Monday, December 15, 2014

Why am I telling this story? What does it mean?

With several essays simmering or sizzling on the stove, shifting between back and front burners, the question I revisit again and again is: "What is this essay's central theme? What is the takeaway for the reader? What does it all add up to?" It is usually at that point in organization or revision that I get stuck in my writerly rut.

While it can sometimes be good to set a piece aside for a time and return with renewed perspective, I wonder if I'm prone to giving up too hastily, stuffing another unfinished work into the file drawer before giving it enough time to stew.

Suzanne Roberts, the winner of Creative Nonfiction's Fall 2014 "Mistakes" essay contest, has this to say in an interview about her prizewinning piece. It's a good reminder to stick with it and let the story emerge.
E.M. Forster said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” That is one of the things about writing: there is no way to know what something means, at least for me, until I write it and re-write it, asking the same questions again and again: Why am I telling this story? What does it mean? Where can I go deeper? What is the story behind the story?

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