The Unbearable Delight of the Nonlinear
I don’t see a story from beginning to end. I don’t want to. When I was a kid and first started writing, I did so because I loved the characters I’d created. They were my friends, people I was invested in. I wanted to see what they would do, how they would act under pressure, when their instinctive smarts would kick in, who they’d fall in love with. I would throw them into particular scenarios just to see what would happen. At eleven, those scenarios mostly involved ghosts, secret passageways, mysteries to be unraveled, journeys to be taken all without the help of any adults.
I often described writing as just as good as reading…I didn’t know the ending of the stories I told any more than I knew the ending of the new library book.
As a grown-up (sort of) writer, I see the story come together in fits and starts. Some areas a very clear, others are foggy. As I write into the places that I can see, it is like the lens comes more into focus and the previously fuzzy areas become more crystalline.
I’ve never written a nonfiction book and while I’ve spent an amazing amount of time writing about myself in the pages of my journal, I have not written at length about what I think and what I believe. I wrestle with the putting all of that on display. Perhaps it’s a touch of imposter syndrome, maybe a little bit of a fight between the desire to be seen and the compulsion to stay in the shadows.
But I also think this is the way we’ve been taught. In academic research we are taught not to tell the reader what we think, but instead stand upon the shoulders of the scholars that came before us. In journalism we report facts, not opinions (at least, we should). Writing in the first person is a faux pas of the highest order.
As I launched into this book writing project, I tried the linear approach to writing for about five minutes before I found myself drifting.
Write what it is you feel urgently compelled to say.
I’d hoped to have a very rough draft done by July 1. That did not happen. I’m not disappointed, it was a lofty goal. This week, though, I decided to reread the pages I’ve written over the last six months and gauge my progress. What I found was startling. I’d written an introduction to the book FOUR TIMES. There are probably forty pages of me writing about why I wanted to write this book. Four times.
I guffawed at myself. Loudly. I shook my head. How could I have wasted so much precious writing time, so many words, writing and rewriting the same thing over and over? Where’s the progress, Ratermann???
And then, because this is not my first time on this merry-go-round, and because I do try to take my own advice, I reminded myself that writing is the least efficient work we’ll ever do. And that there is a reason why I felt urgently compelled to write that introduction over and over again.
The journey is never a straight line. What’s more, if it was, I’d be bored out of my mind.
Perhaps I need to unpack the “why” four times so that I could get to a place where I confidently understand myself and could feel the burning need to tell the world. Perhaps it’s also me dragging my feet because writing about what I’ve learned and what I posit feels counterintuitive and very, very visible.
I always lean on my students/clients to examine their own patterns. Why do you use those words/phrases? Do you notice a common theme in your work here? Where do you feel most comfort? What is your growth edge? Lots of writers can teach you mechanics, but I want to help people explore the why/why not of their work. I want to dig a little deeper, peel back that onion to the tender bit of what holds you back and drives your forward.
So, here I am, not guffawing at myself any more. I’m noticing my own fears of judgment and rejection, acknowledging my growth edge. I’m examining the old narratives that no longer serve me, the ones that rely on black and white thinking. That shit runs deep. And I am so exuberantly happy to say that I in doing so, I’m recognizing again and again that what I do works and why I do it is important.