Alina Snopkowski, Editor
Let me set the scene:
It’s late March or early April, 2020. The coronavirus “everyone leave school, go home, and stay there” has been going on for a little while. My parents, both employees of different school districts, are more or less working completely virtually. Everyone is trapped inside with nowhere to go and not much to do. Somehow my mom stumbles across an advertisement in a southern Delaware newspaper about a ‘beach mysteries’ themed short-story writing contest.
My parents do not describe themselves as writers. They write, of course — things like reports, presentations and professional emails — but not short stories. But they want to enter this contest, partially for bragging rights and partially for a chance at the $500 grand prize. So they write, creatively, for the first time in who knows how long. Each comes up with an idea for what they consider a ‘beach mystery.’ My three sisters and I read these stories with multicolored pens in hand and ask questions like “what does this mean?” and “why did she think that?” and “what’s the point of this story, really?”
From April through the end of June, we lived and breathed these stories (we can still recite lines of them from memory). The competition was against all those other nameless people who would be submitting their own short stories to this contest, but if you asked anyone in my family, the real competition was between my parents, because each was convinced their story was going to win the $500 grand prize and be featured in the book of winners.
Neither of my parents’ stories won first prize. Neither story even ended up in the top twenty and included in the book. That could’ve been the end of it — “we tried, we didn’t win, this proves we aren’t “real” writers.”
But, for the next few months, both of my “non-writer” parents kept writing short stories. I started to see some common themes in their writing. My mom writes about family, commitment and dreams. My dad writes about memory, obligation and responsibility. Both write about the connections between the past and the present. Sometimes they brought their stories to me for critique, but sometimes I had to ask them if I could read what they’d written, because they were writing for themselves — because they’d found something they wanted to say.
So here’s my proposal: find the time to write. Even if — especially if — you don’t consider yourself a “writer.” We all have to write papers and slideshows and discussion board replies. That’s a completely different type of writing. Write something for yourself. Write something you’d like to read. Even if you don’t think you know the “right” way to do it. We’ve all read at least one book in our lives. We’ve all watched movies and TV shows and know what a story is. You don’t need to write a novel. It’s probably better if you don’t, at least to start. Write a page of short story. That’s all.
I’m not trying to stress anyone out, or take time away from your schoolwork, or add another “assignment” to what probably seems like an endless pile of things to do. Just the opposite, really. I want you to write a short story because it’s a “reset button” from all the academic writing we have to do. I want you to take some time on a day you don’t have much classwork to do, or a Saturday you have off from work, or the time you usually spend mindlessly browsing social media to write a short story. If you want some more structure or inspiration, an online search for “writing prompts” will give you anything from phrases to lines of dialogue to single words or objects to base stories around. See where that takes you. There’s a nice feeling of accomplishment when you finish writing a short story — “I did this. I said something.”
You might learn more about yourself, too. Everyone is drawn to something — some idea or question or experience. You might notice that the same sorts of things keep showing up in your writing, and then you can ask yourself why. “What is it about these things that just gets to me?” Writing can bring both relaxation and self-reflection.
So, if you can, find the time to clear your mind and think of just one thing:
“What do I want to say?”