This is the story of a story

I went to a wedding recently at a farm, and I thought about stories and writing. I know—I'll have to explain.

First, the setup: We sat in rows of white chairs facing a gazebo. The evening was overcast, and dark clouds threatened but in the end held their breath. Still, the air smelled of fresh rain. The wedding party marched in the processional through the barn behind us and out into the garden where we are, surrounded by trees and a still and silver pond. 

I could tell you about all the things that didn’t go quite right: how the woman who beautifully sang “At Last” for the processional needed about one more verse for the last person’s entrance, so the last person walked in to the sound of silence, until the singer broke back into music after being cued by the wedding director; how the officiant’s hands were trembling (I assumed out of nervousness, as he did not tremble at the reception), and he fumbled with the book from which he read; how the wedding couple spoke so softly at times (no one had set up a mic) that we could not hear all of the vows.

But telling you those things would make it sound like the ceremony proved disastrous, when in fact all of the hiccups were what made it unique and special, were what made me sit up straight in my seat, were what made me strain to hear. It was clear that the people who participated were friends of the couple, not just hired out of the Yellow Pages, most likely not professionals at the jobs they were doing this particular summer night. But what they had was better: heart, and love.

There was something incredibly moving about watching a community of friends come together—nervous, excited, faltering from emotion, unrehearsed maybe, possibly unprepared—to make this ceremony happen.

And that’s what made me think of writing stories. 

Something magnificent happens when you are excited about a story that pops into your head: the idea comes to you as if from the gods themselves, and you find yourself writing in a flurry, in a burst of energy, and the words and paragraphs cascade from you onto the page. It’s writing that comes with a rush. Sure, it’s rough, needs to be punctuated better, needs some cuts, but the writing has spark, inspiration. It’s alive with your raw emotion.

Sometimes I find that after I started editing and have hacked away at my gem of a story over hours and days, after changing this sentence to that and polishing the paragraphs, the spark that was in my initial piece is gone. In striving for perfection, I’ve taken out the soul. It’s not that I’m advocating abandoning revision, but sometimes I cross the line and move from revision to open-heart surgery, where I have taken out the heart and forgotten to put it back.

That’s when I have to go back to my original piece and ask: What moved me so much in telling that story? What part came to me that I never expected? What is the spirit of the initial draft? What did I remove that I could and should put back?  

I’ll tell you what my favorite part of that wedding was: Everything inspired by the moment. Everything unrehearsed. The way our friend kept reaching over and wiping tears from his loved one’s face. Our friend’s off-the-cuff words after his vows, when he said to his beloved: “Twenty years ago, I asked you out, and you said no.” Our friend trying to hold back tears, and being unable to. Then his saying, “I’ve waited twenty years for you.” And finally, his turning to us and saying, more loudly and with glee, “Oh, and he finally did say yes.”