Oh, if I could approach my writing projects in any other way, I certainly would. But I can’t. My whole-to-parts, concrete-sequential, visual learning style is so ingrained in me that even when I purposefully set out to just jump in—like some writers do in the middle of things (in media res)—I get all twitchy inside and feel like I am cheating the reader. Don’t you want to know what the roots are to my line of thinking that lead to my line of reasoning that lead to my story line?
Early on in my college courses in my subject area (English Education), I became interested in the origin of words. I am still hooked on that adventure. Along the way, I happened upon a definition of “story” and became instantly irritated: to be a story, your piece of writing must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I wanted more than that, but it is what it is. If you are going to tell or write a story, you must start somewhere (a beginning that suits you); you must have a middle; and you must bring it to some kind of conclusion—if you want it to be thought of as a “story.”
But after some consideration (perhaps over a twenty-year period), I have come to treasure that description and have taken it to heart. It has become my rationale for digging deeply, looking closely, and listening intently with heightened awareness when it comes to subjects that interest me enough to write about. I need to somehow get to the beginning of things. I need to grasp the biggest picture that I can so that I can go on and make sense of the parts and how they fit into that big picture, which I consider the “whole” in my whole-to-parts approach.
When I mentioned “story,” some of you may have linked that term with the good books you have recently read; others may have become irritated like I was and consider what I offered as an inadequate definition, even adding your own insight to it. But for me, the term brings to mind my own sequence of experiences that make up my life. I am, up to this point, a non-fiction writer: I tell stories that are true. I use research to better understand what I think I know about the memories I have, and then I share that enhanced understanding with you, my readers. My new understanding may not be complete on any given topic, but it is what I “know” at the time of my writing.