It’s quite maddening really: a journey I’ve taken many times in the past and, I’m certain, will take many more times in the future.

As a writer (if after twenty-three years penning this column, I can now call myself that), trying to decide the best way to convey one’s thoughts on paper sometimes is challenging. Take, for example, the start of this story.

Would it have been better to write: “It’s quite maddening really” or “It’s really quite maddening”? My editor tells me that “really” is an adverb used to modify an adjective or another adverb and can be placed in either spot … but which sounds better? It’s stuff like this that is … well … maddening to me.

If I’ve learned anything from short stories it’s that every word choice is important, but the placement of that word can even be more so.

When I first started writing, my editor said to me, “A story should have as many words as it takes to tell the story, but not one word more and certainly not one word less.” At the time, I really didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. I do now. Now I know the difference between a good story and a great one often comes down to just one word.

Sleepless nights.

There used to be a time when I slept eight to ten hours a night. The only thing that woke me as a kid would be a nightmare or one of my brothers jumping on me, hitting me with a pillow or dousing me with a water balloon.

That was in The Then. This is The Now.

Now, if the worries of the day do not steal my restful sleep away each night, then it’s the challenge of what to write about and what words are best to convey that story.

Silly, I know, to let something as simple as words cause insomnia, but they often do. Once I can see the words of a story swirling around in my mind, sleep will not come. The words must be written down. If not, they will continue to rob me of sleep until they are captured.

Sometimes I’ve come up with the most amazing stories and written them from beginning to end, but only in my mind. Knowing that both the title and the story are so good, I’m sure there is no way I’d forget them come morning, so I don’t get up and write.

When morning comes, I awake excited that somewhere in my brain hides a great story from the night before. Unfortunately, when sitting in front of a blank computer screen, I grasp at the words, but they quickly vanish, leaving only a fading mist of a nighttime writing session that should’ve been — and the harsh glare of a blank white screen in front of me.

For years, I kept a small notebook on the nightstand. As story ideas came, I’d write them down. The nighttime story was clear. The nighttime scribbling — more often than not — wasn’t. Again, countless stories were lost.

More recently, I rely on my cell phone to write a quick note or send a voice mail to myself. That’s if I remember to plug in my phone, which I always do. Unfortunately, I usually charge my phone in the kitchen, and I don’t want to get up. Not getting up in the middle of the night is currently the main cause of my not being able to remember nighttime story ideas.

This story came to me in the middle of the night, screaming to be written down immediately. I did not rise, go to the computer to quiet the words so sleep would return. I didn’t have to. This time I knew it would be impossible for this story to fade away by morning. After all, it’s an entire story about how important just one word is. It would be hard, even for me, to forget a one-word story.

Just like in short stories, the one right word can be life changing. It was twenty-five years ago next week that a firefighter fell to one knee at the base of a waterfall to ask a young teacher for her hand.

The person, soon to be known as The Wife, changed both of our lives with her one-word answer, and I will forever be thankful for that one word she spoke. Her answer is the title to this story.


[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.]