Writing Prompt #4-Learning from James Joyce

I am over the moon,

excited about going to Ireland in July with some writer and non-writer friends. However, as a teacher, I am thinking about how I (we) can thoroughly for the trip to our literary benefit. I researched authors to discover how we can use them in our workshops and as inspiration.

James Joyce

An Irish literary discussion frequently begins with James Joyce. I have been trying to get through both A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Both have been difficult. It makes me wonder, what we learn from reading other writers. Finding a voice in creative writing is a challenge. I know. And, when we read the classics, the greats and the ground breakers, we try to emulate to a certain extent. I think many young writers begin by studying a form, then emulating and finally morphing into his or her own style.

I am reading James Joyce, but struggle when trying to explain his style.

He is a wonderful storyteller. Am I a wonderful storyteller? He adds details that advance the scene without burdening the reader with empty phrases. I have learned to add substance not fluff. I have learned to describe by adding action not too much back story. I have learned to add conflict to keep my readers interested, but Joyce does so much more than that. He has style, color and dynamics. He tells his story personally.

Telling a story is a unique and very personal process.

While it is a good start to emulate another style, I feel one should develop a unique voice. In Portrait, Joyce describes the young man’s struggle with his teachers and not doing his homework, because he didn’t have his glasses. His emotion is palatable. I feel the angst that the boy has about his glasses and his schoolmaster shame.

What shameful moments have you negotiated? How have you dealt with disappointing an authority figure?

Here is one of my stories. It was 7th grade language arts. I was a smart kid, but not a popular kid. I always turned in my homework and strives to achieve the best. For some reason, that year, I felt like it was not good to be smart. I thought that being smart was hurting my chances to be popular. I stopped answering questions correctly. I sat in the back of the room and played dumb. I couldn’t write, speak or take a test. I don’t think that I gained any popularity, but what I did gain was an uncomfortable meeting with my teacher and my parents. Oh, and I got an F for the quarter. I saw the F and my parents saw the F and my stomach dropped into my shiny patent leather Mary Janes. I could never have predicted how that F would make me feel. I never got another one in my entire life until once in graduate school. And of course, it wasn’t my fault. I sat between my parents across the desk from my blonde perky teacher. “Susan isn’t applying herself” and she was not clear why.

We talked for a few minutes. I promised to try harder and I realized that being cool wasn’t worth that feeling.

I worked hard from that day on I rarely received less than an A-. Phew!

Your turn!

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