In college I took a fiction writing class. It was a time in my life where I learned how to take a blow from another writer. The structure of the class was one where we read our stories aloud and then we’d critique each other.
Sometimes our professor had us swap stories with a random person in the class and we’d critique their story, then bring it in to class and read it aloud the following week.
One afternoon I walked into class, sat down, and riffled through my folder for the story I’d critiqued the night before. My hands searched unsuccessfully as, to my immediate alarm, I realized the story was still back at my dorm. With two minutes ’till the start of class, I slipped out of the room and dashed down the hall.
My dorm was five minutes away, but I ran the whole way with my ponytail whipping behind me. Students passing by, side-grinned at me, but I ignored them because they’d probably been in a similar situation at one point or another.
The dorm was empty. Most everyone was in class by now. I ran down the hall and almost collided with a girl coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel.
“Forget something?” she hollered after me.
“Of all the days!” I yelled back.
There it was, sitting on my desk, marked with purple ink. I snatched it up and hurried back to class. The door was closed when I returned. This was a sure sign I was extremely late. It also meant someone’s story was being read. The cold door handle clicked opened as I held my breath and entered.
The words that filled the room as I searched for a seat took me by surprise, for it was my story that was chosen first, my story that the student up front was reading. My story that I’d crafted so carefully, penned so precisely, typed so timidly. Of all the stories.
She read on, and to my surprise the class was captivated, even the professor listened intently, eyes down, fingers folded in his lap. The girl reading my story was nearly to the last page, when she stopped right in the middle of some well-written dialogue.
“And that’s it,” she said. “It kind of just ends there.”
I looked up, in bewilderment, wondering why she’d failed to read the last page. But no one else seemed to notice. The professor asked for some critique and critique was given.
“I don’t really know what to make of it,” said the reader, “Seeing that it ends in dialogue.”
“Yes, but what did you think of the story?” the professor prodded.
I was beginning to feel nauseous, realizing that in a few minutes I’d have to admit that this half-finished story was mine. The only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I’d failed to print the last page, when I had turned it in the week before. Maybe the printer ran out of paper. Maybe I’d only grabbed the four pages and left the fifth one alone on the printer.
Oh, did my stomach churn.
Thankfully the professor liked my story and gave it some very constructive criticism. The class asked who the author was and I raised my hand, reluctantly.
“Where did you get the idea?” the professor asked, and all eyes turned to me. My forehead was damp with sweat, my palms were itchy, and my feet were still hot from the jog.
“A headline,” came my voice. The inspiration came from a news headline I’d seen while surfing the web. The headline read, “Family found after living in hole for eight years.” The class laughed at my explanation, and my moment of humiliation was over
What is worse than presenting a half-written story, a half completed assignment, a partially finished task?
I sometimes struggle with living a partially finished life. A life that is still moving, still going, still sitting out in the world with an end in sight but an unseen future. I like to think of my life as a story. But it’s scary not knowing where this protagonist is going to end up. I sit at the edge of my seat in the middle of a life where bad things keep happening. I’m a storyteller. I know every story needs conflict, but keeping an objective outlook is hardest when you’re the main character.