Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rinse and repeat

In journalism, reporters are encouraged, even required, to write about new things almost every single day. A reporter may cover a beat, as I did, and they may come back to certain topics or themes; I covered women's health, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding more than most health reporters do. In the end, though, each story must follow the rules of significant, important and new.

Writing a personal blog, one based on my life rather than on a certain set of topics, is a different experience. In our lives, very little is new; even less when you are raising a young family. New things happen as the children grow and learn new things, and as I grow and learn, but this phase of life is like a wheel that turns. It eventually gets somewhere, but it sometimes feels like the same day, over and over.

That sameness, even as life changes, even as I grow a beachball for a belly and the baby kicks and turns, sometimes makes writing here difficult. Sure, pregnancy can be interesting writing fodder, but seriously, not the fourth time. To me, this is pretty routine.

So each time I write about parental exhaustion, cute things the kids do, or raising the kids while Hubby is away, I feel like I'm repeating myself. There are many other topics I itch to write about, but they involve family members; I'm not comfortable exposing them the way I expose my own inner life.

So I'm struggling to find a way to make the wheel of my life fresh, trying to tease out the new ideas and deeper meanings. It's not easy.

The great fiction writers I read and reread, the ones whose prose is so moving or profound or beautiful  they sometimes make me weep, tend to write in wheels, tend to tell similar stories for a period in time, or even for their entire writing careers.

L.M. Montgomery wrote almost exclusively about orphans and abandoned children. This was her life experience. She was dumped at her grandparents' home by her father as a toddler after her mother died and he remarried, and that sense of loss and abandonment, of being discarded, haunted her entire life. It echoed in her writing until she died, most likely from a drug overdose, after a difficult life with a mentally ill spouse, a dead best friend, a baby who died at birth, and a son who was a massive disappointment. (Her other son, Stuart, was the light of her life.)

That never-ending wheel of a challenging and sometimes miserable life produced some of the most memorable girls and women to ever grace the page of a novel. Everyone knows about Anne Shirley, of course, the red-headed spitfire, abused and mistreated, who finds a loving home and turns into a sweet-lipped, smart young woman. But the one who sticks with me the most is Emily Starr, the young girl who becomes a great writer, not through writing about things that are new and different to her, but through writing about her simple life in Prince Edward Island and the people there -- the same thing Montgomery did, but Emily's story ends so much sweeter.

When I think about it, most truly great novelists cover a basic theme, a wheel -- Dickens, Lewis, Tolkien, Austen.

How do I do this in non-fiction in a way that is still interesting to readers, but without betraying the privacy of those I love? How do I describe my wheel?

I think this might be a good start.