Not too long ago, I got a great assignment from the editor of a website devoted to religion. She had identified seven key ethical values — empathy, compassion, spirituality and a few others — and she wanted me to create a kind of grid showing how each of these values develop in children, with boxes for infancy, toddlerhood, preschool-age kids, middle-grades kids, and teens.
Now, it was pretty easy to find experts on and research about how children of all ages demonstrate values like empathy and compassion. Studies show, for example, that even very young babies will cry when they see another baby crying. But there was simply no evidence, no studies, no nothing –at least not back then — to show that babies can feel spiritual. I contacted child-development scientists and authors at major research universities and facilities, and got the same answer: Spirituality develops later.
So I finally called my editor, who resisted my explanations, evidently because the horror of a blank box in her grid outweighed any need for facts. “Come on now,” she said condescendingly. “You know as well as I do that a good writer can make a story about anything.”
I was speechless. My first thought was that I couldn’t believe what she was saying.
My second thought was that she was right.
More recently, I took my young daughter and her friend to a classical music concert at a local community center, and was approached by a reporter and cameraman from a local TV station. The reporter held the mike to my face and asked why I had decided to come out with young children on such a cold, dark night.
“I knew the music would be beautiful, and I wanted to enjoy it with them,” I said.
“Did you come to be part of the great community spirit here tonight?”
“No,” I said. “I just wanted to hear the music.”
“But would you agree that there’s a wonderful feeling of community, with so many people from town coming together?”
“I guess,” I said. “But we came for the music.”
Not surprisingly, when I saw this story on the local news the next night, I was not part of it. Instead, there were a bunch of people talking about — what else? — community.
As for my story, I went back to my old sources, found some new sources, stressed that I needed something, and finally was able to weave together a few vague sentences that linked babies and spirituality, albeit with the thinnest of threads. I never wrote again for that website.
Sure, I guess a good writer can make a story out of anything.
Just not sure I want to be that writer.
How about you? Have you ever had to create a story where there was none?
Another resigned day in the life of just another working writer.