Where One Story Ends…

I’m sitting in my downtown Indianapolis apartment with the windows open on this hot, sticky Saturday evening as  the sounds of the busy city street below buzz around me. I’ve been staring at my notebook, as it lays open on my coffee table,  all weekend now.

It’s been a few weeks since my first ever long-form essay, Blessed Be The Ties That Bind, was published online.

I remember knowing immediately after receiving the email from Brad, our fearless leader, what I would write about on this proposed collaborative writing project. It was a story I’d held inside for nearly five years. I knew that this was the story I had to tell. I also knew that it would break me wide open. Which it did.

I convinced myself that I was finally ready ready to tell the story. Nevermind the fact that I had absolutely no idea how. I’ve been drawn to writing since I was a little girl. It seemed to be the only way I could make sense of the world around me. Though it was what I knew I wanted to do with my life, the closer I got to choosing a  career, I became nervous of what the life of a writer would actually look like. I decided to study something that would grant me the opportunity to write without proclaiming myself a writer. I settled on public relations, though my last two years of college were spent battling my overwhelming desire to write more than anything.

I spent the majority of the 10 months we’d been given to develop our stories writing around the story. I was overwhelmed by the words I’d never shared and the bubbling of the feelings I’d buried from that time in my life. I’d written nearly 1,000 words of cryptic blurbs, hoping that  somehow I’d be able to put all the pieces together, or find the courage to tell the story.

There were a few days before our first “hard” deadline when I asked Brad to take a look at my story. It’d been over a month since he’d seen my work on it. His first edits, several weeks before, simply read:

You’re doing well, now spread your wings and tell the story.

The next edit, the night before my story was due, read: I don’t even know how to help you.

A helpless teacher is not what I was prepared for that night.

I was flooded with questions and insecurities. Can I do this? How? Maybe I’m not a writer.

I pushed through my feelings, took the edits I’d been given, picked up two extra large energy drinks and started over. By morning, I’d written more than I had in 10 months. The story still wasn’t coming together.  And it wouldn’t be for nearly a month. I struggled with my lack of courage to tell the story as much as I did long-form story structure. I was lost in it all.

Dave, our editor began working with me on the story, pushing me past my comfort zone, asking questions that I didn’t want to answer, and teaching me about the long-form storytelling techniques he’d learned in Brad’s magazine writing class.

I wrote and rewrote every day after long work days for weeks. My heart sank each time I opened my email to see another message from Dave on the work that still needed to be done, the pages of my draft filled with even more edits.

When we finally came to the end and Dave told me that our editing was done, I wasn’t ready to let the story go. I’d finally understood the magic of the rewriting process and wanted to spend even more time and energy making it right. Unfortunately, our deadline wouldn’t allow that. That was just one of many lessons learned.

Thankfully though, those few months of rewriting were just enough to answer my questions and address my insecurities. Can I do this? Yes. How? Draft after draft, one night of writing after the other. Am I a writer? Yes, because I write, diligently.

And now, I’m sitting here contemplating the next step of my life as a writer. Specifically, what story will fill that open notebook laying on my coffee table.