I attended my monthly poetry circle last night but I did not read poetry. My focus this past year has been fiction. And it felt good. It felt really good. To read the opening scene of a short story and look up to see twenty people’s eyes, staring at me, hanging on my every word.
I wrote something great. And it’s only a first draft. An unfinished first draft.
The response from the group was: “You have a novel here, Gina.”
No, I have a short story.
“Write the novel. You can do it. You only need 100,000 words.”
Yeah…. I didn’t tell them I already have two novels in the works. I didn’t get into the reason this is going to stay a short story. (For now.) Because I’m not sure I can fully articulate what makes this particular short story so special. Why writing it feels different than anything I’ve written before.
This story matters more than the others. There’s something deeply personal about this one. I was trying to explain to Brent last night – this is the first time I’m writing a story that’s set in a place that matters to me. It’s a fictional town, fictional characters, but the opening scene – the house, the yard, the garden – that’s real. It’s where I spent many of my days as a child. It’s my Nana and Papa’s backyard. Their kitchen. Their summer porch and zucchini plants.
And I feel this shift in how I write. I’m not just writing to tell a story, show action, and make things happen to my characters. I’m not just writing because it’s fun.
I’m writing to share a home with you. This experience of sitting at their table, playing Skip-Bo and eating ice cream. The feel of the zucchini stems, freshly carved into whistles with Papa’s pocket knife, is immensely important. More so than the suspense of action.
I’m beginning to understand what it means to incorporate your reality into your fiction. And that’s what I love about writing – it’s a craft you never stop learning. Through continual practice, you start to understand the rules that were ingrained in your mind throughout your formal education.
And when those rules start to sink in and you get them – when you understand what they really mean, and not just what you think they mean; what you thought your professor was saying when he said, “You need to add more of you into your work” – that’s when you notice the shift in how you approach your writing.
You don’t just plunk words on the paper and edit them and say, “Yay! Another story done!”
No – at that moment, you’re writing from the heart, from the soul. And it’s beautiful. It’s fulfilling in a way I had never realized before. And maybe it’s the difference between genre and literary fiction that I never understood. Or maybe it’s the reason why we all just keep writing. We’re looking for that deep and satisfying fulfillment, and maybe it’s like a drug. Maybe one little taste isn’t enough. You have to keep working, digging deeper into your soul, writing about people and places and things that really matter to you because you need to feel completely intoxicated by this joy and satisfaction. Intoxicated by the work.
I’m finally starting to get it. I still only have a short story with this piece that brought me to this new euphoria, but it’s opened the door for me to dig deeper and find the courage to write more honestly and appreciatively about my own reality.