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The Power of the Few

notepad-691250_640On the third Sunday of each month, I pack into my car with a folder full of writing and drive down to the beach town by my house for a morning of writing workshop and coffee.  A few months ago, I found a new writing group, which has been forcing me to produce new writing on a regular schedule.  We are small but mighty: just a group of three people that are writing different genres, but who are dedicated to actively writing and supporting one another.  Our deadlines have snuck up on me once or twice, but having this group has forced me to put out at least a first draft of a short story each month.

At best, my writing has been very unstructured over the last year.  Being a working mother has made it so that there are days when it doesn’t feel like I have stopped sprinting all day, but if I let too many of those prevent me from writing, I know that I’ll miss my monthly deadline.  Because we are such a small group, I can’t miss a week or tell myself — as I’m afraid that I have fallen into doing with this blog — that there are other writing projects that need a more immediate focus.  I simply have to produce something worthy of discussion.  It’s been really good for me, as losing the structure of grad school means that it’s all too easy to allow the urgent demands of motherhood and being a worker bee take priority over my writing.

And now, a few months into our new group, the beautiful thing has happened.  One story lead into another.  In our monthly discussion, I asked one of my writing group friends about the antagonist in her story, because I wanted to know what led him to the moment where he does the unforgivable thing.  And then I started asking myself that same question about my story.  I realized that I wanted to try to answer it, because my characters were complex enough that the first story had only scratched the surface of who they are.

As the characters in one story stepped into the beginning of another, I felt my heart race a little.  I started to really feel the characters, to wonder what they were getting up to when I wasn’t thinking about them.  I wanted to know their history better, to understand the before and the after.  A second story followed and, as the word count expanded, I realized that I wanted to know yet more.  There is a third story coming, which I believe will be an ending of sorts.  Perhaps.  I am very fond of triptychs and trilogies.  Can I publish three stories together?  Is that a done thing?  Does it matter if it is?

This last month also introduced some technical difficulties.  My writing laptop  has developed a serious enough video problem that it had had to be shipped back to the manufacturer and my loaner laptop is a beast!   It is so big and heavy that commuting with it is risking a shoulder injury.  I am already fighting with an ankle that just will not heal (because being in your late thirties is amazing), so I’ve decided to be prudent and leave the laptop in the office.  My only reliable writing time is my forty-five minute train ride, so to be without a computer on my commute is challenging.

I’ve had to start writing in a notebook. It is  much slower process; my hand cramps and my…uhh…creative handwriting is not improved by the bumps and vibrations of the train carriage, so decoding it back into digital form is a true test of my intentions.  But slowing down has its perks.  My notebook has no distractions.  I am both alone with the page and alone in the page.  When the writing goes well, I forget my cell-phone talking, Long Island drawling, opinionated and whingy seat mates.  By the time we arrive at my stop — sometimes as I am racing to record my last thought as I shove my notebook back into my bag — I have been so immersed in story that I have completely forgotten the details of my work day.

It is this immersion of thought and mind that always brings me back to the page.  Even if I never publish a thing, I would still keep writing.  As I grow older, I find that I need art to keep my life authentic.  Even when I am writing about the darkest parts of my life, the writing frees me to feel without judgment, to dwell in the hardest moments of my life without having to face the real life consequences again. When that happens, I can close my notebook without ever needing to read those pages again, and feel satisfied that I have done something worthy and good.

But then there are characters like the ones I am writing now, who demand to be seen again, to be taken out of the first draft and into the next.  And that is a different kind of creation.  In this case, it is a preparation to share a deeply vulnerable part of my history with the world,  to use these characters to visit a place that I don’t often share with even my closest friends.

Just the ones who write.

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  1. When I free-write on a computer, I end up organized. If I free-write on paper, I tap into disorganization and more poetic expression. Sometimes pen to paper is a help or a hindrance, depending.

    I love character details. I live for them. I like the way you say you wonder what they’re up to when you’re not thinking of them. Excellent.

    My old laptop was murdered when my husband CRUSHED it under the weight of his giant he-body. While I waited for my new one, I got to use his archaic desert laptop, which I’m sure was made of granite and steel. Mercy.

    Sorry about your ankle.

    • Mae McDonnell Mae McDonnell

      It is amazing what a difference your tools make, isn’t it?

  2. Excellent post! Why not submit your three stories as a novella with three parts? Your decision to write in a notebook jolted me back to my own thoughts about needing to write more and the only way I could possibly do that is if I carried a notebook and pen with me all the time. I guess I need to do that, too. Sorry about your ankle and hope it heals well and fast. Cinda

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