I’ve set aside an hour and a half to write this slice. I’m a slow writer. Once I figure out what I’m doing, I might draft in a white-hot fury of typing, but it may well take an hour or more to find the beginning.
And that’s for the story I already know I want to tell. It’s a piece about my son coming home an hour late. I’ve been thinking about this piece for several days. But when I sit down to write it, it gets shifty. I can’t pin it down anymore. There are a lot of ways in, and I can’t find the right one.
I spend forty minutes trying to find the first sentence. I try out forty or fifty possibilities, most of them very slight variations of each other. I’m not sure anyone but me could even feel the difference in pace and pause these slight rewrites create. I try to make myself keep going, jump into the middle, come back to the beginning, but I have to have the first sentence before I can keep going. The right first sentence unlocks the rest of the piece for me.
I have nothing but fragments to show for forty minutes of writing. I decide I can’t possibly tell the story I want to tell in the amount of time I have left, so I start a different story, one that feels shorter and easier to write. My son’s anxiety about turning eighteen and officially becoming an adult. We’ve been working on this fear for months now, and this weekend I finally cracked it. I love it when I find the words that shift him from fighting to healing. I want to write that moment when he told me he thought he should stay here until he’s twenty-one. Twenty-one has become the new refrain in our house. I find the beginning on the first pass, a little snippet of dialogue from Saturday.
I start writing that piece and it comes easily but it’s not as interesting to me as I thought it was going to be. I’m not discovering anything in the writing. It’s perfectly nice, but it doesn’t feel necessary to me. Still, I’m happy thinking I can finish it and hit publish before I teach my first class at 12:30.
And then suddenly without warning there is the first sentence I was looking for earlier. It’s about anger, and I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t exactly hear it in my head. It seems to come out my fingertips all on its own. But it’s a sentence about anger. The coming home late piece isn’t about being angry.
I am not returning to the coming home late piece. I don’t have time to write it. But that first sentence won’t leave me alone. Another sentence comes into my head. Another. About anger. The coming home late piece is about anger. My fingers are flying across the keys. I look at the clock. I’ve got a meeting on campus in ten minutes and I’m still across town at the coffee shop. But the piece demands to be written.
I’m writing in my head as I drive to work. I’m writing as the student I’m meeting with comes into my office. I do stop long enough to listen to her concerns and explain how we’ll find a solution. I don’t exactly hurry her out the door, but I’m writing again before she even leaves my office.
I do stop to teach my classes, but I bring my computer with me and when my students are working in small groups, I write.
I write on and off all day. I’m still writing. For much of the day, I write fast to be able to hit publish while it’s still Tuesday.
But now the piece is about seven pages too long to be a slice. What is it? I don’t know. But it’s no longer a slice.
And I don’t have a slice. I’ve spent the entire day writing and I don’t have a slice. I am not skipping a Tuesday slice in the month of March.
I open a new box on my blog and start writing.
I’ve set aside an hour and a half to write this slice.
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