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Mar 21

Writing a Book … By Accident

fountain pen

Nifty old-timey fountain pen, huh? This is not what I use to write. I’m not that fancy. Photo credit: mbgrigby via photopin cc

I am afraid to write this post. I could use an adult word like nervous or anxious or jittery or hesitant, but while none of those words are wrong, none of them are right, either. Writing “nervous” would feel like taking the chicken exit. What I’m feeling now is a walking-in-a-dark-empty-parking-garage fear. Not terror. Not panic. But definitely fear.

It happened like this: my husband, Mr. Cheeky, had been encouraging me for a while (and by a while, I mean off and on for years) to write a book. I always pushed it out of my mind by thinking, “Well, yes, I write; I write constantly. But I don’t write write. I’m not a writer. There’s nothing in here to write about. I’ve tried, and I’m awful at it. It just doesn’t work.” Then a few months ago, in the process of conversing about something else, he asked me when I’d last felt joy. Which stung. He’s good at that, at asking or saying things that get right to the center of whatever is going on.

Only this time, instead of blowing it off after pretending to give it careful consideration (something I’m pretty good at), I let that roll around in my head, settle, and take root, where it’s been slowly growing ever since.

And then a friend of mine was working on his own book, and I sorta kinda committed to do a short story because—well, to encourage him, and also to lock myself into at least trying the path that seemed to lie in the general direction of my joy. I thought “Oh, it’s one story. I can do it, and then if it’s terrible, I’ll know I’m really more of a reader than a writer. And that will be the end of it.” Of course, that’s not how writing works. I know that just as well as anyone. But sometimes we have to tell ourselves little lies to get to the next part of the day.

So for a few days, I just let the idea of a story float around aimlessly. I’m not sure why I didn’t try to plot something, because that’s what I’d done (with wretched, painful, vomitous—and subsequently abandoned—results) before. This time, I simply left some quiet space in my head. A few days later, off in the distance, I saw the hazy outline of a young girl. For a day or so I watched her out of the corner of my eye, and she slowly drew closer and became more distinct. She began to tell me her story. I began to write it down.

And it was good.

But it wasn’t a story. At least, it wasn’t a short story. Although I thought it was going to be, as it turns out there is a longer story to tell. At this point I think it will be a short book, though I’ve never, ever done this before, so what do I know? I suppose it’s a middle grades novel. That’s where it will fit on the library shelf, anyway. Still, I mostly agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Whatever happens, it will be what it is going to be. The choice doesn’t seem to be entirely mine. Really, I never intended for things to turn out this way.

Writing is, I think—for me, anyway—less about creating things, thinking things up, than it is about excavating something that’s already there. When I get up at 5:30 in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and sit in front of my monitor, I’m half observing, half participating. It’s a new routine, but one that has become central to my life. If I miss it, I get crabby. Several weeks ago, a good friend introduced me to the Greek word meraki, which means doing something with soul, creativity, or love. At 5:30 AM, with my coffee and my keyboard, I have at least an hour of good solid meraki.

If you’ve read this far, if you’ve ever encouraged me, I want to say thank you. You are a part of what is making me feel that I can do this thing. I especially want to thank my dear friend Ron, who has been a great sounding board and cheerleader. And I especially especially want to thank my husband, who knew before I did (as he so often does) what I was on about. For actively respecting my writing space and time. For overlooking some issues that arise from trying to fit this new thing into my life and my absentminded brain. (Really sorry about the egg rolls, hon!) For providing spot-on feedback. For encouraging me without pushing. For being, really, the kind of life partner that I try to be myself.

Ha. I like how I sound like I’m done with this, when really I’m only a few chapters in.

I started this post out by saying I was afraid, and I am. Elevated pulse and the whole nine. Afraid of what, I’m not entirely sure. Failure, most likely. Embarrassing myself. Mental nudity. RISKING. I can understand why Emily Dickinson might have kept most of her work private. But at this point, I’m more afraid of not telling the story than I am afraid of telling it.

Okay, you’re still here. Well. I might as well get all the nervy stuff out of the way, eh? I will be brave. (I learned that from my three-year-old niece Kaitlin. It really works. You should try it.) Tiny little corner of the world that reads my blog, allow me to introduce you to Maggie.

Sparrow Maggie (Just the first bit)

Maggie loved pockets. She didn’t go around saying “Oh I love pockets,” but she did love them just the same. They were practical, convenient if you found something small worth saving. (Small things, Maggie thought, were often the most worth saving.) Pockets were perfect for keeping your hands warm, of course, but also the rest of you. Because if you shoved your hands into your jacket pockets, then hugged yourself tight, you could keep the cold wind out without bothering with zippers. Maggie hated bothering with zippers. They always got stuck if you didn’t pull the zipper perfectly straight, which was really difficult to do when the jacket was too big. Sometimes they got stuck anyway: caught up in the fabric, or pulling one side of it up so that the jacket was uneven at the bottom. All in all, she thought, zippers caused more trouble than they fixed.

But Maggie also loved pockets for another reason. They kept her safe. Or at least, it felt that way. She knew they didn’t really, of course. That’s something a baby would think, and Maggie was nearly 10. Still … if she balled up her hands and stuffed them deep into the pockets, to the very bottom where if she’d pushed any harder she would have torn the seams, secretly she knew she was protected from … from things. She felt especially safe when there was a small something in her pocket that she could hold onto. It couldn’t be something with edges, like a bottle cap (although she did like to pick up interesting-looking bottle caps). It had to be smooth and solid. The absolute best thing was a rock that had been smoothed from being in water a very long time. Maggie always knew that it was going to be a good day when she found a rock like that.

On the walk to school this morning, she’d picked up just such a rock. It was whitish gray with stripes the color of old yellowed bone, which meant, she’d learned in science, that it had been formed over a very long time by layers and layers of the world stacking on top of each other, each layer weighing down the ones below it. And then somehow (maybe by a giant or bear standing at the edge of a cliff), a small piece of that had broken off and tumbled into a river or creek, where it had lain for years and years, being worn down by the current, grown on by moss, nibbled at by fish. How had it gotten out? Maybe it was swept along by a flash flood. Or picked up in a fisherman’s net. Eventually, it found its way onto the edge of the path in the woods Maggie sometimes walked through to get to school. (She was supposed to use the sidewalks next to the streets, but the woods were much more interesting—and anyway, it was a shortcut.) She thought all this in the two seconds it took to pick up the rock. It took much longer to say than it did to think, and she decided that was also the main difference between rocks and people: rocks had adventures, but they were very slow adventures.

7 comments

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  1. Shasta

    I think this is fantastic. Not just the writing and the story, which are, by the way, fantastic, but the fact that you are doing it.

    Hello, Maggie!

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Thanks, Shasta. That means a lot!

      P.S. I kind of can’t believe I’m doing this.

  2. Celeste

    I love that beginning! I hope to read more soon. 🙂

    1. Evelyn Stice

      Thanks! I’m writing more, but life is interfering with my ability to do that as much as I want right now. Same old story, right?

  3. Darcy Perdu

    Wow! Love Maggie already! Her personality shines through in just the first few paragraphs! And congrats on taking those fearful exhilarating steps toward authorship! — Darcy at sothenstories.com

    1. Evelyn Stice

      That’s very gratifying. Thanks so much for commenting! Maggie is real to me—not in any way that should cause anyone alarm, though—and I’m hoping she becomes equally real to a lot of people eventually.

  4. Libby

    So, you got anymore Maggie stuff yet? How’s the book coming along.

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