Yesterday, I was listening to my writing teacher as she talked about the three kinds of research writers need to do–functional, to find facts; inspirational, to uncover and discover which opens the desire to write; and imaginative, to think about and plan the story they want to write. She guided us through several exercises of imagining ourselves in different settings. While I’ve always thought of myself as having a good imagination, I appreciated the fullness of the exercise. Being able to flesh out my writing with more details and complexity will make my story a better story, and that’s a good thing.
She did warn us though that it would be hard to stay in one setting for a full three minutes without our minds wandering. She was right. I constantly had to battle thoughts of what I needed to be doing, what was happening later on that day, and what was happening where I was. I found that I couldn’t keep my mind in the particular setting for very long. In fact, I had to try the exercise several times before I manage the particulars of it. I found it illuminating. Imagining myself in a particular setting could add more detail to my writing. I just needed to master the technique.
I listened to the rest of the lectures before arriving at the assignment for this module. My teacher wanted us to set a story in one of three particular areas and write the first pages of it. I looked at the three choices, and though I had personally been in each setting, nothing came to me. I couldn’t think of anything that would be a good beginning for a story so I decided to let it sit overnight. It turned out to be a good thing because when I woke up, it came to me. I could write a fictional memoir of one of the most traumatic times I had ever been in a hospital setting. I could bring awareness to a disease that’s rarely talked about, and it might end up being something I would want to finish. So, hospital setting it is. One more thing before I start my story. I do believe a story can be written without an author having personal experience with a setting. This is where functional research comes in so detail and context can be added to make the setting more layered. Now, without further adieu, here is the story I wrote for writing class.
An Invisible Illness
Kristen took the cup of coffee from her mother-in-law. “Thanks, Linda.” She blew on the top to cool it off and took a sip. ‘Ugh, typical hospital coffee,’ she thought to herself placing it on the table next to her. Linda had tried. She could see where creamer and sugar had been mixed in, but it still tasted awful. She settled back in her seat wishing that the bright, blinking lights could be turned down or off. “So, how long has he been in there?”
Of course, her father-in-law answered. “Fifteen minutes.” He tapped his watch. “It’s been fifteen minutes since you came out here. I’m keeping track.”
The calm that had enveloped her after the surgeon had prayed with her and Daniel threatened to evaporate. She took a deep breath. “Thanks, Bill.” The surgery Daniel was having wasn’t supposed to be complicated. ‘Just temporary,’ he had said, ‘and hopefully, it can be reversed in a few months.’ She took another breath trying to corral her thoughts. A colostomy shouldn’t be that bad, right? And if the medicine worked, they could put everything back together in three months. Then, Daniel would be healthy, and they could get back to living.
Another fifteen minutes passed. Then, thirty. They had been joined by the pastor, deacon, and women’s ministry leader of hers and Daniel’s church and her best friend, Bonnie, who leaned over and whispered to her, “Why do they all look like sourpusses? Aren’t church people supposed to be nice?”
Kristin covered her mouth so no one would hear her giggle. Bonnie could always make her laugh. She was right though. They all looked like sourpusses. She closed her eyes trying to fend off the raging headache that was threatening to come out. Bill’s voice roused her. “The surgery is taking longer than he told us. Shouldn’t the nurse come out here and give us an update?” He glanced around and then back at his watch, his movements competing with the bright, blinking lights.
As if almost on cue, the intercom sounded. “Mrs. Miller, we have an update for you. Mrs. Miller, there’s an update.”
Kristin rose and walked to the desk noticing that Linda had pulled Bill back down to his seat. She knew Linda had told him she was entitled to the information first, and she was grateful. Mother-in-laws didn’t come any better than Linda. She took the phone from the smiling nurse and said, “This is Mrs. Miller.” It seemed like the voice on the other end talked forever. Her eyes and mouth widened in shock. “Thank you for your update, ma’am.”
She handed the phone back to the nurse and walked slowly back to her group. Bill noticed her shocked look first. “What’s wrong, Kristin? Is Daniel ok?”
“They think he will be, Bill.” Kristin took a breath so she could get the info out. “But, he’s going to be in surgery for another seven-eight hours. His colon and rectum both need to come out, and they will be creating a permanent ileostomy. It’s all damaged beyond repair.” She sat in the chair like a balloon had deflated.
It seemed like everyone started talking at once and wanting further information. Finally, the pastor was able to get a word in edgewise. “I’m sorry, Kristin. I hope everything goes well, but,” he motioned to the other two from the church, “we will need to leave. We have other visits to make.”
Kristin schooled her features like she didn’t care. “Of course, Dr. Wilson.” She got up and shook his hand and the others. “Thank you all for coming.” The group left, and all she could think was that she didn’t have to maintain a church face anymore. She sat back down. “Anyone else want to take off?”
Linda shook her head. “Of course not, honey. We’re gonna stay…”
Bill interrupted her holding up his phone. “I just looked up what you said on this new-fangled phone. Daniel might be dying…” He stretched out the last syllable before rapidly speaking every possible thing that could happen.
Linda and Bill started arguing about his hypochondria and about appropriate things to say in the hospital. It was maddening to Kristin though she was familiar with Bill’s quirks. Finally, she had enough. “He almost died, you fucking moron.” Her volume increased with her anger and frustration. “He coded on the table, and they had to restart his heart. Hopefully, it won’t happen again, but right now, I need you to go away!”
Her in-laws and Bonnie stood with their mouths agape having never seen her that angry. Linda grabbed Bill’s arm and drug him away despite his protests. “You didn’t need to say that to her. And she’s right. You are a fucking moron.” She called over her shoulder to Kristin and Bonnie. “We’ll bring lunch back for you girls.”
Once they entered the elevator, Kristin sat back down feeling the tension ebb out of her. Were people always this stupid in hospitals? Bonnie joined her. “Better?”
Kristin shook her head. “I might have killed him if he had stayed.”
“What happened? Did Daniel really code?”
“Yes.” Kristin nodded grimly. “His Crohn’s has progressed further than the doctors thought. His colon and rectum are beyond repair. If they hadn’t opened him up today…” She left the thought unspoken.
“But, they did,” said Bonnie, “and they’re gonna fix it. Daniel’s gonna be there for you and your girls.”
“I hope so.”
“I know so.” Bonnie took her hands in hers. “You’ve taught me so much about Crohn’s Disease. I didn’t even know it existed until I met you and Daniel.”
“Yeah, it’s an invisible illness, all right. No one knows a lot about it unless they know someone with it or have it themselves.” She felt someone tap her shoulder and turned to see an older woman. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
The woman had short brown hair and welcoming brown eyes. “Hi, my name’s Stacy. My husband’s having a brain tumor taken out. She shook their hands. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Your husband has Crohn’s Disease?” At Kristin’s nod, she continued, “I try to learn something new every time we come to the hospital. Keeps my mind off of… Anyway, tell me about it. What’s Crohn’s Disease?
Kristin’s eyes teared up as she motioned for Stacy to join them. No one had ever been interested before. As she launched into her explanation, she smiled at Bonnie and her new friend. Maybe things would be okay after all.
Over the past week or so, I’ve been doing things to kick-start the writing I want to do going forward. I’ve written, of course. I’ve written a post for my other blog, and I’ve started working on a new short story. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading. It’s an interesting feeling not having a blog post to put up every day like I had when I was working on my 100 Days to Brave series for my other blog. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about this week for this blog, but then it came to me. Not all writing is practicing in public. We all have work we would like to eventually have published, and we also need to do research so the work will be the best it can possibly be when it is ready for publication. So, there’s my topic. Research. What goes into preparing to write a book or a story, and my experiences in coming to realize it is necessary for the writing craft.
As I have prepared for this time of being able to write full-time, I have come across many philosophies and methods for getting words down on the page. I know some writers can’t write without having an outline prepared while others are known as “pantsers” or being able to write by the seat of their pants. (without a lot of preparation). There are also people who like to write as quickly as possible and those who can only write a few hundred words once a week. There are those who can write and edit as they go (precious few of us, I would think), and there are those who need to make sure another set of eyes (more than one, most likely) sees their work before they try to submit it somewhere for possible publication. I’m sure we all have many other differences as writers.
During this time of preparation, I have come across one organization I would like to give a shout-out to. NaNoWrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. It happens in November, and the goal is to get a 50,000 word novel finished before the end of the month. I’ve participated a few times, and the files for those books are sitting on my computer. I had fun each time I did it, and my participation proved to me that I did have the capacity to put words on the page and to finish a longer work. I know people who have revised and had their books published from participating in this event, but I don’t think that’s going to happen from what I’ve done so far because one of my entries is a fan-fiction work and because I am still learning about revising, editing, and research.
That brings us to today’s topic. Research. From all of the reading I’ve done, I know there are some authors who put out work very quickly, and there are some who take their time. I’ve always known that research needed to be done, but I wasn’t sure how to do it for a piece of writing I was working on and I thought it was more important to put words of my own on the page. Because I’m a writer, of course. How would people know I’m a writer if I didn’t put words of my own on the page?
I’ve come to realize differently now. I need to do research. Read books in the genre I want to write in and other books to keep my mind sharp. Read books on writing craft which will help with developing my own voice. Participate in events which will sharpen my mind and develop my creativity. And of course, write. Write for my blogs, write my stories, and begin writing my book. These are all parts of the workday for a writer, and they will be things I incorporate into my schedule as I begin writing full-time.
Have a wonderful day!
This holiday weekend promises to be very exciting for me because I will be going to our local sci-fi/fantasy/comic book festival. I went to the inaugural festival last year, and I believe it’s going to be even better this year. My favorite part of it, of course, is the literature component. This is where authors, editors, and other professionals come in and talk about different parts of writing. I also get to network and meet other people who are as enthusiastic about writing as I am. I can’t wait! Refilling my cup is important because I’m about to have more time to write. I will also be attending panels in the Science and Engineering track, the Star Trek track, and the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Media track.
Science fiction and fantasy are two of my favorite genres because they explore new possibilities, new ways for human beings to relate to each other. They also help us to use our imaginations which is important to writing too. Looking forward to approaching my writing projects with new enthusiasm once the festival is over!
Over the past few months I’ve expanded the purpose of this blog from writing what I know or don’t know about writing to writing about what’s impacting my own life. Having a son who is two years from graduating high school, the purpose of college has been weighing on my mind recently.
There have been many articles out decrying the amount of student loans owed by people who have graduated and how expensive it is to attend college. The last few days have brought articles with a more personal touch discussing individual stories of how students weren’t able to attend the college of their dreams because of lack of funding and the sacrifices parents were making to make sure their students weren’t graduating with student loan debt. Some things bothered me about two of these stories. One of the stories talked about how the student was devastated they had to settle for a less expensive college. I looked back at what the cost was and was flabbergasted at the price. Is this what we have trained our students to expect–that the only good college education is one that is expensive? The other story talked about how a student was attending an Ivy League school, and the extreme sacrifices her mother was making so her daughter could go there. The per year cost was over $60000, and my first thought was ‘Was there ever any kind of conversation about going to a less expensive school? What about going to a community college for the first two years to get basic courses out of the way?’ I was able to answer my question almost immediately. The student probably did not see it as desirable to go that route even though the name of the community college would not have appeared on the diploma.
So, what is wrong with this picture? For that, I go back to the original question. What is the purpose of college? Well, I always thought the purpose of college was to get an education and then be able to go into the world, find productive employment and contribute to society. With the number of students who go to college with no idea of what they want to do and the colleges whose aim is to keep them there as long as possible, I think the purpose of college has gone by the way side. And society is at fault too, for training all of us to think that the only good education is an expensive education. For me, I don’t believe that is true at all, and that is what will be in the forefront of my mind as we begin the college journey with our older son.