Saturday, April 7, 2012

I’m stuck. Can you help?


I’ve known for decades that I need to write about Tom Durr. He attended my school for only a few weeks, and I don’t recall ever talking with him, but I’ve never forgotten what he taught me.

But it's not a pretty story, and there's the rub. 

A year or so ago I forced myself to write “The Tom Durr Story” on a new blank Word document. I saved it on my computer, but couldn’t write more than that. I was stuck.

A week ago I forced myself to start writing and I got 270 words into it when I got stuck again.

For the past several days I’ve tried to write more, but I’m still stuck.

I’m not sure what my problem is (I have a couple of ideas), but it occurred to me that perhaps some of you will offer suggestions.

Here’s what I’ve written so far in this very rough draft:

I thought that teachers were saintly, set-apart beings, more intelligent and honorable than the average person, and that the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after them.

For that reason, I had admired Mrs. C., my sixth grade teacher. She ran a tight classroom but I always followed her rules and the two of us got along fine.

I still remember the day, more than half a century ago, when Mrs. C. extended grace and mercy to me at a time when my parents were struggling financially. My shoe’s sole had torn apart from the leather upper and it flapped every time I took a step. Mrs. C. whispered, “Let me slip this rubber band around your shoe to hold it together.” I’ve always remembered her kindness.

And I admired her fingernails—so much that I filed my nails into sharp points just like hers.

But in the latter half of sixth grade, when Tom Durr joined our class, Mrs. C.’s behavior led me to change my perspective on teachers.

And Tom Durr’s behavior led me to recognize what a genuine saintly, set-apart being looks like, for he was more intelligent and honorable than the average person, and the rest of us would do well to revere and model our lives after Tom rather than our teacher.

Tall, slender, and always well groomed, Tom had moved from Texas, or so I remember, and unlike the rest of us suburban Seattleites, he wore dark blue jeans and a jean jacket every day, always perfectly clean.

When Tom joined our class, I witnessed a different side of Mrs. C. 

This is where I got stuck again—but I want to tell this story, I need to tell this story to my kids and grandkids! I need to find words to describe Mrs. C’s ongoing hate-fueled behavior—in front of our class—and Tom’s noble behavior in response.

What do you think is my problem? What would you do if you were stuck here? What has worked for you in the past?

I welcome your advice. (Also I welcome your critique of the paragraphs I’ve written.)

Thanks for helping me get un-stuck.


  1. I think that what you have written is terrific . . . interesting, well-told, and compelling. I want you to go on and finish the story! I presume this is true? A piece of memoir? If it's not true, that's the problem. If you're trying to write fiction, you need to know more about your characters before you can proceed. You need to know more about your teacher, in order to know why her behavior would change, and how.

    If, however, this is memoir, and you know what happened and are just having difficulty putting the truth into words, I think the problem is that you're thinking about what the reader will think of your story. I say, get away from the computer, for this one. Go to your private journal, that nobody else reads and that you plan to burn before you die. Tell your journal what happened. Write long, and complete - your feelings at the time, your feelings as you remember it, and your feelings as you write it. Give he details of what happened, in slow motion, the whole truth.

    When you finish, put it away in a safe place and come back to it later. Read it, and decide what you are ready to work with and make into a cohesive slice-of-life story. If you can't bring it to the computer, do it with pen to paper. Many great writers found they could access their writer's voice only with pen to paper, then type it in afterward.

    It sounds like you're trying to rush the writing and obviously, it's failing. You need to take much more time - not time during which the story lies fallow, but time in which you go back and do the preparatory steps you skipped over.

    Forgive me if I sound overly critical, I mean to be helpful. I LOVE the way the story starts, and I REALLY want to read the rest of it! I'm just telling you my thoughts about why you may be stuck, and what might work to get you un-stuck. Good luck. I look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Samantha, thank you for taking time for such a thoughtful, helpful answer. I've read your words several times and will read them again to take in everything and apply it to my "problem" and my vignette.

      Yes, it's memoir, and you're right when you say I'm having difficulty putting truth into words. I'm having trouble reliving what happened to Tom and why, and I'm moved to tears over the way he handled an ongoing humiliation.

      Your journaling idea is excellent and I might try it, but a similar opportunity occurred during a walk with my husband and our Border Collie. Dave asked what the current blog post is about and I told him what I wrote and explained why I was stuck. He asked me a number of questions so I finally verbalized what happened to Tom, and I think that's helped a lot.

      I so appreciate the way you explained that taking time to do prep work is not a fallow time. Such wisdom!

      Samantha, no need to worry about sounding critical because you were full of positive, helpful information and I send you many thanks for taking time to help me get unstuck.

      Bless you, Friend!


  2. The question I'd have is WHY was she changing? What about Tom made her change? And what lesson can be derived from that? Is there a parallel in the scriptures to this kind of behavior? And.... was she still a good woman, but with a visible sin. I heard a saying recently that was supposedly on a bumpersticker: "Don't judge me because my sins are different than yours." Hope that helps.

    1. Hi, Lia, thanks for your valuable insights--some of which I hadn't thought of before. You've asked questions I need to answer and they will be very helpful as I work my way through the rest of the story.

      My heart is moved by your question about whether she was a still good woman and the bumpersticker quote because, of course, I have my own sin problems and failures and shortcomings. Thanks for helping me gain an important pespective.

      Your insights will help me develop additional important points in this story. Again, Lia, thank you so much. :)


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  4. I loved what you've written so far, I felt it was very compelling and made me really want to hear the rest of this story!

    Speaking from my own experience, I've had a similar problem writing stories that have meant a lot to me because I was so concerned with getting them "just right," and felt it was very important to me to do justice to my subject. So I think maybe you might be having a similar issue where this is just so important to you that it's giving you a bit of a creative brain freeze when you try to write.

    This is where I just take a deep breath, tell myself sternly "Write This!" and just sit at my computer until I get a draft finished. (And then I edit and fret until I get the courage to share the finished work, praying it portrays my message!)

    1. Cathy, thanks for your help. "Creative brain freeze" -- !! I think it's a case, too, of "emotional freeze" because I feel so much pain for what Tom endured.

      I sure know what you mean about fretting and editing. Those are the hard parts of writing but when they work out right, what a blessing they are!

      Thanks for taking time to give me some pointers, Cathy. Really: Thanks!


  5. Hey there. My heart goes out to you as I "feel" the pain behind your struggle. Obviously, this "lesson" in human nature has seared your soul. But GOD has and will use it for good!
    I, too, appreciate the above comments and particularly agree with the one about finding a scriptural application.
    I'm praying for you to hear from our Gracious LORD regarding how He wants you to proceed, and for your courage to press forward.

    Has the outcome of Tom Durr's story spurred you to love differently? To appreciate people for who they are?
    What about GOD's Grace?
    Did the teacher's behavior leave her in desperate need of GOD's Grace?

    Maybe moving the paragraph about Tom's behavior to the end for now, will help prompt you to tackle the "unsaintly" side of your teacher head on.

    Blessings fellow are doing what you are called to! Love in the Lamb~

  6. Hi, Jess, and thank you for those excellent tips and your sweet encouragement. Thank you for your words full of blessings. I appreciate you. :)