Early in July, I became the owner of a home that will give our family the space we’ve long needed. I also became a de facto general contractor. My fix-it list is rapidly growing; my word count is not. How easily non-writing work can fill the time we set aside precisely for the page — especially when such busyness sometimes gives us more sense of accomplishment on some days than the few paragraphs we may add to a work in progress …
This month has been about looking back. Not the sort of reflection that happens on the page, but the kind that has to do with checking in and taking stock.
The process of gathering specific memories and corroborating them with family and friends for my book project has been going on since February, and now that I have quite the growing information cache, I’ve needed to step back and consider it all at once. I don’t want to lose sight of what my intentions were when I started this exploration, and at the same time, I don’t want to miss opportunities to let the material point me in directions I could not have known about at the outset.
Last week, I talked about the challenge of facing a story that needs to be told when we’re afraid to start telling it. This week, the obstacle on my mind is not having a story to tell.
I spent the first two years of my graduate work in Iowa struggling to figure out what the central narrative of my thesis would be. Sure, I had stories. But my story — the one I was supposed to turn into a book-length manuscript — eluded me.
“Some people only have one book in them,” my thesis advisor said to me, intending to reassure but seizing instead upon my fears. “It takes the effort of a lifetime to write it.”