The first time
The woman seems nice enough as she tells you about writing from prompts and how they can jump start your creative juices. Then again, you’re finding it hard to pay attention. It is, after all, seven-oh-three in the morning–otherwise known as the time you get up when you have to go to work. On the weekend, seven-oh-two still qualifies as night time. And it’s Saturday. Your first Saturday at a writer’s conference.
The coffee helps, but doesn’t completely take away the overwhelming combination of exhaustion and fear. The fear’s been there since you got in the car yesterday. What if you come to the conference and they see through you? Decide you’re not really a writer and shun you? What if you ask a really, really, insanely stupid question at a conference session? What if you say something that causes someone who listened to get a concussion from the forehead slap?
And now, this woman, who smiles and seems nice, turns to an evil devil spawn as she says she’ll ask people to share the results of what they wrote. She doesn’t really intend to call on you, does she?
She reads the prompt and then you process the words she’s said twice. You don’t have to write anything, really. You could sprint to the car and burn down I-4 back home before people see through you. They all seem to know each other–then you remind yourself to pay attention to the prompt so you can write something.
It can’t possibly get worse. Then she finishes reading the prompt and your mind goes blank. Absolutely blank. Like a white sheet of paper. Like an albino polar bear in a blizzard on a glacier. The kind of blank where you’d forget how to breathe if you could.
The cursor mocks you on the computer screen and the panic that assaults your body would cause you to spontaneously combust.
You type the first three words that come to mind.
I got nothing.
And you really do have nothing. No other words come. But you put your fingers to the keys and type anyway. And to your surprise words come. They’re not great words, but they make sense if you read them together. And the clock that was ticking in your mind–she said you have ten minutes–seems to fade and the words build on themselves. As they flow into ideas, you notice that you aren’t terrified any more.
“Time’s up,” she says.
And while the first guy reads, you go over what you wrote. It’s not Pulitzer material, but it’s not awful. It’s actually pretty good. In fact, as other people read, you think yours might not be horrible after all.
When your hand goes up to volunteer, the panic comes back. Surely there’s some sort of secret NSA program in place because you didn’t tell your hand to do that. And now it’s like that picture in the old video about walking onto a nude beach for the first time.
And she turns and smiles and seems accommodating when she calls your name. You stand up and you start to read and again, your horror is calmed a little as you lose yourself in the words and you dare yourself to think it isn’t the worst thing ever written.
You finish and there’s a brief moment of silence while your heart seizes like the engine on your Dad’s old ’56 Pontiac.
And then they clap.
And it’s good. And amazing. And then you’re glad you came again.