“What are you working on?” I know that’s the first question everyone asks writers. Sure, it’s straight forward but too often is a warm-up to more difficult questions such as: Where do you get your ideas? Who’s your greatest inspiration? Do you ever experience “writer’s block”? When you do, how do you get past it? What’s your favorite book of all time? Who’s your absolute favorite writer? I’m sorry! Really? Are there answers writers have to these questions, writers who aren’t in a state of flux?
My greatest writing challenge is not writer’s block but an odd problem for which I’m not sure there’s a label. If I had one, it would have to be the opposite of “block” — maybe “writer’s flood” would be appropriate? Out of pure desperation, I asked Siri for the word that might be the opposite of “block.” Surprise! “Unblock” was suggested.
More concepts for essays and stories swirl around inside my head than balls in a pinball machine. It follows that vastly more ideas inspire me than the time available to write about them. An attack of “writer’s block,” the problem so many writers claim hinders their productivity is one I’ve never (at least not yet) faced. My ”writer’s block” is indecisiveness — way too many concepts I’m extremely passionate about which I’d like to write.
After I earned a Ph.D. in research sociology, I arrived at my non-academic writing by serendipity. Consequently, at any given moment, I might be working on an essay, a non-fiction short story, or writing an article actually related to my academic research interests. So, back to the question: what am I working on? I’m rewriting and editing a short story collection — more accurately, creative non-fiction pieces I’ve been writing for no fewer than ten years.
Twelve stories now are complete, each at a different stage of “doneness” yet all evolved out of unconventional experiences I had growing up with two exceedingly damaged Holocaust survivor parents. Writing my personal stories began as a creative vehicle by which to make sense out of a world I was taught to regard as threatening and evil. Each piece came to me as a “stand-alone” snippet of life, inspired by unforgettable, often distressing, events and conversations with my parent. I was unaware of my stories’ unifying theme.
As I began to edit my stories after having neglected them for years, I had two insights. First, I realized that in the passing years, my writing had evolved. Second, I became vastly more focused — a more observant writer than I’d been when I’d first penned my stories. Their unifying theme suddenly became obvious to me and I had to marvel that their theme eluded me for so long.
Now, faced with final edits of my stories, I also face another challenge most writers ultimately confront: how to let go of the writing and the story. Stop editing, stop research, stop reconceptualizing the story. Writers could edit indefinitely and most writers – like their writing, are in constant state of flux, evolution, and the striving for unattainable perfection.
With that unifying theme in the forefront, I envision my nonfiction pieces will comprise a book, that memoir told through short stories.