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Anonymous Messages

July 15, 2013

Not long ago interstellar astronomers discovered the first rogue planet—that is, a planet drifting through deep space not attached to a star. Just floating.  It is gaseous and as big as Jupiter but with a 5.8 greater mass.  It is dark, not hot enough to give off light, nor close enough to a star to reflect it. Now we think there may be billions of these untethered orbs drifting through space lonely and unattached, which brings us to the subject of writers.

Like many writers I teach in order to stay in touch with the rules of the craft and other humanoids. Writing is a solitary occupation like Yellowstone ranger in winter or Antarctic explorer in any month of the year.  Teaching allows one to travel with the tribe for a time. And it’s a nice tribe, inclusive, with no discernible commonalities in terms of day jobs, age or appearance– aside from the longing.

At my workshops and seminars 82 –year- olds sit next to 18 –year- olds. College professors, physicists, accountants, circle the table elbow to elbow with angst-y freshmen co-eds and soccer players and each has a story and a longing for it to be heard.

The question is will anybody listen? For years I’ve tried to teach that the concept to write what you know is all wrong. No one cares what you know, No one believes you because you are only an authority on yourself.

So this winter I made a presentation at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference knowing I’d be in good company. The conference was packed, sold out a month beforehand. I was nervous initially, but warmed to my audience and topic because when you make a presentation it isn’t about you and after a few minutes you remember that.

I thought it had gone quite well. Quite a few pleasant emails came in until the one that began, ’’I thought I’d do you a favor and critique your performance. You used the word “but” 12 times in the first 5 minutes.”  

But wait, I thought! That can’t be true! I read on. It got worse. I immediately wanted to write back and became momentarily obsessed, enamored with composing an eloquent smack down of sorts —“thank you for sharing your thoughtful critique BUT …Then I wanted to tell everyone—to press my embarrassment into every willing palm. Then I wanted to just delete the email entirely and move on. The sender could be a nut.  What if she showed up at my house! Became truly hostile online?

We’re a tricky tribe. Most of us are creative and kind, and at the very least, well intended. And we’re not really drifting through space untethered. Writing is an attractive force, a form of gravity, always pulling us toward each other.

Write a page experimenting with someone who receives an anonymous note or email. Is it flattering or threatening? Is there a clue as to the sender’s identity? What if the email is from someone who died? Or really use your imagination—what if it is from the recipient’s former dog? Plots are driven more by RE-action than action. Stay with the recipient—what is real about the note is less important than what the recipient fears or believes is real.  Try this for 15 minutes and see if you get a couple of intriguing lines.
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One Comment
  1. Luanne permalink

    Ugh, that must have felt awful. She might have thought you were so good that she hated to see anything mar your communication of your great ideas. 🙂 Good prompt.

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