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During my junior year of college, I had a particularly animated professor. I mean, he is a baseball team mascot in his free time animated. Unfortunately for me, I spoke up about my hatred for baseball before I knew this, so I ended up being the butt of a lot of jokes when my professor revealed that our final grade project involved creating a marketing campaign for his baseball team.
To make it worse, he constantly gave examples and prompts involving baseball, essentially ensuring that I never had the faintest clue to what he was talking about. I didn’t care for him much, to say the least.
One day, he told us to write a fictional story about ourselves. The story would be only three sentences, for a total of nine words, and needed to be full of dramatic language. Subject verb object. Subject verb object. Subject verb object. And in those nine words, we needed to tell a life altering story.
I rolled my eyes because once again he was bouncing off the walls with excitement about this fairly bland assignment. Nine words? How much did this textbook cost and I’m only writing nine words?
I chose three extraordinarily dramatic verbs: traversed, exploded, conquered. Nothing said dramatic like war terminology. The professor kept emphasizing us to write bigger, to tell a truly great story.
So for the object of my ridiculously over-the-top, fictional story, I chose the Nazi’s. Nothing said drama like the last World War.
Here’s what my final assignment looked like:
Alyssa traversed time.
Alyssa exploded (the) Nazi’s.
Alyssa conquered Hitler.
My short story seemed life altering, action packed, and completely fictional enough for an A to me.
But when we our papers were returned, the professor gave us a shock.
“Take your nine words that I just returned to you and write a full story. It just needs to be 1-2 pages, nothing too long. Take your nine words and create a believable story. It will still be fictional, but make it feel real. Pack it with action verbs just like your first assignment.”
“What?” I seethed from the back row. I wrote about going back in time! How am I supposed to make that a believable story? Okay, I didn’t put quotations around those words, but I’m pretty sure I actually exclaimed my fury aloud. My mission to mock my professor’s outlandish animation backfired.
That night I sat down and read my three sentences over and over. I knew enough about Hitler and the Nazis from school to write something about them, but I knew nothing about time travel or explosives and had no time to research anything that wouldn’t get flagged by the NSA.
So I sat at a blank word document and thought to myself,
“What would Jason Bourne do?”
Really, that’s what I did. I didn’t think about what J.K. Rowling would do, even though she’s a fiction writer, I thought about what the character would do. What would I do if I were Jason Bourne instead of Alyssa Padgett?
In the next few hours, I cranked out nine pages of drama. I used words like “pyrotechnics” and “global supremacy.” I closed my eyes and imagined each scene. I felt the emotion, the jolt of the time machine, the warmth of explosives. I wrote a few thousand words and transformed my mind to become the Alyssa in my story. The Alyssa who exploded a Nazi training camp in September of 1939 before they could invade Poland.
That was all two years ago, but I think about my Nazi experience often. In all my years of schooling, I don’t think I ever worked as hard on a paper until that one.
Because as I wrote this fictional story, I fell in love.
I fell in love with writing. I fell in love with thinking of half a dozen ways to say the word “explode.” I fell in love with bringing a story to life. I recognized the beauty of simplicity and growing nine words into nine pages of thrilling art.
When my professor gave me the assignment, I hated him. I imagined him sitting at home grading our nine words, seeing mine, and thinking it would be a really fun way to punish me by making me create a story about Nazi’s. But by the end of struggling to become a top secret government commander fighting a Nazi resurgence for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (also known as SHIELD), I realized that every opportunity to write is a blessing.
Some days, like today, writing feels like the hardest thing in the world. It feels like punishment. Some days, I write three blogs before lunch and spend the rest of the day seeing the world. Either way, writing is what I love.
This post was written to remind myself (and maybe you too) that I love writing even when I think I hate what I love.