The above quote by Jonathan Safran Foer jumped out at me this morning because it reminded me of my own writing journey. Once, when I was attending college, I was tasked by my writing instructor to write three short memoirs about my grandmother, my mother, and myself. I thought the exercise would be fun, but I had no idea how much it would change things for me as a person and as a writer.
To begin with, I was supposed to write about my maternal side, so for class, I did that, but while I was at it I also decided to interview my only living grandmother from my paternal side. In the end I wrote some okay stories, learned some things about myself, and realized I loved those women even more than before now that I knew more of their story. Not long after that, my paternal grandmother passed away.
Some time later, after I could bring myself to look at my paternal grandmother’s story again, I pulled out a letter she had written to me about her life. What a gift her story was. Eventually, as my own life rolled out before me and I headed in directions I hadn’t expected to go, I often thought about both of my grandmothers and my mother, how they lived their lives, and how they managed to do good with their lives despite some tough circumstances. Their stories inspired me.
Ultimately, the experience of writing those early stories and reflecting on them as I navigated my life, gave me an idea for a novel about mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. I called it RUBY AMONG US and the unexpected happened. It got published. It’s fictional, of course, not about my own life, and the women in it aren’t my relatives, but you bet the echoes of my mother’s and grandmothers’ stories inspired me. I tell you this not to brag about being published, but to point out that you never know when something you write will develop into something bigger in your writing life.
You see, the time I spent writing those stories in college wasn’t wasted, even though they were never published. I took the feelings I had about writing those stories and created an entire novel that continued to explore the complexity of mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. In book two, I brought that exploration forward into writing a story about sisters. As you and I both know, the published part was a mixture of perseverance and luck, but if I hadn’t taken that class and written those stories, I might never have written either one of my novels.
If you are taking a writing class, blogging, or writing in your journal, all those words matter more than you know. Remember, no writing is ever wasted, so next time you write something and you think, “This doesn’t mean anything,” reflect on Jonathan Safran Foer quote and imagine the halls papered with your stories. You might be writing the bones of your future novel, or like me, practicing for your novel debut.