Whether your chosen genre is fiction, nonfiction or poetry, you have a unique story to tell. For many writers, reliving and retelling childhood stories are common platforms. We often return to those times because they were filled with pain, joy or unanswered questions.
As writers we are often intuitive in regard to what we want to share and more often than not, there’s a story in us yearning to be told. However, once in a while we get stumped. Often times, the best story ideas come to us when we are not sitting at our desks ‘working,’ but rather when we are out and about, ‘not working.’ It’s important to be alert to those mundane moments in our every day life—odd discoveries and chance remarks made by others in the social, work or casual setting. Weaving these incidents with known facts about oneself, help make the story compelling.
My morning ritual is to read the newspaper and during the course of a day a magazine or two. Sometimes I will surf the web researching an idea which will lead me to something else intriguing, perhaps reminding me about a story I wanted to write some time ago, but forgot about. In my drawer, I have a file folder called, “Writing Ideas,” which includes all the stories I hope to tell one day. Whether I get to them or not is another story, but at least the file is there for when my well dries up. When you get really stuck, here are some questions you might want to ask:
1) What is going through your head?
2) What do you think about most often?
3) Who are your villains? Who are your heroes?
4) What are you obsessed by?
5) What inspires you?
6) Where are you in your life now?
7) What stories are you drawn to read?
Whatever you choose to write, you will soon learn that the creative journey is similar to life—it is unpredictable, unstructured, mysterious and laden with miracles.
In her book, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002), Margaret Atwood says this, “Writing has to do with darkness, and a desire or perhaps a compulsion to enter it, and, with luck, to illuminate it, and to bring something back out into the light.”
In Writing (1993) Marguerite Duras says, “Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome.”
William Faulkner believed that there’s a more profound reason why writers write. “An artist,” he says, “is a creature driven by demons. He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.” Whatever this dream is writers often loose sleep until the project is completed and this is how they uncover the story they have to tell.
In many ways, writing could be thought of as a modern, guilt-free replacement for confession. This might be one reason so many people are drawn to writing memoirs and personal essays. Writing about real life experiences is like a snake shedding its skin and leaving a former self behind. It’s easier moving forward when the baggage from the past is dropped. Franz Kafka summarized this idea beautifully by saying, “I write in order to shut my eyes.” Fiction writers might argue that they write fiction so that they can tamper with the facts in their life and that they have more freedom during the writing process.
In her essay, “Why am I a Writer,” Joan Didion says, “Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”
In essence, we write to know ourselves. Even our darkest—or unknown—thoughts, memories and fears can transform to reveal value and meaning for us. And with any luck, for others as well.
My journal is full of seeds, some of which will blossom into full-fledged projects and others will fizzle. Just like the beautiful process of fertilization—some eggs get fertilized and some don’t. Speaking of which, my first book, Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: A Guide to Infertility and High-Risk Pregnancy (Hunter House, 1988) is now being updated and next year the 20th anniversary edition will be released. I am working with Dr. Errol Norwitz, the Co-Director of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Ob-Gyn unit. This year my eldest daughter, Rachel turns 25 and I started writing this book on a typewriter while on bed rest with her! It took me three years to write. In fact, she designed the first book cover. Now Rachel is old enough to be a mother herself. Although she’s not even married yet, wouldn’t it be cool if this newly-revised book could be a guide for her during her own pregnancy?
By the way, I am looking for anecdotes from women who have had difficulties during their pregnancy. Do you have any that you’d like to share?
By the way my pregnancy book began as a journal of my pregnancy. Eventually the journal was condensed into the book’s introduction and the book evolved into a self-help book for other women also experiencing difficult pregnancies. So you never know where your journaling might lead you. Have any of your journals or anyone you know had journals which turned into published articles or books?
Most of my articles and books are first written long-hand in my journals. Studies have shown that there is something about the creative juices which flow when the pen meets the paper. Actually, I do my best writing in airplanes. Less distractions? High concentration of oxygen? Where do you do your best writing?
Instead, I have just pulled down from the shelf in my library one of the many random volumes of journals I’ve filled over the years. A red un-lined journal with parchmont paper that I used while studying poetry with Sharon Olds in Key West back in the early 2000’s. I revisit a poem about women’s purses and how sacred they are—clutched close, jammed with receipts, phone numbers and unsent letters. Very sacred, just like my anniversary.
So what are your thoughts about women’s purses? What do you look for in a purse?