Two days ago I finished the first draft of my story Joy, which makes me happy because now I get to know how it ends. Believe me, I was wondering. When I first started writing it, I had no idea. As I went on working, I gradually had some idea, but as it turned out, there was something else, something more going on that I hadn’t seen—any more than Nadine herself saw it until it jumped up and stared her in the face. “If it was a bear,” my mother would have said, “it would have bit you.”
Nadine used to be Theresa, or Teresa, by the way, as you may remember if you read the earlier very partial draft I posted here a few weeks back.
This was and is the beginning of the story:
Do what gives you joy.
Some lady what called herself a motivational speaker said that, at this hippie-dippie spiritual workshop Marnie dragged me to one Monday. It was all about how to find the right work for yourself, and I thought, what a load of crap, because, come on now, how many people do you know who find joy in their jobs?
The first, most important thing about this story, to me as a writer, is that it came to me as a gift. I never planned to write it, never plotted it out. For a long time I didn’t know the name of the narrator-protagonist, let alone where her story was going; I just heard her ungrammatical but utterly sincere voice in my head, telling her story, demanding that I let her story come through me.
Now, from this beginning you would expect, as I myself expected, that the story would be about Nadine finding the kind of work that suits her, that does at some level bring her joy. And she does find her right work, but it turned out that was nowhere near the whole story. I wrote on Facebook, the day I finally got it:
“”I was writing this story about a woman trying to find the kind of work that suited her – or any work at all! and go figure, it just turned into a love story. Not a romance (sorry, my PENRWA colleagues) but a love story. It’s funny how sometimes fiction, like life, laughs at what you think you’re doing and informs you that you’re doing something else entirely.”
Fellow author Marcus Smith (http://www.mleonsmith.com/) responded: “I get this all the time when I write. There are aspects to the main character in the piece I am writing that I didn’t plan or expect…”
Another exciting thing is that I wrote it because it wanted to be written, not because I saw a way to sell it. I still don’t see a way to sell it, and I still like it a lot.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I despise salable art. I made my living for many years selling “wearable art” which is a fancy way of saying I made one-of-a-kind patchwork purses and occasionally vests or tunics.
My purses were useful and well-constructed, and every piece of the patchwork was unique. At the same time, while I never mass-produced, it’s fair to say that some pieces were less strikingly original than others. I’d put together a satisfying combination of fabrics, different colors and prints and textures complementing each other, and one or two pieces of patchwork out of that combination might have something extra that made them art. I kept working steadily, and I made a living, and sometimes I got the special pieces.
Now that’s what I’m trying to do as a writer. If I’m going to start bringing in money, I have to keep working steadily at my craft, and I have to find the format for my work that makes it salable: the shapes of story, the right genres. But what keeps me going is the special pieces, the ones I never could have planned, the adventures, the gifts. That’s why I write.