Backstory: Under Pressure

Gabrielle Idlet (

Confinement Cooks Up Creativity

In my creative writing classes, participants write for 40 minutes in response to a prompt and then read it aloud.
I am not the first person to discover this, but there is something about the combination of a time limit and having to share the writing that produces a head of steam for writers and helps them generate vibrant work.
The pieces from class that I share in “Backstory” come from that intense writing experience and are rarely polished before they are published in The Free Weekly.
I am always surprised at the eruption of original ideas, imagery, characterization and plot that people can make up when they have no time to plan or start over and when they know they’ll have to reveal the work to others.
When I was working a 60 hours per week job for a nonprofit organization, I had a writer friend.
We got together on Saturdays at my duplex in Venice, Calif., drank coffee and sat in the sun. On my deck, surrounded by fuchsia-colored bougainvillea, we told each other what we planned to write, set my cow-shaped kitchen timer for 60 minutes and went at it.
When the ringer dinged we read to one another. Then we did it again. We wrote for three or four hours that way.
On weekdays, we called each other at seven, told each other what we planned to write, wrote until eight, and then called back and read what we’d written. I am not a disciplined person, but accountability is a real motivator.
I hadn’t written anything with focus for some years. After several months with my buddy, I had enough meat for a decent short story and the confidence that comes from unearthing a fresh writing voice.
Do you write? Paint? Play music? If not, do you do something that forces a
creative eruption? Shoving your mind into a container and then requiring it to produce can be exhilarating, and it can be gratifying. You may wind up with material you wouldn’t have had without the pressure.
This piece, “Don’t Stint” by Barbara Janquish, was written under said pressure in response to the following prompt: Write about a character who does something that goes against his or her ethics.

"The blackberries were harder, though. I had climbed the hill to the old pasture. I carried a red enamel bowl the size of my head. I came home with it full of blackberries, my skin red with the sun and scratches." — from "Don't Stint" by Barbara Jaquish

‘Don’t Stint’ By Barbara Jaquish

“Don’t stint,” my mother always said. She said it when she spread the last bit of butter on the last slice of bread, then gave it to me for breakfast. “Don’t stint. Something will turn up by suppertime. Take a big bite and enjoy now.”
“Don’t stint,” my mother said, when she handed me three bowls for blackberries for me, her and the scabby-kneed girl in the trailer across the way. “Give Chrissy a nice big handful,” she said and then muttered, “God knows no one else is going to be feeding her today.”
I ate my bread and butter and pretended not to notice there was none for my mother. And she was right. By supper there was a little bag of rice and some dried milk and apples.
The blackberries were harder, though. I had climbed the hill to the old pasture. I carried a red enamel bowl the size of my head. I came home with it full of blackberries, my skin red with the sun and scratches. I wanted to sit at the table, just me and my mother, and eat the berries one by one.
I wanted her to close her soft brown eyes and open her mouth so I could lay a perfect berry on her tongue. I wanted her to do this for me.
But, whenever there was something good, Chrissy was there. She lived in a rusty trailer across the way with her mother and brothers and some man my mother told me to stay away from. Chrissy was in my grade at school, and we both got little blue cards from the office so we could get lunch without paying.
Chrissy didn’t talk during lunch. She ate, and she ate fast. Then she ate the carrot sticks and half sandwiches the other kids left and walked out of the cafeteria with an apple in one pocket and an orange in the other.
She ate them at recess, if she could, or else her brothers would take them when we got on the bus.
So there we were with blackberries, more than enough for a feast for two. And my mother says, “Don’t stint,” when I put some in a blue bowl for Chrissy. “Don’t stint,” while she turns her back to pour three glasses of milk.
Don’t stint, I think, as I sink my hand into the blue bowl, and while Chrissy watches, I stuff my mouth. Sweet juice drips as my mother turns.

Writing Challenge

Write about a dream you let go.

No part of “Don’t Stint” may be reproduced without written permission from the author.

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