The Sad Trombone

When I was in college, I had a creative writing instructor who would mark me down a full grade every time I included a fantastic element in my submissions. This was basically like punishing me for breathing.

Halfway through the semester, I managed to scrape together a vignette about autumn, something about a trombone sitting abandoned in the back of a kid’s closet. It was maybe 500 words.

She gave me full marks and praised it to the heavens, and then became even more bitter and aggressive with me when I was unable to turn in anything else that did not involve Weirdness.

Every time I handed her an assignment, the question flickered in her eyes: Why are you wasting your time writing this juvenilia, when we both know I will mark you down?

But I couldn’t stop doing it; not even for the sake of my lackluster GPA could I scrape together some slice-of-life literary shorts to please this strange and unhappy woman, who seemed genuinely disturbed by my inability to harrow to “the truth” in my fiction. And there was a very simple reason for this:

Because she was trying to squelch me. To make me into something I wasn’t, and never will be. And if that’s not bad writing advice, I don’t know what is.The end result was that I was galvanized by her prejudice, determined I would never write anything that she considered “true”.

The whole thing about writing, is that it’s a compulsion. It comes from the gut. It is our personal truth, the only truth we know, and also the truths we don’t know and are trying desperately to understand by writing them out, over and over again. And in fiction, truth is not always universal, because there are so many different ways to write it.

When we submit our work, we open ourselves to opinion and critique. All critique should be listened to with an open ear, but not all critique is valid. The only way you learn to discern the difference is by listening openly, considering carefully, and then going with your gut.

Never write someone else’s story. Only write what you want to write, what your heart and gut knows is true. For that writing instructor, truth was young girls with budding sexualities like ripening tomatoes. For me, truth is vampires and voodoo. One isn’t more right than the other. They are all truths.

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