Last week in my writing class, I read my story about a boy getting beaten by his father. It wasn't a full story - just what our teacher called an exercise in "creative wrong memory". Then today, for class, I read a story by Alice Munro entitled "Royal Beatings" where she took the same event - a beating - and crafted a beautiful short story from it. It reminded me of a couple of years ago when I wrote a story called "Reverse Lottery" about a man who was watching all of his friends die, anticipating his own death in the process. My writing friends told me that the writing was good, but that it wasn't really a story because it didn't have the elements of a story - beginning/middle/end with conflict. I wasn't enough of a writer to understand what that required of me. Then I read Philip Roth's Everyman, and I saw how an event could be artfully turned into a story. It was a revelatory moment for me, the last page of Everyman, just as the reading of Munro's story was today.
I haven't made much time for reading since I've been taking the writing class, but I can see that it's absolutely necessary to continue to expose myself to masterful writing in order to learn the craft of writing. Just as you can't read books about gymnastics and be a good gymnast no matter how athletic you are, you can't just read books about writing and be a good writer. It requires studying the literary gymnasts and going to the writing table gym in a disciplined fashion. I didn't realize it was going to take this much work, but I'm willing to do what it takes to build up my writing muscles.