“How do you write?”
“Tell me about the entire process from conception to paper.”
A friend from post-high school years once asked and I struggled to find an appropriate answer.
“I don’t know…I just write. Sometimes it goes well and a story is finished.”
She talked about how she has all these ideas but couldn’t figure out how to put them together. With writers’ block winning. Ah that age-old enemy!
Someone once said or I read somewhere (it is hard to keep track of where we get information these days) that once you find it hard to keep writing, it is time to switch to reading.
So, I decided to put this to the test with a short story I was working on.
I had in mind the setting of the story, a couple of elements I wanted to feature and noted these on my phone. It had a rhyme scheme to it, A, B, C- Airport, Boy meets girl, Cat shows up. I don’t know where the cat came from, but I was desperate to include a C.
I started the story as planned, churned out a page and a half one night and put it in the back burner.
Then, my life changed dramatically.
I had sleepless nights thinking about what I was about to lose, pre-nostalgia hit me and I entered into a mood funk. The D-day finally came and I stayed away from home until late evening, knowing fully well that the next time I would walk into my room, it wouldn’t be the same.
My sleeping arrangements had changed, the mattress and bed sold. I was in a foreign country temporarily and didn’t want (more like didn’t have extra funds) to replace them, so I slept on a makeshift foam on the floor.
All I could think of was, my mattress is gone. The mattress is gone since it wasn’t mine in the first place.
I tried to console myself by continuing work on the short story and all of a sudden didn’t like what had been written. It didn’t feel true to the short story genre as I felt stuck in a journalistic reporting style, so I started afresh with the truth.
The mattress is gone were the first words to the new piece. It felt good to tell the truth and I effused about this on Twitter. #firstwords #shortstory #iamwriting #thisisimportant #separationanxiety #mymattressisgone. Okay, so the last three hashtags were not written, but definitely thought of.
Of course, the story changed, new elements were introduced, but the title remained unchanged.
In my kindle library for those moments where I needed to be either distracted or more inspired, I had an autobiography and a collection of short stories: Edwidge Danticat’s Brother I am Dying and Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness.
I cried too much with Danticat and was determined not to have a story with a sad ending this time, so I channeled my creative energy to Munro.
With Too Much Happiness I would start a story and be led to a story and then another story, still within the first story. I know, it sounds just like Inception but in the literary world this time.
I saw how I wanted my characters to be and experienced emotions I wanted my readers to feel. With each Wow Moment, I would close out of the book, pull up my Word document and continue writing.
That is not saying that my latest short story is stylistically like Munro’s as those are oversize shoes to step into.
Still, for the first time, each sentence was a conscious effort to contribute to the plot with style. Characters with depth were introduced and a story with layers was crafted.
Being that it has taken so much words to explain part of the writing process for this latest short story, I wouldn’t overwhelm you with putting up the whole shebang. Plus, you will need a reason to purchase the finished collection when it is out (Half-wink, half-smile).
In the meantime, here is an excerpt from the story, An Odd Place to be.
“Would you like something to drink?” They are now seated on adjacent sofas with enough space in between. A step-mother and her step-daughter? Rivals? Just two women.
Sun imagines what the drink may be. A blend of spirulina, chlorophyll, spinach, and one green apple. Green goodness. They are vegan, she heard. That should explain why he is in good form. She too had once been vegan, but that was not a phase they could have swapped recipes and new discoveries.
“That’s fine” Sun raises a dismissive hand, but it is too late.
Step-mother-rival-woman is returning from the kitchen with two upturned glasses and a bottle of clear liquid balanced on a tray.
Bubbles float. She fills up Sun’s first then hers next.
Lips delicately touching the glass, teeth barely parted, waiting until her father’s wife has swallowed. Then she takes a sip. Sparkling water.
It’s the modern age and Sun rarely takes ludicrous stories of poisoning by disgruntled family members to heart, but one cannot be too careful.
She was half-surprised that the door swung open seconds after ringing the bell. The peephole Sun’s father had installed to distinguish between strangers and familiar faces when she was younger, was still in use. She had watched his movements from a distance, waiting for him to leave before going up the steps herself. This is a brief call, but her father would have wanted to talk about the years that had passed. She didn’t.