Writing Across Time

The Middlebury College Admissions Office uses interviews by alumni volunteers to supplement the online application process. As one of the volunteers, I’ve been talking to Middlebury applicants this month, and of course I have told them about my experiences at college.

One of the things I talk to applicants about is the 4-1-4 academic calendar at Middlebury. It is an unusual program, although probably not unique. The college has a fall and spring semester, each four months long during which most students take four courses. But students spend the month of January taking just one course. It is an opportunity to explore a topic or interest in depth. Many people take a course completely outside their major.

Young Student Making NotesI knew I wouldn’t major in English or creative writing (why is a story for another day), but I’ve always had an interest in writing. I needed an English course to graduate, and I had placed out of the usual freshman writing programs. So during the January term my freshman year at Middlebury, I decided to take a creative writing class, which would let me write what I wanted, but would also fulfill the graduation requirement.

Middlebury in snow

Middlebury College in snow, courtesy of the Admissions Office

I spent the month of January 1974 writing fiction and learning to ski. It was my first experience with a life devoted to writing, an experience I only recaptured after retiring from corporate life.

I still have the file of pieces I wrote that month. Recently, I’ve gone back to one of the short stories. I think it has potential, and I want to re-write and polish it.

Unfortunately, technology was quite limited in 1974. I wrote my stories in longhand, then typed them on mimeograph stencils. I turned in the stencils to my professor, who had them (along with other students’ work) copied for the class to read. I was not a good typist in those days, and the mimeographs I have of my stories are filled with typos and cross-outs and overstrikes.

Now, of course, students could simply email their work to the class, or upload it to a common file directory, or use a number of other technological solutions for instantaneous communication.

Technology has dated the plot of the story I wrote as well.

In my story, the main character and her best friend from high school have grown apart in just the few months since my protagonist left for a college far away from home. They have had little connection in the months since they separated. Their worlds are going to separate farther as each pursues a different dream. The theme was certainly true to my life, although the specific circumstances my character had to deal with were different from mine.

When I wrote this story in 1974, there were no computers. No email. No Facebook. No Twitter. Secrets could easily be kept from far-away friends, because there was no social media to make instant communication possible around the globe.

So one of the issues I am wrestling with as I begin to re-write this story is whether to keep the time in the 1970s, or to update it to the second decade of the 21st century. How do people keep secrets about their social life in today’s world? How do you keep your friends from sharing what you might wish to keep private? Does my plot have to change if I update the story? I at least have to explain why my  main character doesn’t know what her best friend has been up to for several months.

Readers, what do you think? Should I update the story to today’s world, or keep it in the more controlled world of the 1970s?

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0 Comments

  1. One person’s opinion, keep it in the 70s. All the technology of today makes me feel much is lost and I would wish to savor the flavor of the era and the nostalgia. Looking forward to the story, Theresa.

  2. This is a wonderful post, Theresa. January of 1974 sounds like a time of self-discovery for you. Personally, I would keep your story in the 1970’s. You wrote the story during a special time and there is where I would keep it…but that’s just me. 🙂 I would love to read your story.

  3. It might be entertaining to go back to those years for a contrast of today’s world. As always, we need to keep it true to the times. I’m reading a book right now that talked about sending her child to kindergarten during the Depression years. To my knowledge, there was no public kindergarten then.

    • Sally, the kindergarten movement in the United States started in St.Louis in the 1870s, so depending on where the story is set, there could have been an available kindergarten.

  4. So far, the votes are all for leaving the story in the 1970s. That certainly makes my re-write easier, though I’ll have to be sure to make the time period clear.
    Many thanks for the comments,
    Theresa

  5. What if you were to do both, but used parallel experiences — your life in the 70s and your daughter’s today (post social media)?

  6. Pingback: Writing: The Consistency of Voice | Story & History

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