Finding Your One Word
“Do you have time for a controversial story?” This question came from an editor I work with.
“Always,” I said.
So she gave me the details, and I got to work contacting those involved. The writing I do for this particular publication is strictly reporting news, and while that may sound boring to someone who has a knack for turning just-hatched lizards into fire-breathing dragons, I’ve always considered this type of writing a form of poetry. Like the guidelines of haiku or the sestina, there is beauty to be culled from the boundaries of who, what, where, when, and why.
These stories don’t take me too long to write, and most people are more than willing to talk with me. I figured I’d crank this one out in a week, tops.
I figured wrong.
Was it Shakespeare who said, “The truth will set you free?” (I feel like I should know this.) Well, whoever it was, the statement suggests glory and joy will result in one’s willingness to tell the truth, when in fact telling the truth can sting — both for the listener and the one telling the story.
It took awhile (months, actually) to get the story. The night the main character agreed to speak with me, several others gathered around the two of us, careful to watch both the storyteller, and the storymaker for signs of tension or conflict. I did not mind at all, and I think I walked away with some new friends. Maybe that’s how the truth is handled — like an infant just born, all his parts are there and working but he must be held and nurtured by someone else in order to build the strength to stand alone. To be set free.
I was honored to be a part of this sacred exchange.
I learn something (at times, many things) with everything I write, and with this story I learned the power of using one word as a compass for telling the story. In this man’s case, the word was “exile” — not a word I think many of us would be overjoyed to accept as director of our story. However, he told me that as he began to hold up the pieces of his experience and try to order them into a story, the word “exile” found him. And he said it like he was happy about it.
It reminded me of a conversation a friend and I were having about the July heat that’s been hanging around like a down blanket.
“I hate it,” I said, thus proving how well I use language when I am frustrated.
“It’s claustrophobic,” she said.
“YES!” I said. “That’s exactly it!” And I said this in the same tone as the man who’d said “exile” found him.
Joy comes from finding the right word to match how an experience feels. This unexpected comfort paves the way for stories to emerge and take shape. It gives us the courage to pick up a word like “exile” when we are on a deserted island, turn it over, and decide it will be the steering wheel for the boat we will build to sail ourselves home.
This week consider a situation, a memory, or an experience, and come up with one word that describes it. Next make a word web and brainstorm words that come to mind. Finally, write a poem and sail yourself home.
the squirrel’s tail drags
past a flower
that can’t move
I am stuck
in this chair
turning an empty water glass
no need to fear the wasp–
his wings are too heavy
when I breath
the blanket of sweat
with all I have
and go inside
the thick, red slashes
across my legs
from summer’s imprint
Photo by Bernard Spragg NZ Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Callie Feyen.
Browse writing prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
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L.L. Barkat says
Poor little wilted squirrel! 🙂
Looking for my one word. If I find it, I’ll be back.
Callie Feyen says
I know! It is very sad. Although, it cooled down a tad, and they seem to have gotten their bounce back. 🙂
(You might not find it – it might find you. 😉 )