This story is by Victoria Jurgens and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A satisfying crinkly-crunch and the hurled orb flies across the room. Yes! Two points. You smile as you experience the feeling of being a real writer. The pile of paper balls laying everywhere didn’t cost a dime.
You are a saver – like your mom. No, not like your mom, she saved everything. You only save paper. Small envelopes are for writing your daily affirmations. The big ones work super well to jot down ideas, notes, and do some free-writing. No wasting of money, paper, or even trees in this home.
Now here you are in the middle of your office that was once a second bedroom; it is your haven to write and create. Although lately, it is a mess piled high with thoughts and bits of thoughts. Scribblers, partially filled with story ideas that you begin but never end, are in there. Somewhere.
You think about your chosen career – writing – as you grab another piece of paper from the pile. You do owe a debt-of-gratitude to your friend. Losing her high-powered job years ago, she started writing as a way to engage her brain and to help others. In turn, she made more money than at any time in her life. Twenty books in, she was a success. She encouraged you to write too, to take your mind off of being isolated.
She doesn’t know what isolation is, you decide. You have recently moved to a new city to be close to the kids that graduated many months ago. What a mistake! The twins joined the armed forces. Now they are off on some secret mission somewhere in the world and you are alone. Alone, but not lonely. Weird.
Another friend shared how the words flow so easily and she writes them down. “Great for her,” you think; you wish that would happen to you. Sharing those poems with others is easy because they are inspiring.
Off to read another blog. Yes, that will help you this time. There’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet. With isolation happening, due to this pandemic, and being in a new city, there’s plenty of time to catch up on the latest. No need to take a writing degree; follow the latest blogger who will help you create your fortunes. Hmph! Plain old money to pay for a few extras would be a good thing right about now. This fixed pension doesn’t go far. The biggest holidays you take are in your imagination or a book from the library. Except you cannot check out a physical book because of this pandemic.
It’s time to get back to writing. Having time on your side is both a blessing and a curse. Isolation means you know no one is coming through the door. You have all the time you want.
“Yes, get back to writing,” you tell yourself, “Right after you take a quick gander through Facebook. The family needs to know you are alive and well.” Then you phone your sibling who has been waiting for a call. It is always fun to talk about nothing – and everything. Two cups of tea later, you hang up. Your sibling is a real talker.
The pointy-nosed old shrew is back. You know that old bitty in your head that tells you nothing you do is right. Another crumpled orb goes flying. Yes, you could type on the computer and save all the trees but you aren’t wrecking any trees. This paper comes to you via snail mail. Using as many senses as possible, while you write, makes for stronger writing. Besides, you know how much more you remember when you’ve written something down with your pen or pencil in hand.
The old shrew is at full force. Some call the shrew a critic. You call this critic a shrew. The shrew has a sharp tongue, honed on a thick leather razor-strop. Your grandparents sharpened their knives on a razor-strop. Now a pitchfork comes out, poking nonsense into every one of your ideas. Isn’t it enough, that there is a constant hum of criticism such as, “you call yourself a writer with those words?” What’s next?
The shrew says again, “You will never measure up to the Pulitzer Prize winners. Edit those words.”
“Yes. The words need editing. Be quiet and go sit in a corner,” you say. The old shrew ignores you.
Perhaps you could go to the bank or the store and at least chat with people you know. It’s always fun to listen to the gossip about who does this and who isn’t measuring up. This is all fodder for your next story. Of course, you never engage in the gossip; you listen to it.
Another writer friend invites you to join a writers’ cartel and a writing contest. You figure, “What’s to lose? Helping others with their writing might inspire creativity.” OK, that’s done. It was painless and there are a lot of writers in the cartel.
“It’s time to write a short story. There’s a deadline,” you tell yourself.
A prompt has always worked in the past. Having all these crinkly orbs of paper lying around makes you feel like a writer. So what’s going on? Why not this time? You’ve been writing but not publishing anything – not on a blog or your website or your Facebook page.
When is the muse going to show up?
“Oh-no, not so fast,” the shrew says, “You will never measure up.”
“Be quiet and go sit in a corner!” you shout through clenched teeth, as you get up from your chair to get another cup of tea. You toss your crumpled ball into the garbage as you head out the room.
“Ahhhh! This is great. It’s what I need,” you say to yourself.
A half-hour later you’ve located the clipboard you knew you had somewhere. Such a great find and the clip is perfectly sound, solid, and Clippy. Is that a word? You are sure you can use that in the next story somewhere. OK. How about a pen? One that works would be great.
“Sheesh, none of these works in this cup,” you tell yourself.
Oh, right. Those are for dumping into the garbage. The can in the office is all recyclable, so you wander into the kitchen again to get rid of the pens. This clipboard idea is so brilliant. Now, you can go onto the east-facing deck in the sunshine – perfect for the early morning bird you are. The view of the football field is calming. It means you will never have another building straight across from you. Unless they tear down the school and demolish the football field.
So, what to write about? Sitting yourself down, you take a deep breath and count to three on the inhale. Then count to four on the exhale. Nope, that didn’t help. You open your eyes and grab two flat bankers’ boxes and fold them into useful cubes. You label them with ‘throw out in a month’ and the other ‘donate to the book sale’.
“Write,” says your muse. “You can do everything to make your office, your desk, your chair, and your surroundings aligned. That will not give you a story. Write. Do not stop to correct anything. Do not think about spelling errors or grammar corrections. Put streams of thought down, one-after-the-other.”
“That’s free-writing,” you tell your muse.
Your muse says, “Yes I know,” and pats you on the back. The muse whispers in your ear, “You can do it. You know you can. Your pile of crinkly, crunchy orbs proves it.”
Typing as fast as the thoughts come to you, the muse gives you permission. Or is it yourself giving the permission – to write one word at a time? Type. Much easier to edit words than a blank piece of paper. You feel another pat on the back.
You get excited as the story practically writes itself. Sitting in front of the computer, and staring out the window, you type. You can hardly keep up. The words appear, one letter at a time until they make the opening scene:
NO she screamed. as the sodpsuds washed off yer skin and She crumpled. To the floor She heard silence nonone came running Isolation is always agood thing when you scream at the top of your lungs NO NOT YET
“OK Shrew. It’s your turn,” you wave your hand as you call the Shrew over.
The Shrew looks over your shoulder with an eagle eye and adjusts the piece. “Good thing you have me to help you.”
“NO!” You scream as you crumple to the floor of the shower. Curled in a ball, the gentle stream of warm water rains down; the soapsuds slide off your skin. You listen. Silence. No-one comes running. Isolation is a good thing when you scream at the top of your lungs.
“NO! NOT YET!”