What the things I repeat tell me about my focus

As a writer and someone who writes about writing (insert obligatory “dancing about architecture”-type comment here), there are two things that I tend to worry about more often than all the other things I worry about: repetition and focus.

This applies to my fiction writing as well as whatever half-baked principles and ideas about writing I may spout off. (Just kidding; all my ideas are fully baked.) Case in point: in one of my fiction workshops in graduate school. When my story was up for discussion, a friend of mine* started off by saying, “This has the trifecta of a Jeffrey Ricker story: love, longing, and loss.” As the discussion went on, I missed a few things because I kept wondering, wait, is this story a retread? Am I just writing the same thing over and over?

It was a different story from all the others I’d submitted that year—different characters, plots, settings. However, as I mentally scrolled through my pile of stories for that class, it was true. I was writing about people longing for other people, losing other people, and loving and unloving other people.

Love, longing, loss. Surely there’s more to the world than that, isn’t there? On the other hand, those three things count for a lot, don’t they?

When I sit down to write a blog entry about writing—about the things I think about when it comes to writing—at some point in the process I usually flip back through the last few entries I’ve written to confirm that I’m not rewriting the same thing I wrote a month or three months (or six months) earlier. And sometimes, while it’s not word-for-word the same, the topics and the points are… well, familiar.

photo by Matthew Hamilton, Unsplash

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A story, “Multiverse” at Phoebe Journal

I submitted the story “Multiverse” to Phoebe Journal, the litmag of George Mason University, for their fiction contest. While it didn’t win, apparently the contest readers liked it enough that they named it their Reader’s Choice entry. Here’s the first bit:

You learn about the multiverse theory from your Facebook feed, when a story about it appears above a photo someone posts of your best friend from high school. It’s unexpected, that photo. He’s in his forties, like you, and he looks almost the same as back then…and yet, not. It takes a moment to pinpoint: His smile doesn’t reach his eyes. He used to smile with his whole body, his eyes most of all. Not now.

His sadness makes you wonder, and the multiverse theory makes you think about worlds in which you tried to kiss him….

Phoebe's issue 46.2 contains my story 'Multiverse'

It’s not a long story at all. You can read the rest of it here. There’s more fabulous writing available there, too.

I’m not so much proud of this story as bemused by it. It seemed to be one of those that emerged almost whole, unbidden, out of the ether. Mind you, I don’t really think writing works that way. A kernel of this idea has been in the back of my mind since—well, since high school, if you must know. It just needed the right spark to catch fire, honestly. Lucky for me, a friend’s Facebook post (back before I ditched my personal Facebook profile) provided the necessary catalyst.

I also need to thank my friend, fellow writer Ruth Daniell, for her valuable feedback on it before I sent it in. (Ruth is a fantastic writer, by the way; you should read anything she publishes.)

I hope you enjoy it.