Monday evening two weeks ago I wrote a story. I wrote it sitting in my car.
I plugged my laptop into the car’s one outlet (my battery has surpassed its lifespan), while waiting for my son’s basketball practice to finish.
I wrote about the day’s horrific events. I simply had to. Waiting in the car was the only quiet time I was going to have that day.
Tuesday morning I revised it, sitting in my favorite café where I stop to avoid rush hour traffic after dropping my boys off at school.
Revising, I took out a lot. Then I emailed it to my friend who’s the main character in the story. This was a true story, and I wanted her to be comfortable with it before I even sent it out for possible publication.
Tuesday night, amidst her grief, she emailed back, “It’s lovely.”
Wednesday morning I pitched the essay to Tablet; on Thursday it was published:
Comments on Facebook included “powerful” and “stunning.”
That essay is only “stunning” and “powerful” because it is not the whole story.
It doesn’t mention that my younger son was part of the library presentation of my children’s book manuscript at school that day. It doesn’t mention that he shared photos from our trip to the French village where his grandmother had been a hidden child during World War II.
It does not mention that my daughter is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. It doesn’t mention that before doing the library program, I had gotten scared for the first time since she has been in the IDF when I read that a soldier had been stabbed at a Tel Aviv train station.
It does not mention that the principal of my older children’s high school was visiting the school where we were meeting for a recruiting event and that we all chatted about how my daughter was doing, and about Kristallnacht, and about my rather fitting manuscript.
I did write all that at first. My first draft contained the whole story and all its tangents.
But for the essay to work, I knew it had to focus on what had stunned me so much that day: That we could have run a library program about Jews in fear for their life, only to learn, minutes later, that the librarian’s niece at been brutally murdered, simply because she was a Jew.
Shaping this essay reminded me again that when we write stories from real life, we have to omit things. Just because something is part of an experience, doesn’t mean it needs to be part of the story.
I allowed myself to write the entire experience, and then I cut. Cutting hurt because of course I wanted to talk about all of it. But writing an essay isn’t talking. I mitigated the hurt by using my tried-and-true method of pasting what I cut into a “parking lot” document
What you, dear readers, were left with was an essay that worked, even if it wasn’t the whole story and probably precisely because it wasn’t.