Yes, I Write for Revenge

Post Date: January 30th, 2010

“Writing well is the best revenge.”
— Dorothy Parker

Page count, new novel: 135 pages

Today I’m writing against pettiness. I’m writing against smallness of mind, against laziness, and against resentment.

I know a person or two who would rather not see others succeed. I know a person or two who plant themselves like road blocks so people can stream around them, trying to get somewhere.

I’m not talking about editors or agents or literary magazines. I’m talking about everyday people whose only goal is “getting by.” That or “biding time” until they can be somewhere else. They are present only in certain moments, and they tune out when asked to do anything for anyone else. They blame, they whine, they complain, and they sap your creative energy.

Those folks make life weary for those of us who fuel ourselves up every day on nervous energy and passion. Who strive every day to achieve a dream.

I’m not better; I’m just driven. But driven doesn’t always suit your environment, and like a fly I buzz against the confines of places where the dreary, slow souls of the world tread. They take delight in very little except their own obstinacy. While I’m asking, “How might we solve this?” they’re asking, “When’s this over?”

So, needless to say, I entered my writing time mad today.

What does it mean for me to write well?

Write 10 drafts and call it a first.

Read that tenth draft aloud, red pen in hand, and mark it up.

Get your butt back in the chair, facing the screen.

Write about the people you dislike (okay, despise) and then step into their shoes. Feel their pain, their angst, and anger against the wrong people. Beat with their hearts as they make their sound and fury known against the tide of life, thinking they’ve made a mark before they go home and disappear in front of their TVs.

Some people get behind a sports team. They watch and cheer for revenge. Me, I get behind my writing, and this one, I won’t lose.

In his Preface to Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction, edited by Terry McMillan, John Edgar Wideman writes:

We’ve always been outsiders, orphans, bastard children, hard-pressed to make our claims heard…Beaten down by countless assertions of the inadequacy, the repugnance of our own skin, we’ve been forced to enter the skins of others, to see, as a condition of survival, the world and ourselves through the eyes of others. Our stories can place us back at the center, at the controls; they can offer alternative realities, access to the sanctuary we carry around inside our skulls. The African-American imagination has evolved as discipline, defense, coping mechanism, counterweight to the galling facts of life. We’ve learned to confer upon ourselves the power of making up our lives, changing them as we go along.

What Wideman writes of are some serious obstacles: slavery and centuries of political, social, and economic impression. As a white middle-class female writer, I can’t claim as many obstacles, and reading Wideman’s statement reminds me of what is working for me, not against me, as I write. I write with a certain boldness and expectation granted since birth that the world wants to hear my voice and that the mainstream will understand my themes; I write with economic and social advantages too numerous to list. Being female is a disadvantage, sure, as is being the highly-sensitive person who bleeds when someone looks at her funny. I’ve seen both qualities hamper my success. But it’s rare that my environment has found me “repugnant.” I often confuse repugnant with repulsive, but if I take an etymological note, repugnant is rooted in resistance and fight. As I sit in front of a computer with a day to write, my world does not resist me. Let’s remember that.

Let’s call what brought me to this computer raging in high umbrage an irritation–a pesky fly. Let’s give it note but not let it drain me of vital energy and emotion.I must remember: all of us can be birds, soaring within the sanctuary of skull and soul.

And in honor of the wondrous J.D. Salinger (did he ever write for revenge): rest assured, there ain’t no phonies in heaven.

****

Today’s Writing Goal: Read aloud a short story in its umpteenth draft (yeah, this story has been in process since college, and I just completely overhauled the point of view, but if I were to guess, it’s in draft #17), and prepare for submission. Submit another short story to five more magazines. And begin to read the 135 pages of the new novel, in hard copy, to remind myself of what I’ve written and circle back to achieve some unity and consistency moving forward.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.


Elementary Prompts

• What makes you so mad that you “see red”? Write about a time when you got so mad you did something you regretted.
• List 10 things that make you mad. Which one makes you the maddest? Why?
• Imagine you could start the world over from scratch. You could design a world where no one ever gets mad. What would this world have to look like so that no one would ever get mad?
• Finish this sentence by telling a story. “One time I tried to get revenge by…”
• Now rewrite this story, this time from the point of view of the person you tried to hurt.

Secondary and Adult Prompts

• Write about a time when you got so mad you did something you regretted.
• List 10 things that make you mad. Which one makes you the maddest? Why?
• Imagine you are capable of re-creating this planet. You could design a world where no one ever loses his or her temper. What would this world have to look like so that no one would ever feel anger?
• Finish this sentence by telling a story. “One time I tried to get revenge by…”
• Now rewrite this story, this time from the point of view of the person you tried to hurt.
• Finish this sentence, “Revenge is sweet when…” and share three examples.
• Finish this sentence, “Revenge is bitter when…” and share three examples.

2 Comments

  1. bobmust says:

    Lyn – you hav one BIG demographic going for you: some polls claim that eighty percent of readers are women, largely because of reading groups.

    Regarding reading a story aloud – -do you listen to Selected Shorts on NPR? Most of their stories are first person and a bit too selective for my taste, but it might be interesting to read one of your stories aloud, record it, and listen to it – then listen to one from Selected Shorts. See if there are differences to note about style, voice, etc.

  2. Lyn Hawks says:

    What an excellent idea. Reading aloud is always my final step before submitting. I catch so much in rhythm and tone that I can’t see/hear/feel on the screen.












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