What I Learned From “Revising One Sentence”

Lydia Davis’ Revising One Sentence helped me understand the writing process a little. I consider myself a beginner writer so I don’t have much that I do to prepare myself so Revising One Sentence has helped me figure that out for myself. Her process doesn’t start with some elaborate set up or anything, it just begins on a day where she feels happy and decides to write about it in her journal. The first things she considers is whether she will use first or third person, if it matters that she is doing the action then it will be in first person but if it only matters that the action is being done then she will use third person so that she doesn’t get in the way of the story. I can fully understand this because it’s so easy to let personal or real things creep their way into a fictional story. When I find myself writing fiction, which sadly isn’t often, it is almost always that something I have seen or experienced makes their way into the story somehow. This may be because I, like Davis, write myself into the story and it’s hard to separate a fictional character with your name from your actual experiences.

Davis talks about her notebook that she writes in and how she uses it for every piece of work, regardless of its quality. Her explanation of how notebooks or journals are for all of your thoughts instead of the more formed and final ones made me realize that even writers have thoughts that don’t lead anywhere and stories that don’t amount to anything. It’s just part of the process that every writer experiences and shouldn’t scare me away from trying to write. Davis also said that she writes anything she wants to but never publishes anything that is morally wrong. This made me think about movies like We Need to Talk About Kevin, where a woman’s teenage son commits a mass murder at his high school. This type of movie can seen as “morally wrong” because actual mass shooting survivors may feel that their trauma is being used for personal gain or amusement. Writing about traumatic fictional events may not resonate with that audience as much as we’d like to think. It could come off as distasteful or ignorant and should probably be the story that you keep in your notebook instead of publishing.

Something else Davis discussed was her habits that make her unafraid to write. One if these was starting her stories in her notebook so there’s no pressure to finish it. As I begin to write more, I am realizing that not everything written has to be good or sensical. Whether it be in a notebook or in Google Docs, writing without quality at the forefront of my mind each time can help me find my writing process and figure out what works best for me. Another habit Davis has is to begin a new story right in the middle of writing another because it’s harder to write a new story when you plan to. I find this to be the case with my writing as well. When I know that I need to write a story I get more writer’s block than ever. I haven’t tried beginning a new story before finishing the first but after reading this I will. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my writing because I know I don’t put as much effort into it compared to other things.

A few classes ago, we read an essay about the importance of setting in a story by Laurie Ann Doyle. She expresses her need for setting to be as detailed as possible and how this outshines the need for more detail in the plot. Lydia Davis also talked about how she would pay more attention to setting when she felt that all her stories be longer ones. At a point in time I felt like all the writings I did had to be long but I think this was to make up for the quality of the writing because I knew I wasn’t any good. This made me wonder, is setting or plot more important? I can see arguments for both, but I’d have to argue that the plot is more important. You can have the most fitting setting, but if the story lacks then the entire story will. The plot gives the story density so I’d have to argue the plot is more important.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Over the weekend I watched a new movie on HBO Max called Judas and the Black Messiah and it has become one of my new favorite movies. It is a historical drama based on the activism of Black Panther Fred Hampton and how FBI informant William O’ Neal contributed to his assassination. Before this movie, I didn’t know much about the Black Panther Party nor had I ever heard of William O’Neal. One thing that stood out to me during the movie was Fred Hampton’s age as well as his peers in the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton was 21 when he was assassinated and many of his peers were 21 and younger at the height of their activism. I am their age and could not imagine leading a revolution at the age of 20 or younger. William O’Neal was around 17 at the time of his infiltration of the BPP but I thought he seemed so old in the movie. I would’ve thought he was around 25 or 30 but he was so much younger. He became an informant after he was caught stealing cars and an FBI agent gave him the choice of five years in jail or helping the FBI take down Fred Hampton. I could understand why he made the decision he did, being that he was only 17 and had never been to jail before. There is a scene in the movie where J. Edgar Hoover talks to the agents in Chicago who are planning Hampton’s arrest, and tells them that Hampton has become too popular and they have to do more than arrest him. It was at this moment that I realized that the plan to kill him had probably been in motion long before the events of the movie took place. Fred Hampton was gaining national attention and united people of all races to stand against police brutality, much to the dismay of the FBI. Something tells me that William O’Neal was not made knows of the plan to kill Hampton, but actions are still unforgivable in my opinion. O’ Neal killed himself on January 15, 1990, the night his first interview aired on television. A close relative told the media that he was tortured by the guilt of his actions which led to his suicide. I am not surprised by this especially because black people who cooperate with the police are not respected in the black community once they have done so. Fred Hampton had so much life to live and for it to be taken with the help of someone he thought was a friend and ally is very saddening. Watching the movie has also made me feel a little self-conscious about the work I’m doing. I feel like I am not doing enough to be my age. Fred Hampton and other members of the BPP were holding marches are advancing their community in their early twenties, but what am I doing currently? Should I be doing the same thing? Should I be more active in the community? I should also remember, though, that times were much different at the time of the BPP. Hampton and many other activists strived for a society where black people could advance and I think social media halted the need for people like this. It’s so easy to be an Instagram or Twitter activist and not believe anything you claim to be fighting for because it’s over the internet. So many people have been outed as being fake believers of the ideas they preach about on social media that it’s hard to tell who actually believes what they say. Social media has also made it harder for young people to see reality for what it is. Anyone can create a platform and spew whatever knowledge they feel they have on any topic they choose, but this does not mean they know what they’re talking about or that they will do anything to help their cause. It is so easy to take things at face value and not question things that may seem wrong when you’re young. During the existence of the BPP, there was no question of whether or not someone was “down for the cause”, except for informants like O’Neal. Those who you saw marching were the ones you believed to be fighting for the same thing you were and you didn’t really have to question it. I don’t see the trajectory of social media activism changing, but I hope that I’m wrong for the sake of the younger generation.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The first time I read Between the World and Me was my senior year of high school in my Black Studies class. My teacher wanted us to read it because the author is from Baltimore, and so are we, and it connected to our lesson of how blackness is exhibited in art. I didn’t really want to read it at first but I’m so glad I did. The book was a letter from Coates to his young son telling him how to navigate America as a black man. He told his stories about growing up in Baltimore and noticed how easily lives were taken, and wanted to stress to his son that he must protect his own at all costs. Something that really stood out to me were his descriptions of his college. He went to Howard University and described it as his “Mecca”. Reading his experiences at an HBCU and how much he loved it made me want to go to one too. Sadly, my HBCU experience wasn’t as great as I would have liked but I’m still very grateful for it. I saw a lot of myself in Coates’ words and it was very empowering to see a man from Baltimore who had experienced many of the things I had to go on and be a famous author. Although I don’t know Coates personally, it means a lot to a black girl from Baltimore to read his story.

WattPad

Lately I’ve been thinking about this app I used to write stories on in middle school. At the time I was really into a group called Mindless Behavior, and other young black artists who popular at this time but mostly them, who had a really large following on Instagram. Their fans would make fan pages in instagram and write fan fiction on an app called WattPad. They would post the cover pages on Instagram and tells the followers from the fan page to read it and I always did. I loved Mindless Behavior so much I would watch or read anything pertaining to them. Not always, but the stories would often go like this: a fan goes to a concert, one of the members of the group would notice them in the audience and tell them to meet them backstage after the concert is over. They would instantly fall in love, get into a relationship, and it would end in heartbreak because he was always on the move and cheat or didn’t have enough time for her. Although these stories had very similar plots, I was always interested and didn’t want to read anything else. My mother would urge me to read actual books with correct grammar but I didn’t care. In my mind, these books were so much better than anything sold at Barnes and Noble. I tried to write my own but quickly realized I wasn’t good at it. The story surprisingly wasn’t a Mindless Behavior story, but a horror story I wrote after my 13th birthday. I was in eighth grade and for my birthday I went to haunted forest and had a sleepover at a hotel. My friend and I were too scared to go along the path, even though we had already paid for tickets, so we stayed with my parents the whole time. For some reason, this horror theme stayed with me and I wrote a story on WattPad to makeup for missing out. I titled the story “thehaunted.” (childish, I know) and it was about a girl named Taylor and her friends who six friends who go out for her birthday and get the idea to go to a haunted house. Once they get there they realize they’re going missing and getting killed one by one. I won’t go into detail about the plot because it was that bad. It was written in the form of a script instead of a novel, probably because I though it was easier to do it that way when I was 13. I realized that I wasn’t meant to be a writer when I reread the story a couple months later and couldn’t even make it through the first chapter which was only about 10 lines. Although the story is some of my worst work, I look back at it and gives me a nostalgic feeling. 13 was probably on of the most fun years of my childhood and I honestly wish I could go back. To not have any responsibility or care about anything but having fun would be a dream to relive.

Hello world!

Hello, everyone! My name is Taylor Johnson and I am a junior from Baltimore, Maryland. This is only my second semester at Temple being that I have transferred from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. This Creative Writing course is the first I’ve ever taken in my academic career. I always thought I was terrible at writing, especially fiction writing so I never wanted to explore it any further. I really enjoy reading fiction writing but never thought that I had the ability to write a cohesive story. When telling stories by mouth, I always skip around and can never follow an order so I thought it would be the same when writing. However, I’m looking forward to writing fiction this semester. I believe that the reason I’m so hesitant to write fiction is because I rarely try it. I look forward to getting out of my comfort zone so that in future I won’t be as hesitant to write fiction. I am also hoping that this class will push me to start reading more. As a child, reading used to be one of my favorite hobbies but this changed as I got older. The last time I read a novel in its entirety was my senior year of high school and I haven’t since. The name of the book that I last read is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and is still one of my favorite books to this day. One of my New Years’ resolutions is to read at least five books this year and I am hoping that I complete this goal.
Another book I read my senior year that I love is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I probably loved this book so much because my English teacher really loved it and I loved his class. He made reading enjoyable for me because of the way he taught the class and the books he picked for us to read. They were always interesting and I could relate to almost every book we read. Books about teenagers and young adults resonate with me the most and are what I enjoy, which is probably I haven’t read much since then. My professors in college have rarely chosen writing that involves young adults, or fiction on for that matter.
A new fiction television show that I really enjoy is called Lovecraft Country on HBO. It’s the story of a man named Tic, short for Atticus, who goes on a search for his missing father in the 1950’s and discovers that his bloodline is riddled keepers of black magic. The show was adapted from multiple stories by an author named H.P. Lovecraft, who is known for his horror and science fiction. I usually don’t like science fiction shows or movies but this show really caught my attention. When I think of science fiction, my minds darts to Star Wars or Star Trek. Lovecraft Country is a one-of-a-kind television show that I never could have anticipated. It took me completely by surprise but I’m glad that I didn’t let the unfamiliarity of the genre to stop me from watching. It takes place in 1950’s Chicago during the Jim Crow era and includes realistic stories of how Tic and his family had to endure racism and the secrets of his ancestry. I’ve never seen a show dealing with all of these elements at the same time and that is what really made me enjoy it. Seeing a story like this with black people was so new for me but also very refreshing. It reminded me that any story can be a black story and while it was historical it was also fictional.
Two works of fiction that I really want to begin reading is The Coldest Winter Ever and Life After Death by Sister Souljah. Life After Death is the sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever and it is being released in 2021. The first book was released in 1999 and its sequel is very anticipated. The novel tells the story of a teenage girl named Winter who is the daughter of a notorious drug dealer and after he is arrested, she must learn to survive on her own. This book is one of my mother’s favorites and because I wasn’t too fond of reading in high school, I never read it. However, I’ve been hearing great reviews of the book and think that I should give it a try, especially since the sequel is coming out soon. I really think I’ll enjoy this book because I can relate to it and that’s what I like to read about the most. Coming-of-age tales about young women are the easiest for me to relate to.