Writing Life: Listening for the Story

I’m so glad nature knows what it’s doing.

Here we are at the end of March, and spring, whether winter likes it or not, is finally here. Not so as you could tell by the thermometer, but the signs are all around. The branches of my rose bushes are tipped in red, the iris and tiger lilies are pushing up through their thin blanket of fallen leaves, and the peepers are singing in the woods. The peepers started the day I returned from a quick trip to Indianapolis to visit the wonderful librarians attending the Public Library Association conference. It was a fabulous welcome home.

Traveling to places to talk about books is a world away from writing them. I write in my house, or at the library or my #Paneraoffice, and I’m incredibly boring to watch while I’m doing it. (Though you might be amused to see how many times an hour I get up to grab a handful of goldfish crackers or chocolate chips, or to make a cup of herbal tea.) There are only two (sometimes three) people with whom I share details of a book while I’m in the midst of writing it. Not because I’m worried that someone won’t like the idea, or will steal it. But because a novel is just a selection of possibilities arranged in a particular order at a given time. It’s the selecting that’s hard, and it has to be done just right, or there’s no story at all. Only a string of clumsy or lovely or puzzling vignettes. Until they’ve been woven into a cohesive order, there isn’t much to share that would make any sense.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve written six novels, and every time I begin a new one, I forget exactly how I wrote the preceding one. I approach each new story–or possibility of a story–with a deep sense of wonder. As in, “Huh. I wonder what the hell is going to happen next.” If I sit down to it something┬áis sure to be there. And more somethings will follow. I just have to be patient.

The novel I’m working on now has the voice of a woman–a quite distinctive voice. I’ve written stories in first person, but never an entire novel. It’s unfamiliar territory, exciting and intimidating at the same time. Her words are mostly whispers now, but I am hearing more every day. I believe what she’s saying and trust she knows the whole story.

I envy nature. I trust nature. It’s programmed to push through the leaves and weather and even rocks or water. It has a cycle of birth and growth and death and rebirth. It doesn’t have to fill in the blanks or make stuff up–“Hey, today I woke up with an extra wing. What in the heck do I do with it?” Or, “Where did I put my stamen-thingy? Am I actually supposed to have one of those?” No. All is elegance with nature. Sometimes the elegance is untidy, and there are the occasional mutations, but nature is generally predictable. While I’d hate to be overly predictable–especially in my work–I am truly grateful for the predictability around me.

So, welcome spring. Please stay a while, and let me find strength and wonder in you.

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