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a:Friday Speak Out!: In the Beginning

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by Anne Leigh Parrish

My first short story was written on brown paper using a second-hand Underwood typewriter I picked up at antiques store. I felt so writerly, perched on my stool at my kitchen counter, banging away. My husband was studying for the bar exam, and had trouble concentrating with the noise I made. Luckily for him I wrote in spurts, lasting no more than fifteen minutes at a time. Then I’d get up and wander off, overwhelmed with doubt and a growing sense that I had no idea what I was trying to say and why it mattered.

I persisted. “Among The Bohemians” was an uneven, heartfelt ramble about a recent party we’d attended which read more like an essay than a piece of fiction. It was one long description, what my mentor at The Atlantic Monthly would later call “a how things are story.” Not much happened. The narrator, who looked and thought a great deal like me, stood at the window of the funky artist’s loft where her husband’s friend lived and gazed forlornly at the old carved buildings that characterize Seattle’s Pioneer Square. She concluded the buildings were inspiring and the company wasn’t. She felt like an outsider. The friend’s husband was an artist, not a very good one, and his paintings hung everywhere. She/I wandered past them, trying to discover or impute meaning to the deep lines, sharp corners, and muted colors he favored.

The beginning of my writing life lasted a long time, even though I improved and was more deft on the page. People came to life, said funny things, and were plausible. But they were stuck in murky place, floating and hovering just on the edge of meaning. It was only when doubt gave way to revelation, when the narrator’s understanding of her situation changed, or the reader’s understanding of it changed, that my stories resonated. This moment often came at the end.

Endings became key for me. I had to know how a story ended before I could write it. The beginning could be redone to fit that ending, and so could everything else. It’s what you leave the reader with that came to matter most, and I carried this belief into my novels and later my poems. How a reader experiences us is crucial. But even more important is how we’re remembered.

Maybe that’s my sixty-something self, talking back to my twenty-something self. What I’m certain of as a writer with decades under my belt is good craft comes from both of skill and confidence. That’s the long version. The short version is know what you want to say, then know when you’ve said it.

* * *
Anne Leigh Parrish's novel, A Winter Night, arrives this March from Unsolicited Press. Also forthcoming from Unsolicited Press, An Open Door, a novel, will be available in October 2022, along with The Moon Won’t Be Dared, a book of poems, in the fall of 2021. Previous titles are: What Nell Dreams; Maggie’s Ruse; The Amendment; Women Within; By the Wayside; What Is Found, What Is Lost; Our Love Could Light The World; and All The Roads That Lead From Home. She lives among the evergreen trees in the South Sound region of Washington State. Learn more at Anne Leigh Parrish Fiction Writer Pacific Northwest – Award-Winning Writer and Poet

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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