Slice Exploder: Slice of Life 2/31 #sol16

slice of life

I’m driving home listening to a new-to-me podcast, Song Exploder. In 15 minutes or so, a singer-songwriter explains one of their songs–where the inspiration came from, how they wrote it, why they played these particular notes, how the song resisted them, how they overcame the resistance and created something whole and right and good.

I get an idea for a slice. Slice Exploder. I’ll take apart one of my slices, figure out how I did it.

I start turning over yesterday’s slice in my mind. It’s a piece I worked on for several days. I got the idea for it last Thursday as soon as the E.R. doctor used the word “puny”–a word I love and very rarely hear anymore. Puny was a legitimate stage of illness when I was growing up. I miss puny. And I knew my son’s puny would be very different from this doctor’s puny. My son’s puny was almost guaranteed to be a knock-down, drag-out fifteen-rounds-in-the-ring kind of thing.

I was pretty sure I wanted to write it.

Actually, the piece started even earlier on my drive from work to the E.R. I never want my son to be hurt, but injury can be a surprising gift. It’s exponentially harder to mother him when he’s ill or injured–and it’s already hard enough. I’ve noticed, though, that special kind of mothering and the allowance he eventually makes bring its own kind of healing, a healing that’s spiritual, emotional, deep, lasting. I wanted to write that tension.

I started drafting on Saturday, right after I decided to join the Slice of Life Story Challenge this month. I worked on it over several short writing sessions. I wrote about twice as many words as ended up in the final piece. I thought it was almost ready to go Monday night, but when I opened it up Tuesday morning for the final edit, it felt very far from finished. It didn’t have an ending. It didn’t have a trajectory. There were several sections of overwriting that needed to be cleaner. There were still far too many words.

I moved pieces around, deleted sentences, added bridges. I worked on it for an hour before I got ready for work. I worked on it in my head while I was driving, getting coffee, walking up the stairs to my office. I had fifteen minutes before class to write. I opened it during class while groups were working on a project.

It wasn’t close to done, it wasn’t close to done, and then suddenly there it was. Finished. Exactly what I wanted to say. Exactly how it was meant to be.

I know how I came up with the idea and I know when and where I wrote it.

But none of this explains how I wrote the piece. Physically, my fingers were doing certain things on keys, and that work I can track. But I can’t track the creative work that went on in my head. I don’t begin to understand it.

I don’t actually know how I created those sentences, those sections, why I put them in this order rather than that order, how I knew the piece wasn’t done yet, how I knew the piece was done. I wasn’t conscious of thinking as I wrote. I was only conscious of doing.

Trying to take my slice apart to see how it works is taking the stone out of the river. Under water, it’s beautiful. Dry on the land, it’s dull and gray.

How is it that I understand so little about how I write?


After listening to a few episodes of Song Exploder, I realize this: after hearing the stories of how these artists wrote their songs, I am still no closer to understanding how this music really came to exist.



23 responses to “Slice Exploder: Slice of Life 2/31 #sol16”

  1. vanessaw2007 Avatar

    Cute way to get ideas for your slice – exploder – I like it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks! I think I’ll stick to listening to Song Exploder and not try “Slice Exploder” again!

  2. Ramona Avatar

    Had to go back and read yesterday’s slice. What a piece! It’s so true that much of the writing and labor for a creative piece comes before we ever put pen to paper. Perhaps that’s why I both adore and abhor March. It’s hard work, but extremely satisfying work too!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      So true, Ramona. I find that I’m writing slices in my head all the time!

  3. Karen Szymusiak Avatar

    Enjoyed hearing about your writing process. It’s an interesting reflection. Happy Writing!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! So many slices in a month offer plenty of opportunities for reflecting on the writing process.

  4. Jennifer Laffin Avatar

    What an interesting slice! Perhaps trying to figure out our own writing processes will help us teachers understand why writing is such a difficult topic to teach sometimes. It is not concrete like math and does require lots of abstract, fuzzy thinking sometimes.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      My husband says there’s something magical about writing that no amount of thinking and trying to put into words is going to be able to explain. I just don’t know…. are there really things that words can’t do?!

  5. Terje Avatar

    It was fascinating to read first the reflection and then the original piece. Even if you don’t know and understand fully the magic that allowed you to write, for the reader, for me, your first slice is beautifully crafted, honest and touching, giving the emotions and leaving space to breathe.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! I had hoped that writing about the first slice would give me some insight into the writing process, but I’m not sure it did. Except that the writing process is mysterious. And that’s not very insightful! I really appreciate your comments about craft!

  6. Tara Smith Avatar

    I think you understand the magic of writing, I really do.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, Tara, all I know is that I need to keep showing up because something eventually happens if I just show up! That’s the sum total of my knowledge after 30+ years of being a writer!

  7. Emily Culbertson Avatar

    I feel inadequate in reading this post. My mind is blown, like in the commercials. And even so, I can identify with all that you say. Thanks for this insightful, thought-provoking post!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks so much for visiting and commenting. I love reading other people’s writing process pieces–there’s always so much to relate to. It helps to know that we all struggle in similar ways!

  8. Mindi Rench Avatar

    I struggle with this when I’m thinking aloud for students in classrooms. When I try to unpack what’s going on in my brain when I read or write, it’s so hard! So many of the things I do when I write I seem to do subconsciously. I almost never draft short pieces. They cook in my head for hours or days after I come up with an initial idea, and when I feel ready I sit down and the words flow. I love reading about other people’s processes. Thanks for sharing yours.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks for the connection with think-alouds. I struggle with those in my classroom too. Um, I don’t know why I did this thing! I don’t know how I did this thing! But here it is. I feel wildly inarticulate when I try to talk about my writing. Love your cooking metaphor–I do think this is a huge part of it. I tell my college students they’re not procrastinating on a piece of writing, they’re percolating. And I do think our minds are working on our pieces when we aren’t aware of the work.

  9. mickjagger1 Avatar

    This reminds me of a comment I once heard from Naomi Shihab Nye (which I think she got from somewhere else): “If you don’t write every day, poetry will arrive, and you won’t be there.”

    I think you discovered that the “poetry arrived” just because you had been writing regularly. Well-done!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes! Love this quote! I do think a huge part of the process is simply showing up, trying to write daily. Funny how the poetry comes from something as mundane as simply showing up!

  10. Shari Daniels Avatar

    It’s like backwards planning, don’t you think? And, your process might go like this one day and the next day, you’ll do something totally different. I think this is why writing is so hard to teach. Everyone’s process is so different, even day by day. I love your deep analysis of things, Elisabeth. We share like minds.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Shari. I agree that this has to be one reason why writing is so hard to teach. And we also simply don’t understand all that much about our own processes–even when we think deeply about them. To teach writing, so often we translate the muddy messy process into something linear and easily assessable which doesn’t begin to capture or imitate what writers actually do.

  11. carriegelson Avatar

    Okay wow. Wow. You create such beautiful pieces and it is because you simmer them, long and carefully stirring at the right times. I feel like that simmering for me happens as I walk. It isn’t down on paper but it’s happening. I need to draft and edit more. One day . . .

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Simmering…love that metaphor. A piece like “Concussion” simmers and gets stirred quite a bit before it’s ready to go. I’m a much better writer when I’m working regularly in my notebook too. Hoping to incorporate that more this month as well.

  12. […] metaslice trying–and failing–to take apart the slice about my son’s […]

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