When she asked the question, I felt as if my writing had advanced to the next level. It was like progressing from Neanderthal to Cro Magnon, or from late Middle Ages to Renaissance, or Mario defeating Bowser and rescuing Princess Toadstool.
Years later the question still sticks with me. Even when the usual jackals take over, and I don’t think I’ll ever make anything of myself, this question keeps me writing.
Several years ago I belonged to a writing group. We met about twice a month and critiqued each other’s stories. With their input, encouragement, and guidance I became a better writer. When I workshopped “Odious Seed,” I was surprised how well the group received it.
The premise is rather bizarre. At the time a coworker of mine was out on medical leave. According to the story going around, a seed got stuck in her intestine. Because there are enough nutrients in our intestines, the seed began to grow, and my coworker had to receive medical treatment.
Now, that was the office scuttlebutt, and I don’t recall how much of it turned out to be true. It may not be medically possible for all I know. Nonetheless my imagination caught on to the idea, so I wrote a story about it.
I imagined what it would be like if this were to happen to someone, and leaves and flowers started to grow from their body, which is what happens to my lead character.
Of all the stories I’ve written so far, this one is a personal favorite. I loved the idea and coming up with the images.
After writing a few drafts, it started coming together, so I presented it to the group. I got the feedback I needed and was ready to go for the final revision.
Then after the meeting, a woman in my group set me aside and asked me the question: “Can I show this to my son? I think he would like it.”
I may as well have won a Pulitzer Prize. It was an enormous compliment. And I thought, there is somebody out there for whom this story is written. I had written a story that had the power to speak to someone in a meaningful way.
You know that feeling you get in your gut when something just feels right? Something – an idea or a place or a path – finds a place inside of you and settles perfectly into it.
That was the feeling I had when she asked me that question. I thought, “This is what I do it for.”
When I sit down to write. When I doubt myself and the jackals tell me I’m doing all this work for nothing. When I dream about the path and where I want it to take me. I think of that request.
I have read plenty of stories that speak to me in a meaningful way. Many of them are sitting on my bookshelf. My stories have the power to speak to others in a meangingful way. Somewhere out there is a reader, perhaps not yet born, who can connect with the stories that I write and have yet to write. That is what keeps me going.