I ask myself that question at least once a month. I have several assorted responses, all but one of which are for the world at large; just one for me. I'll get to that.
This is what I know about me: I observe. I observe, process, and write. Sometimes I write before I've processed and you can tell. You can also tell how I'm feeling that day, or at least I can, in the words and the tone. You should know that I don't do much editing before I hit that publish button. I preview and read through just once, enough to catch most of the errors and clean up some of the syntax. Every once in a while I just delete the damn thing and start over the next day. I do try to write for at least two hours every day. Some days I don't open this app at all. On those days I feel the loss. Some days I open the app, stare at the blank screen for a bit and then shut the lid. Nuthin. I got nuthin.
Often I start with a title and an image. I suppose that's me coming up with a prompt that's managed to tickle something, but then I find I've written something else entirely. It changes about halfway down the page. Those get rewritten, or saved in draft where they are permitted to sit for a week before they're trashed.
When I am very lucky, the prompt shows me something I didn't know consciously. It bubbles up to the surface on a current of words. This is the best.
I'm working on something called flash fiction which is defined as anything under 750 but 350 is preferable. There are rules about flash fiction. Two of them are, never put the ending at the end and sweat the title. I'm getting better at that. These smaller pieces force me to focus on clarity which automatically reduces the word count because every word in each sentence counts. How can you convey a thing, feeling, or observation without making a direct statement? That sort of thing.
Here is my favorite example:
"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
Six words in one of the most powerful sentences I've ever read. A complete story, start to finish and he didn't even have to write the end. It slaps you in the face, no words required. It is attributed to Ernest Hemmingway but there isn't a substantial link back to him so there it just is. That is his style, though.
Here is the answer to my own question. It sounds like two parts but it's really an explanation and an excuse.
I haven't written a book because I have no idea what to write about, and also, my sweet spot is 1200 words. People tell me, write what you know and that might start well but turns into an autobiography by page two and I do not want to write an autobiography. I've told the truth to myself but I haven't worked out the why of it.
Because I observe and when I report, I am a stream of consciousness. When the subject matter affects me greatly, what I publish packs one hell of a punch. Some nights, when I'm not quite asleep I compose entire posts and promptly forget them. I have a red moleskin within reach, but I don't.
Lately I've been chewing through books as if the supply is endless. This is partly because I could not read for at least five years. I could not get past the first paragraph. I did read one book last summer and it took an effort and several weeks but it was worth it. When I came to Vermont, all that changed. When I read I am trying to pay attention to the way the story is told. A good story is never linear and while it may end with a whisper, that doesn't matter if the heart of it smacked you upside the head halfway through the book.
I read the second book by an author who will probably continue to publish. I read A Little Life in three days. I was shocked to discover that Hanya Yanagihara kept that story going for well over 700 pages. I simply did not notice because I was hooked and halfway through the book I was heartbroken and cried for a good twenty minutes before I could pick it up again. I kept reading because I figured if she had that much more to write then I hadn't seen the whole picture yet. I was right.
This is what I want to do. I want to write a story that is accessible to all readers. This doesn't make it an easy read and I do put this in the literature bucket. If you're a Stephen King fan, as am I, he's come right out and said, 'I don't write literature, but I sure do tell a good story'. It's true, he sure does and some of them are astonishingly impactful. But Hanya's story is accessible because at one point or another, you WILL find yourself staring in a mirror.
That's what I want to do. I want to tell you a story that takes your breath away in both language and content. I want to tell you a story that will pull the veil of separateness aside, even for just a moment. I'm pretty sure that's in me, one way or another and I also think it would be a damn tragedy if I didn't manage to get it out. Not a tragedy for you, maybe, but certainly for me. And as with that first long pull of G when I picked up the fiddle for the first time, this is a thing that has always been in me, waiting for a chance to get out.
So. Heather. What's the damn story?!