Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trying New Things: Classe française numéro un

I learned how to greet someone in French today. It was the basics of the basics in my first French class at Alliance Française de Chicago. I also learned the alphabet, the numbers one through twelve, and how to pronounce a few nationalities.

I’m somewhat less intimidated by French now, simply because I know a handful of words. At the same time, I know this is going to be difficult for me. Not only because—as I thought and as other blog posters have mentioned—knowing Spanish is both a bit of a curse and a bit of a blessing. “Spanish will help you identify what some French words are, but it will not help you in pronunciation,” said Professor Erwan Sorel.

Plus, this is the first language class that I’ve taken since high school, having fulfilled all the college requirements before getting to college. Meaning, it’s also the first time I’ve worked on learning a language in eight years. So, yeah, I admit, it’s still a bit intimidating.

But, it’s invigorating too.

Last night, I felt overwhelmed by my novel. I sat down to write and to move around a few scenes, and I felt utterly stuck. I felt like I wasn’t making progress. The scenes I was working on were stale and maybe even unnecessary. What am I doing? I asked myself. My writing stinks. There’s no drama, no tension. My thoughts dragged me under, as if I was being swallowed by quicksand. So, I stopped trying to write, and I picked up a large volume to brush up on the basics of the French Revolution.

Note to self: reading a detailed history doesn’t clear your head; rather it just fills your head up with even more information—information that you know you need to somehow touch on in your novel if you’re going to make the novel understandable to young-adult readers.

So, I admit. I gave up writing, and research, for the night. I felt, at the same time, drained of and overwhelmed by words and ideas. As I said, I was stuck.

French class started to change that. I realized that, by taking this French class, I’m approaching my novel in, well, a novel way. I’m learning the language that some, but not all, of my characters know. My main character isn’t fluent, but she wants to be. She tries studying it too, although in a totally different way than I do. But, nonetheless, by creating a different way to access my novel and my characters, by learning French, I feel like I’m making the first step towards making some real progress with my novel. That reassurance helps more than I’d ever expect.

Writing clearly is not just about writing. It’s also about doing research—but not just the research you discover within books. It’s about experiencing and trying new things, like taking a French class.

What new things have you tried or learned in order to access your writing in a different way?

1 comment:

Ginger B. said...

I'm many things, but never a lurker, so I'm posting a hello from Atlanta.
I found your blog today and have enjoyed your posts. The French class will be an interesting exercise. Not only will you learn some basics for your trip, you will experience the challenges your character feels --not being fluent, wanting to be, and getting flustered, impatient, etc., when the right word doesn't pop into her head.

My novel is based in Chicago and my field trip was very enriching. Living in Atlanta I didn't know how it felt to have the wind blow so hard it made you cry from all the street grit hitting your eyes. Or how the smell of cold grease on the elevated train lingers over Randolph Street outside the entrance to Marshall Field.

I'm a big believer in the road trip!