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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Writer's Challenge (NOT the FaithWriters Challenge) (06/10/10)

TITLE: The Rats
By Beth Muehlhausen


The Rats

“Get it down. Then fix it up.” These bullets of advice summarized Kurt Hank’s view of creative writing success.

Kurt’s voice boomed with authority, suggesting each of his students’ initial efforts should be intentionally inadequate. “Write a really crummy first draft, start-to-finish. THEN, and only then, go back and redeem it.”

He paced the length of the college classroom for emphasis, hands behind his back, seemingly studying the worn wooden floor. “You can’t polish your writing and make it shine so it will glow in other people’s hearts until words get written down in the first place.”

His students’ faces seemed blank; silence hung over the room. Finally a slender young woman with dyed blue hair raised her hand. “You mean we’re supposed to write something horrible?”

Mr, Hanks spoke deliberately. “I mean,” he said with his head still lowered like a battering ram, “you have permission for the first draft to be horrible. It’s okay. The biggest challenge facing most of you right now is a predisposition to edit as you write; to make each paragraph stellar before composing the next and the next and the next.” He shook his head and wagged his pointer finger at the class. “When you do that you lose momentum, get knotted up in phraseology, and the creative process turns cold.” He paused and looked up, studying the rows of eyes. “Even more than that, you effectively shut off the rat in the cellar.”

The blue-haired girl blurted out, “The WHAT?”

“You know, the RAT that slinks around, trying to be secretive and unavailable, even though all the while he knows he’ll connect when you eventually show up.“ He paused. “The rat’s the one who hands up the raw material for your writing through the trap door.”

A classmate with tattooed legs protruding from a dangerously tight mini-skirt raised her hand.

“Yes Charlene?”

“Mr. Hanks, most of us taking this class are English majors who want to learn how to be effective creative writers. We’re not very acquainted with rats.”

Her classmates tittered and Mr. Hanks flashed a rare but magnetic smile. “Precisely!” Then with a furtive, stay-with-me glance around the room he whispered, “But we must connect with those rats – or else all is for naught. The rats are the ones who have the STUFF for our first drafts.”

That got their attention.

“Every time you have a new assignment, quiet yourself - squint your eyes and invite your brain to get fuzzy. Then open the hatch, lay down on your stomach in the most submissive pose possible, and stick your arm down as far as you can into the cellar.”

The blue-haired girl shuddered.

“It’s damp and chilly and smells like mildew down there,” he went on. “And risky. After all, rats can bite! You may worry your asthma might flare up if the rat doesn’t hurry. But if you posture yourself humbly, blur your vision, and keep from thinking too hard, eventually he will come and place an idea in your hand.”

“Are you serious?” The girl’s frizzy blue locks shook as if to negate his comments.

“Completely serious,” Mr. Hanks answered. “The rat provides just enough for you to start writing a few sentences. Sometimes more thoughts come tromping along immediately like the seven dwarves, one right after the other. But other times you have to stick your hand back repeatedly for more hand-offs. Either way, your crummy first draft gets written BECAUSE OF THE RAT.”

In the back of the room a nervous-looking young man with a pierced eyebrow and silver-studded upper lip raised his hand. “Just who is the rat, anyway?”

“Anyone want to guess?” Kurt didn’t wait for a reply. “TEMPLETON, of course! Remember that self-absorbed glutton in Charlotte’s Web who gnaws his way through any obstacle - a creative, oh-so-smart spy who seems to intuitively KNOW things? Each of us has a Templeton hanging out in our subconscious mind. We just need to learn to receive what he has to offer.”

The student in the back nodded vigorously. “OH YEAH! I got it!”

Mr. Hanks addressed the class collectively. “Now ALL OF YOU …” his hands swept with a demonstrative gesture as if to gather them into a heap for one last bit of instruction before turning them loose. “… GO! Respectfully meet with your rats this week, and bring back a crummy first draft. The writing topic is …” He turned to scrawl a word on the blackboard. “Rodents!”

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This article has been read 732 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 06/18/10
Creative way to explain this method (that I've never heard of described quite this way) - and the end was PERFECT. Nice job working in the dialogue - it worked very well.
Ruth Clowater06/19/10
This brings back distant memories. Elementary and high school taught me to be more concerned about where I placed the commas, ,,,,, rather than whether the story was any good. Very STIFLING to creativity. I had to un-learn much of that, in a class much like this one.
mick dawson06/21/10
Liked it; although I've never heard creativity referred to as a rat before.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/24/10
This is absolutely delightful. At first I thought the blue-haired student was an old lady with blue hair going back to college, it all was a wonderful vision in my head regardless of her age. You also explained something I've never understood about myself-- Why Templeton has always been one of my favorite characters! Congratulations on the EC. I enjoyed every word.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/25/10
Congratulations on placing in the top 15 of your level and the top 30 overall along with an EC.