After studying the great books at St. John’s College I dreamed of writing the next great American novel. I enrolled in a graduate writing program, where my fiction-writing teacher told me to write about what I knew. At that point I didn’t seem know much of anything, and medical school seemed like the easier option. Twenty years later, I started writing The End of Healing as a work of narrative non-fiction. When my spouse, who is also my editor, told me I was writing fiction—and suggested I’d better stop because it would take me forever—my first reaction was denial. I assured her that I was, in fact, writing creative non-fiction. As usual, though, she was right. It was over a full year later, in 2004, I realized that I was writing fiction—and that filled me with terror. I couldn’t write fiction. That had already been determined. But despite my despair, The End of Healing was a compulsion for me, and I wrote nearly every day from 2004 until its publication. I wrote and wrote and edited and edited and learned the art of story telling over the last ten years because I had to do so. The story needed to be told. So what are the main things I have learned about the writing process over last ten years of writing my first novel that might be helpful to others who have a story they need to share?
- Start with stream of consciousness, but early in your writing process imagine the final product and the broader story arc to help you channel the stream.
- Allow your characters to reveal themselves to you over time and let them shape and even change the arc of your story.
- Write wherever and whenever inspiration strikes you, but also have a regular (daily) writing schedule, time, and place, even it is brief.
- Don’t be afraid to write a story with a purpose, goal, or a reason for telling. In writing, as in life, it helps to have a reason for writing.
- Make sure your story is one that you really care about in order to have the staying power to see it through to its end. Look for the story that matters most in your life. That is the story you should aim to share.