August 28th, 2006

Lesson Learned: Writing Is Never Easy

I’ve always thought fiction is tougher to write than nonfiction (though of course each has its challenges).


After all, when I write a feature, I have research to turn to. I read the books, surf the sites, do the interviews. Then all I have to do is sculpt that material, all those quotes, into a pleasing shape.


But with fiction, I have to create the material first. I have to write the character studies, develop the quotes these imaginary people have said or would say. Then I cull from that material the points most pertinent to the trajectory of my project. And then I still have to carve it all into a pleasing shape.


But now I see I’d just been getting off easy. Nonfiction can be every bit as diabolical as fiction.


I’d put off filling out my parents’ annulment witness questionnaire for a little too long, figuring it would pretty much put me out of commission (“Reason for absence, Elisabeth?” –“Does emotional breakdown count?”). But since I was already all worked up about another issue, I figured why not just ride the wave and get the stupid questionnaire done? (And when I finished that little job, I called the phone company to argue about my bill. Never let a perfectly serviceable foul mood go to waste, I say.) 


In some ways, this assignment was not as evil as I expected. I didn’t lose it until I was all the way through draft one, which is quite an achievement (there are 36 essay questions to plough through). 


Some of  the questions were even easy to answer.

"Q. What were your feelings about the relationship between Petitioner and Respondent before the marriage?"

"A. I can't answer this question on the grounds that I didn't exist yet."


But most of them weren't.


Chalk this up on the list of my top 10 most challenging assignments, along with interviewing the mother of a terminally ill girl about the fundraising walk she’d organized, learning how to lasso for a story on horse-training, and interviewing chronic pain patients about their sex lives.


All things considered, I’d rather have blistered my fingers practicing lassoing.