The Puzzle That is Writing

I’m writing a book.

There. I said it (but not before having over 50 single-spaced pages). If that doesn’t show commitment, I don’t know what does.

I’m the type of person who has always had book ideas swirling around in her head, but I never knew how to move forward with them. I honestly didn’t even know writing a book was something I wanted to do, but in the last year I’ve had two accomplished writers tell me that it was something I needed to do.

The first was my writing mentor, someone I have always held in high regard for her writing and her wit. She graciously agreed to critique a couple of my pieces, so we met for coffee one morning on her way to work. She told me I needed to add more drama (clearly, she didn’t know me in high school.) and suspense. I took copious notes as she talked.

“You need to write a book.” she said mater-of-factly after we had finished.

My pen stopped, and I looked at her, “What?”

I dismissed the idea at the time, but the words buzzed in my ear every time I sat down at my computer to write.

Several months later I interviewed for an essayist position at Washington University. The job didn’t feel right, and frankly, the editor intimidated me. When he asked if I had written about my travels, I said that I had but most of it hadn’t been published, that it was in journals at home on my bookshelf.

“Why haven’t you written a book?”

“I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know the direction I would want to take.”

This is probably not what you’re supposed say in an interview, but it was the truth.

As I walked across campus back to my car, I knew that I needed to write the damn book. I mean if there’s ever a moment in life where the signs are pointing in one direction, this had to be it.

So I started writing.

I thought about my life–about being a single parent, about all the work that it took to become an academic only to realize that I didn’t want to be one–and I thought about my travels and how they have shaped my life.

The words that would pour out when I sat down to write confirmed that I needed this project. “You have lived life, Jen Roberts” a friend of mine told me recently and now that my life was unfolding itself before me, I had to agree with her.

I wrote about my high school boyfriend dying in a car accident during my first semester of college, my first trip to India, my love of France, becoming a parent in graduate school, and eventually I wrote enough that my ideas connected in an obvious way that made me laugh that I hadn’t noticed it before.

Writing is funny that way–you often don’t know where you’re going until you’re halfway finished. You have all the pieces scattered before you, and even when you start trying to organize them, they don’t make perfect sense until you have enough of them in place.

Then you take a step back and wonder how you didn’t see it all along.

Here’s hoping my ideas continue to make sense.



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