Day 13 VCCA: Payoff in Process (Conclusion)

{Part 1 and Part 2 of this essay were published last week.}
For the first time since I began writing fiction (in 2008), I’m allowing sentences like this one: “It made him want another child…” (from my latest draft of a new story). Coming from a background in memoir writing where I wrote primarily in present tense lyrical, short form, I had all but forbade myself to use TO BE verbs in my writing. Taking advice from my thesis advisor in grad school, I activated my verbs and my writing came to life.

What I hadn’t bothered to realize more than three years later was just how limiting my adopted rules about memoir were to my fiction. Just because I loathed reflection in memoir (In my case, reflection just didn’t fit my content. Perhaps in twenty years it will.), didn’t mean that I couldn’t reflect and give back-story to my fictional characters. Just because I slashed and burned TO BE verbs as an editor didn’t mean I couldn’t allow them, occasionally, in my own stories.

Slowly but surely, my gears started turning as I wrote my way into a new story called “The Quiet Kind.” I made myself stop after just 300 words and go outside or do yoga indoors if it was too hot. I read more. I paced the room. I would not, no matter how good I thought the next sentence might be, rush into my first compelling idea. For three weeks straight at Madrono Ranch, completely alone, this process seemed painstakingly slow…yet rewarding in a very new, refreshing way. My words on the page were dizzying. I had no sense for how well written or precisely imagined they were and I found that encouraging. For the first time in a while, writing a new story started to feel a little like walking on Mars, and that’s a good thing.

I knew for certain I had the “characterization bug” when I wrote my main character’s name – NATHAN – down in bold, black letters on a large sheet of paper. Then I started writing down things about him. Not complete sentences. Not a life story by any means. But little phrases or concepts that seemed to capture just the kind of man he might be. As I continued writing “The Quiet Kind,” I referred to this often during my breaks between 300-word bursts of writing. When it was all said and done, I had a new 20-page short story in my hands—the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written and perhaps the most succinct representation of these past 23 months on the road.

I wouldn’t be out here doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t making me a better writer. Thanks to authors like Lorraine Adams and Ron Rash, and the echoing words of my MFA professors, I’m still completely in love with what I do and…even better…the more I do it, the deeper I see I can go.

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