Lord knows I hated to write for a long time. Looooooooooooooong time. High school. College. Writing assignments were hell. Law school was beautiful because, during the four years I was there, I had only to write a moot court brief and one research paper. Other than that, it was all about essays for tests, which are something completely different than real writing.
I had this moment today, though, that reminded me why I enjoy writing.
When I finished law school, my first job was an an administrative hearing officer. A vague term that really meant that I was like a judge, but at a much lower level. No robes. No gavel. What I did was conduct special education hearings, typically requested by parents who thought their school district wasn’t meeting their child’s special education needs. I would hear the testimony, review documentary evidence, apply the law, and render a written decision on the issues raised. My problem arose when it came to write the decision. We had federally-imposed timelines within which those decisions had to be issued.
Well, hell, I needed to ponder those decisions before I wrote them. You see, writing is just as much a mental exercise as it is the exercise of putting words on paper (or on the screen). I need to think about these things. How am I going to make this connection and bring in that fact? And what about that piece of the law that says this? It’s a very mental process for me. Writing.
So, now I write fiction and nothing has changed. It’s why I gave up on NaNoWriMo this past year and why I should never try it again. Writing isn’t a race for me. It is a process. Where I need to think things through and discover little nuggets hidden in the weeds.
Which is what happened to me tonight. I spent the afternoon working on Northville Five & Dime. I put down about another 700 words and then kind of bogged down. This story in particular really plays into my need to think about things, to process the story as it unfolds, to fill my mental space and … be patient.
I’m telling the story from the perspective of three different characters. Each time I switch from one of those characters to another, I have to stop and think about it. What’s going on with that character? What matters to him or her? And where is he or she going now? It is such an incredible challenge.
This afternoon, I’m working on the current chapter. It’s told from Pete’s perspective. He’s in the hospital after being battered by his father. He’s seething with pain and anger. Lily and Sophie are on their way. Lily is the clerk who caught Pete shoplifting and made him a deal — take her sister to the end of year dance at the high school and she wouldn’t report him. Sophie is the sister — a paraplegic because of a car accident when she was a child. The three of them, well, they start drawing together. The story flips back and forth between the three and it’s really hard. (did I mention that already?)
So, I get done with what I could this afternoon and I switch to making dinner. While I’m finishing it up, I have a brainstorm. An epiphany. An explosion goes off in my head and I realize something. It’s time to bring in one of the other characters and explain a few things.
That’s where I’m headed. The mental process has worked again. It has given me a twist. A new little side road to take to expand the story. To tell something more.
This … the magic of a discovery in the telling of a story … this … is why I write.