Posts Tagged ‘prose’

Tyler Woodbridge on Writing (Part Two: I’ve Got the Power)

October 22, 2009

Middle school was a bit of a rough patch in my life. I lost my great-grandfather Shaw and my grandpa Woodbridge. I was having trouble adjusting to an evolving social climate; I was awkward and “marched to the beat of my own drum,” so to speak. When most of my peers were becoming fashion-conscious and popular trends began to leak into way of life, I was left behind, still in the same habits and hobbies that I enjoyed in years before.

That included writing.

I kept scribbling away. My sixth grade English teacher, Mrs. River, was actually a rather big encouragement. She was really sweet and was always quick to compliment me whenever I wrote a good piece or shared an informative insight. In her class we were given free reign every day to do some independent writing, whether it be poetry or prose, and got to share our work with our classmates. Poetry was a natural fit for me, I discovered it was a quicker and easier way to share a particular block of emotion than prose. There were days where I would dish out three to four poems in one class period, and others kept praising my work. I let it go to my head, and obviously it still affects me to this day. I began seeing myself as the best writer my class had to offer, and made no effort to hide my thoughts.

It was at this time that I also discovered the works of Brian Jacques, the Redwall series. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Jacques’ (amazing) works, I suggest you at least read the titular Redwall release. Jacques combined two worlds that were fascinating me more and more every day; the medieval/renaissance culture, and wildlife. His fantasy series wove together epic yarns of questing, adventure, and combat… with mice, foxes, otters, badgers, and hedgehogs. The series really struck a chord with me and I would read at least one Redwall book every couple weeks. I loved the way Jacques used descriptive language to illustrate his fascinating worlds, and how he used dialogue to build characters. I was inspired, not only to read more fantasy books, but to write some of my own. As I went from Jacques to Tolkien, Rowling, DragonLance, and more, I picked up many ideas for fantasy writing and set to it with a vigor.

I clearly remember my first attempt at a fantasy adventure novel. I spent a good chunk of my 6th grade year writing a story entitled “Tar Wars.”  This story followed the legend of a Gallimimus (Sadly, I forget his name) who quested across Pangea to slay a Tyrannosaurus who ate his father. It was an insane mash-up of Jurassic Park, Dinotopia, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and my own twisted imagination.  I loved it and was proud of it, but sadly enough I think it’s been long thown out and rotten away.

I continued to experiment with fantasy/adventure writing, often creating my own little worlds and heroic characters, and writing countless chapter ones… but never any chapter twos. Today I’m ashamed to admit this, but I also spent a huge chunk of time browsing Redwall fan club websites, meeting with other kids around my age and playing text-based RPG adventures. We would create our own Redwall-style heroes and build our writing skills while having a blast creating worlds of battle and intrigue. I got so much grief from my family for it, and mostly for good reason. It seems a bit ridiculous looking back now that I spent hundreds of hours of my precious youth role-playing as an otter pirate warlord named Waveblade Galedeep, but hey; it built my imagination to levels previously unknown and helped me craft my writing abilities a little further. I can’t say I regret it, but I can’t say I’m proud of it either.

Going back to my newfound love of poetry, it wasn’t uncommon to find a book of poetry among the stack of Jacques novels I’d check out from the school library. I began to practice at it, finding words that flowed well together and would make for great rhymes. Other kids would ask me to write poetry for/about them, and they would get a great kick out of it, often laughing or crying or thinking due to my work. My parents mocked some of my poetry, and again, for good reason: Looking back, some of that poetry seemed unusually and stereotypically “emo” for a 11-year old, and deserved to be mocked. I threw out a ton of my poetry and writing, and at one point I was mad at my parents for it… but, these days I don’t see the big deal. I see this stage as the “cocoon” of my writing development, and the bad poetry and derivitive fantasy writing as the “shell.” Since I’ve cast the “shell” away, I’ve grown as a writer and as a reader, and know I’m capable of much more than the rut I was stuck in.

Mrs. River,  my fantastic sixth-grade English teacher I mentioned earlier, chose me as a candidate to write for a competitive team at the middle school. I was enamored with the idea of competitive writing and ended up trying out for (and making) the Power of the Pen team. This was quite possibly the best thing to happen to me. I got to write, a hobby I found very fun… COMPETITIVELY!

I went to my first Power of the Pen tournament not knowing what to expect. I knew I was the biggest fish in my school, but how many sharks would I encounter in my opponents? I blocked out the pressure and expectations and did what I did best: wrote. The competition was based on writing off prompts. There were three hour-long rounds of writing, which gave me more than enough time to dream up stories that I not only enjoyed writing, but enjoyed reading too.

I finished 13th in my first tournament, the third-best from my team. I wasn’t shocked that I placed, and was actually very pleased that I was a top 20 placer out of the 200+ writers that had competed in my grade. This made me excited for the Regional tournament I qualified for. Other writers from my school, and even from other schools, had remembered my name and work. They approached me at this second tournament, wishing me luck and complimenting me on what I had accomplished. I told them that I haven’t accomplished anything yet, what was there to say?

This would soon change.

I won the 7th grade Regional Power of the Pen meet. I remember shaking and sweating so hard right before they announced the winner. I was very upset that I hadn’t placed when others from my team already had. I had worked so hard to get this far and it would upset me to have to go home at that point. When they announced my name, I nearly fell down the bleachers my team sat in. I was excited, pleased, elated; you name the positive emotion, I felt it. My family was in tears, I was receiving applause and pats on the back, I was given a giant trophy… I truly felt like a rock star. All for writing.

I was becoming a better writer every day. I was making friends with everyone on the team. I was happier with my life (I had a serious bout of depression my 7th grade year; writing helped me out of it easily), I had more confidence and notoriety. Even though I was a three-sport athlete, I identified myself as Tyler Woodbridge, Writer. Long stories made short (sometimes brevity is a virtue), I proceeded to become a State Finalist my 7th grade year. I didn’t place, but to make it to that point was a great achievement to me and an honor.

My 8th grade year, I went into the Power of the Pen season cocky. I was arrogant. I was the writer to beat, and I knew it. The first tournament went by quickly for me, an easy 3rd place trophy. The Regional tournament came by, and again the rockstar feeling was prevalent. People remembered me, people talked to me… I was a local writing celebrity. I don’t mean to be egotistic at all, but this is how it felt to me. A few certain friends and peers were quick to point this out to me. Unfortunately I did not take the hint to cool down my ego at the time and may have annoyed some people.

This “rockstar feeling” was amplified by my second consecutive regional title. I won 1st place yet again. This time I wasn’t even nervous during the awards ceremony. I even got to make an acceptance speech (a rarity for PoP at this time) and called up my team onstage with me. At that point I viewed myself as an immortal in competitive writing and there was nothing anybody could do to stop me. Of course nobody could stop me, it’s competitive writing, there’s no direct opponent… anyway.

My arrogance was my downfall. Yet again I went to the state tournament, qualifying by way of my regional title. I barely tried during my three first-round stories, but I managed to get a great score nonetheless and squeaked into the finals. The final prompt was very vague and ambiguous. I struggled to find a good topic to write about, so I decided to abandon my meat-and-potatoes style of straight-up storytelling. Rather, I tried WAY too hard for an 8th grade competition, and tried to write an extremely complex allegory about some obscure statement. I used a ficticious Greek centurion as my main character, and channeled my best inner Jacques or Tolkien for this prompt.

My attempt to be epic fell completely short, my story was ridiculed by the judges, and I had one of the worst writings of the finals. Yes, I ended up a State Finalist for the second consecutive year, but my arrogance and attempt to do more than what I was capable of ended up crippling my chances of winning. I learned my lesson about egotism, and decided to never “force it” again.

From this point on, I did not write stories as much as I used to. My poetry improved, and became more lyrical in nature. When I felt creative and wanted to write, I would pen songs more than anything else. I grew out of my fantasy stage, and read books less and less. Sports became a larger part of my life as I entered high school, and for the time being it looked like I had moved on from my days as a hopeful novelist.

This is when I discovered journalism and comedy writing.

My next entry in this series will cover the high school period of my life, and how joining the school paper staff was one of the best decisions possible.. and how myself and a friend combined humor and writing talent to make dozens of peers laugh themselves into a stupor.

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