Gather the Pieces: A Writer’s Process

I’ve gone through a lot of possible career choices. I earnestly and wholeheartedly wanted to become a teacher like my mom…until I turned ten and realized that I hate all those other punk-ass kids. Then, my calling was acting and that lasted a while. Sure, I never really did anything to progress that career after acting in a bunch of plays as a kid (child star? I think so) but that wouldn’t matter, because I’d make it big! Then I got real and decided that maybe being a travel agent would be both practical and absolutely magical, because I imagined myself getting to sample every itinerary I offered and visit all the luxurious hotels and splash around gleefully in all the infinity pools of the world.

The one thing that didn’t occur to me the whole time I was entertaining all these alternate careers was that I was writing about the things I cared the most about. At as a pre-teen, I started writing my first painfully ambitious novel about the Holocaust, of all things. Because, pain. I think my little Russian soul was already stirring with the desire to cause heartwrenching emotional hurt through the power of words. I wanted to make souls weep. Ah, tender childhood ambitions.

“How much death is too much?”

As you might imagine, my epic novel did not turn out as hoped. After a few chapters, I came to an obstacle. I realized that I couldn’t just introduce a few characters and then end my story abruptly with, “AND THEN EVERYONE DIES. HORRIBLY.” I had to convey some serious emotions using pages and pages of text. I didn’t have time for such a long form. My art simply wasn’t meant to roam freely through all those pages. There’s this quote I’m going to butcher about how absolute freedom produces garbage while oppressive circumstances produce brilliant art. Clearly, my genius needed to be confined.

I took to short stories. Specifically, I’d invent all sorts of wacky and original (or so I thought) scenarios for me and my friends in which we travel the world and meet celebrities (I mean, unlike Jayne I could never commit to just one–I was much more of a player). I’d write them just for fun from time to time or to accompany a birthday gift. It never occurred to me to question why I wrote while other kids were–I don’t know–playing with matches or something (kids, am I right?). I never considered what that meant or what it said about me. I just knew that sometimes a beginning sentence or an idea or a scene would pop into my mind and not leave me alone until I wrote it out and followed it wherever it led me. Sometimes I knew where I might be going and other times I was entering a fog in which I could only see two feet ahead until I arrived at my destination.

My stories got progressively longer and more sophisticated (featuring almost no celebrity cameos), but nothing surprised me as much as the realization that I had completed my first novel (with disappointingly few casualties, if you ask me). And then again when I co-authored another novel with my best friend–the single most fun thing we’ve ever done.

I started thinking that maybe this was something I should do. I mean Do with a capital D. It’s like writing was that guy in the romantic comedy who was always there but you never noticed him (played by Paul Rudd) because you were busy chasing all those other flashier guys (Bradley Cooper?), until you realized that the love of your life was under your nose the whole time. Damn it, nose. Way to screw this one up.

So now that I’ve noticed, I’m giving this “guy” my full attention. Whenever he whispers something in my ear, I listen and write it down. It might not be a whole story or a fully-formed idea–it might not even make sense–but it’s a piece that I’m going to need later on. And sometimes, on those tremendously happy days, I have enough pieces to put them all together.



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