Friday, January 25, 2013

a story is a promise

Last week, I started a new writing course. I've noticed a pattern when I take writing classes: I start out incredibly excited and eager to soak up everything. Then after a few days, usually spent comparing myself to my new classmates, I get shy and unsure about my writing ability and realize that everything I'm writing sounds boring / unimaginative / unthoughtful / etc. I hit the delete button a lot in those few days. I rarely pick up a pen.

I'm doing my best to push through this ugly self-doubt phase because this weekend I have a goal of finishing a first draft of my 3,5000 word assignment due next Sunday night. The class is narrative journalism, and since I'm not a journalist and I work full time, I've felt my limitations in collecting material for my story. And honestly, some days I think about the topic I've chosen for my first story, trying to formulate in my head where I'll start and what the story is really about, and it sounds just plain dumb. Especially when I compare it to what my classmates are working on. (Theirs will discuss issues of immigration, living as an artist in a restrictive society, etc. Mine is about a cat.). Still, I'm convinced there's a story in there somewhere, and though I may not get the interviews and face to face contacts that will make the story really come alive, I'm reminding myself that it's all a learning process. Is my story going to be award-winning material? Definitely not. Am I learning something? Yes, a ton. So there you go.

While we're talking about award-winning narrative journalism, I just finished reading this three-part series about a mother and her micropreemie (is anyone else tired of the prefix micro? but it may actually be applicable here, since the baby is the size of a barbie doll, if you can imagine). So many ideas and themes are explored in this story - the cost and worth of a life, motherhood, miracles, what is it that gives us the fight to live, and so much more. I cried at the end and at one other part, but if I tell you more it might give the ending away, and you need to read to the end. As the author's husband (also an award-winning writer) explains, "A story is a promise... It's a promise that the end is worth waiting for."

The author shares some of her process here, which is incredibly helpful as I try to understand what kind and breadth of research and reporting goes into telling stories like these. She worked for months and scoured hospital records as well as her husband's notes and her own journals. That was all before she started writing it. I love when she talks about the excel spreadsheets. I couldn't have thought up a better combination for a job for me - spreadsheets and writing. How can I also fit paid travel to destination locations in there?

I promise to let you know if I have any revelations about the cat story this weekend. In the meantime, if you can tell me anything about what makes somebody a "cat person," leave it in the comments. To me, this is like trying to understand French. (Huh?)

1 comment:

  1. My family is made up of cat people, so I can take a few guesses:

    We're on the surface a little less sentimental. We do still love a good snuggle, but we don't like to admit it in public. Most "cat people" think we're so intellectual about it. Dogs are all about the in-your-face snuggle, and everybody gets mushy about dogs. But cats need their space, and they take a little more work to get them to curl up with you. We like a little bit of a challenge.

    We also like a little independence. It's not an introvert-extravert thing. It's more (to us) like the difference between liking kids and liking babies. Me personally, I don't love babies. But I love kids. A kid has his own personality, his own preferences, but a baby is pretty much like every other baby. Especially in the way that they need constant attention. A kid can play by himself and let you join in if you want. A baby can't do anything on her own, and can't imagine at all. No sense of humor. They giggle, but they don't know why it's funny. Kids tell their own jokes.

    We like our cats because we think they have a little sarcasm in their sassiness. Dogs seem to be happy, but they never strike us as being very clever. Kind of like the difference between Jacob and Esau -- Jacob isn't very strong, and is a real jerk. But at least he's clever. Esau is strong, a hard worker, and seems like he's got plenty of friends. But he's an idiot. We like Jacob because he's creative.

    Oh, and we do not like needing to get up at 5 in the morning to pick up poop. Seriously. Zero-dark-thirty is the main reason I don't want a dog. Clean the cat's litterbox whenever you want. But with a dog, you're on his schedule.

    In all honesty, though, it's a facade. We really do want the kitty to curl up on our laps, warm and furry, purring, maybe even licking our nose. We want our cats to be happy to see us and show some affection - all the things you're kind of guaranteed with a dog. But if we liked dogs, then everybody would KNOW we liked those things. and that's a little embarrassing.

    All that and I haven't had a cat in about 15 years.


    I've been writing for a neighborhood magazine (where I don't live), and it's good creative practice for me. I like interviewing people and figuring out how to give them an interesting story. I hope this will be a good class for you. If you want to interview a 30-something couple attempting to assemble their first CD, I might know someone you could call.