table. For the next 20 minutes she told us her life story, including her children, ex-husband, and work experiences. Armed with that information both of us wrote a story for the next day's class. As you might expect, our stories were different versions of her future even though we had the same starting point. We never gave her copies of what we wrote, but I wonder what she would have thought of the futures we had created for her.
As a novice writer I have to continually experiment with the craft to evaluate what works and what does not. I recently finished reading several books and tried to evaluate the "show not tell" structure of the writing. I tried to determine if the story was believable. There was good and bad writing in the books that I read. Last week I submitted several poems to a contest. I wonder how my writing will be judged. I was not happy with my short stories yet so I have saved them for future contests.
I decided to experiment with the recent story of my own life to see it if makes sense. About two years ago I moved to Lake Charles to work at McNeese State University in the Department of Engineering with a new blank page. The community and people were all unknown. I had never lived that far south. What I found shaped my life and set me on a new path. The people of the south were extremely friendly and quickly drew me into their circle of friends. I sure can't complain about the food. In the Bayou Writers Group I found very supportive friends that encouraged me to write. I enjoyed my writing classes at McNeese, and I wrote poems and short stories that I had always wanted to write. l submitted some of the writings to contests and read one of my poems at a coffee house. At McNeese I was asked to be the Department Head and had a great faculty to work with. I became involved throughout the campus and community. Then I was invited to apply for an Associate Dean position at a large university in Utah, a job that I would not have gotten if had not been the Department Head of Engineering at McNeese State University. Since returning to Utah I have joined a writer’s group with more confidence than I had two years ago.
Let’s go back to my blank page from just two years ago. While the entire story is true, does it sound believable? The whole story sounds unbelievable to me, but I have great memories of Southwest Louisiana and the people I have met. I will miss all of you.
Thanks for the memories.
Stan is an Associate Dean in the College of Technology and Computing and is responsible for the School of Applied Technology and Construction at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. His e-mail address is sklemetson (at) uvu.edu. His phone is 801-368-6476.