Later that afternoon, I arrived home and plunked myself down in front of a blank screen. It felt like I’d joined the ranks of such writers as Hemingway and Faulkner, Ludlum and Michener, and many others who’d lost manuscripts and had to start over from scratch. Of course, in this day and age, you don’t really have to start from scratch unless you never back up your hard drive.
I have to confess that I went in search of the original, looked longingly at it on the screen for a minute and was tempted to use it as a base. But that would have been cheating. Private Benjamin didn’t cheat; neither did G.I. Jane.
What I had been asked to do was put away the first draft of my story and start over — think about what I wanted to say in a new way. Like my fellow students, I wasn’t sure it was necessary until about two in the morning, when I reread what I’d written and liked it.
The next day, others did too; they responded to the round-the-table read with genuine favour. I was thrilled, and stress — the effect of their kind words combined with lack of sleep — got to me; I burst into tears.
Tears aside, the great thing about writing boot camps is that they make you set a goal and then write for three hours. No procrastination allowed! They force you to think, write and rewrite. They are focused on getting results, making you stronger, forcing you to think outside the box. They aren’t for the faint of heart, those who are crushed by criticism or riddled with self-doubt. But if you can “take the heat,” you will emerge a better writer — more humbled, but also more confident.
In Part 1, I began by questioning the language itself: the use of the words “boot camp” in the context of learning to write. I was trying to be funny, but in the two months since I wrote this three-part piece — based on a compilation of intensive writing workshops taken over the past few years — the world has become a distinctly unfunny planet. With military invasions and the talk of “boots on the ground” overseas, maybe it’s time to rethink the language we currently use to describe literary learning. A quick search online brings up an astonishing amount of military terms to describe writing events — slams, battles, boot camps and rumbles among them. Given the state of the world, maybe it’s time to rethink how we describe the rather peaceful pastime of writing. That’s a question for another post.
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