About a month ago, as the oblique result of a challenge from one of the women in my writing group, I began writing a story based on a big memory. I had intended it to be a short story (under 5000 words), but the deeper I got into the whole thing, the more I realized the plot needed more space than a short story allows. Which means it’s going to fall in the fairly unpublishable realm of the novelette (5000 to 18,000 words), though possibly blossoming into a novella (18,000 to 40,000 words) if I can find some compelling connective tissue. Either way, longer than anything I have written to date, which I’m pleased about.
The process has been illuminating. At the deepest level, it’s forced me to face some demons and make decisions about attitudes I’ve had towards the events I’m writing about. One of the characters is the essence of who I was at 18, so I’ve had to explore my actions in detail and learn to own my part in the events. The other main character is a man I only knew through his interactions with me, so I’ve had to infer his motivations from what I believe to be true of him. I dug out my journals from that time and uncovered a couple of scraps of writing from him, which gives me corroborating evidence for my memories, and has made me confront a few of the goblins in my shoebox.
The other aspect of this is learning to divorce the characters and narrative from my memory of the events. The people who inspired these characters no longer exist as such. Furthermore, the reality does not in itself make a good story; it’s jagged and disjointed and plain boring in spots. Fortunately, in the vein of all storytellers, I never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I can tell a story that is true without getting bogged down in facts. As a bonus, allowing the story to have its way pleasantly obscures the more recognizable facets of the situation.
I confess committing this story to pixels has consumed most of my energy. I have cut sleep short to write and worked on whatever fragments I could during breaks at work. I’m not complainingI just never thought I would find this kind of dedication. But having done it once, I’m certain I can do it again.
Because this work is almost constantly on my mind, I have been discussing it with my husband. For one, he is a ready source for verifying the internal world of men, though I seem to be more in touch with that than I thought. For two, while I wouldn’t call it exactly collaborative effort, he definitely gets the credit for some interesting threads of the plot and textures in the language. I feel like I should have started including him in my process years ago, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve considered long form narrative within my abilities, and the approach is different for poetry.
Perhaps the most important result of this experiment is my willingness to integrate writing into my life. Finally and fully. You’d think after all these years I would have accepted that I’m a writer. But I still felt I had some illegitimate claims to the title and maybe shouldn’t be too cocky about calling myself a writer. Not anymore. Because I have this big thing, I will see it to completion, and I will do it well.