I’ve had to take a little break from the business of writing because I am up to my eyeballs in spreadsheets – or, as some would say, real work. I won’t mention any names. Have you ever heard that kind of comment? You know, the one you get when you tell people you’re a writer and they say, “So what do you do for real work?” I have learned to tolerate such remarks. And I don’t kick them in the shins anymore.
Back to the spreadsheets. My recent pilgrimage into the management of a coffee shop is actually becoming quite enjoyable. I am in the process of organizing a myriad of electronic files and paper files and no files into something that actually spits out meaningful information. I’ve had to relearn a lot about Excel, since I haven’t used much more than the basics during the past few years. And I am actually having fun doing it. I know, I know, I’m weird. But the results are amazing and my boss is terribly impressed.
In the meantime, I am working on a blog story that is thus far untitled. You can scroll down and read the first four parts I’ve posted here over the past few days. Let me know what you think. I’m also mentally plotting and writing and editing the other two novels I have on the go.
Now if I could figure out a way to spreadsheet a story . . .
Every so often the characters in my stories take control of their own lives. This is a fiction writer’s dream.
The dream part is when story practically writes itself and all you need to do is make sure your fingers are limbered up for the long haul on the keyboard. Love it. The nightmare part is when you’ve spent time outlining the story, doing your research, and boom – those stubborn characters don’t give a rip about how much work you’ve put into creating them. They just do what they want to do and you’re along for the ride. Believe me, it NEVER turns out the way you planned.
I have been working on one particular novel for a long time. A really long time. The initial story idea came to me over 25 years ago and it’s still evolving. The main character is a strong woman, but she doesn’t think she is so I’ve been able to keep her in check up to this point. But I can tell she is about ready to break out. She’s begun to interrupt my day with little snippets of information and a few times she’s even invaded my dreams at night with her constant chatter. This is odd for her because she’s normally pretty quiet.
She wants her story told. All of it. And the only way that will happen is if I let her do the telling. So . . . yesterday I started over.
I listened to this brave woman. I felt her joy and pain and turmoil. I wrote the words as she spoke them. I began to see who she really is and not who I thought she was. No wonder she tried so hard to get my attention. I didn’t know her like I thought I did, and she knew it.
Thank you, Julia, for giving me a shove in the right direction.
But please, let’s work on this during waking hours from now on.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no perfect place to write. There is no perfect time. There is no perfect mood. You can sit there and wait for all your ducks to line up before you start writing, but I’ll tell you right now that those ducks don’t behave themselves too often. There is always something going on to stir them up.
It all comes down to this, folks.
Yeah, I know. It’s a nasty word.
Let the ducks fly off and do whatever it is that ducks do, but you keep your rear end in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and write something! You don’t feel like it? Too bad, so sad. Stay put and keep writing. The phone will ring. Your kids will demand your attention. Even the grown up ones. The beautiful weather will call you. Your errand list will dance before your eyes. But you must stay strong!
You have a task before you. A book that only you can write. Don’t let anything sway you from doing it. Stop making excuses. You’re not too tired. Your brain is not frozen. You do have an hour or two right there. Just write, okay?
Now you’re in the write spot.
Last night I actually made a list of blog post ideas. Can you believe it? Who does that?
The ideas were generally dumb and I probably won’t use many of them, but I felt compelled to make the list. Like I’m some sort of famous blogger that everyone wants to read and I actually have to plan what I am going to write. I think I’m going to rip that page out of my journal and go back to my usual blogging methodology. Don’t you just love that word? Methodology. The first time I heard it, I went to dictionary.com to see if was a real word because I was convinced that the person who used it had just made it up. If she did, it caught on well enough to gain entrance into the dictionary.
My practice is to open the new post template and then stare at the screen, out the window, at my Blackberry, file my nails, nibble on some sunflower seeds until inspiration hits. Sometimes it’s a quick one. Other times, I eventually wander off and forget about it. That’s why I thought the list might be a good idea. But it seems so – I don’t know – structured. Is a blog supposed to be structured? Are there rules to all of this? I sure hope not, because I suspect I haven’t followed any of them.
Never did like rules much. Ask my Mom. Or an old boss or two.
But I am open to suggestions. If you have some ideas that you think I can blog about, let me know. Just keep it reasonable, okay?
And I make no promises.
I have already admitted to you that I am a little bit out there when it comes to the way I think, so anything you read in this blog should come as no surprise. Right? I see that a few of you are still withholding your opinions. That’s okay.
Today I tried to explain to one of my co-workers the correlation between tablecloth and caber toss. He didn’t understand. (If any of my children are reading this, they will know exactly what I am talking about.) The poor young man, one whom I thought would be chock-full of imagination, looked at me with a perfectly blank stare. Don’t you get it? I asked him. He shook his head. Meanwhile, another co-worker stepped up to help me out. She had no trouble with the concept. See.
Yesterday, yet another co-worker rendered his explanation of time travel. Don’t you get it? He asked me. I nodded enthusiastically, because what he said made total sense. At least, to me.
It’s along the same lines as the people who live in the trees, but not quite. (This is the point where my children throw up their hands and walk away. Even they aren’t that accepting of their mother’s rather bizarre thought processes.)
What’s the moral of this blog post? Hmm. Not sure there is one. Oh wait! Maybe there is.
Sometimes you have to look beyond what you know to be normal because after all, what is normal to you may not be normal to someone else.
Don’t you get it?
I have dozens of books on writing. I’ve attended conferences and seminars on writing. I’ve taken writing courses, read hundreds of articles on writing, and even talked to published writers about writing. There seems to be a common thread with all of these resources. They all say write what you know.
Isn’t that just the stupidest thing you ever heard?
The problem is, I believed it for years. Decades, even. I used it as an excuse not to write because I really didn’t know very much, so therefore I wouldn’t be able to write anything worthy of a reader’s time.
I believed a lie.
Okay, okay, I get that you need to know stuff if you’re going to write a technical manual or some such thing. But even with that, you’d be shocked to find out how many of those books and articles are actually written by people who know absolutely nothing about the subject. In my corporate days, we would hire technical writers to come in and write our procedures manuals. We gave them the information. They churned out the books. And they knew absolutely nothing about our business.
I present to you the truth. Write what you don’t know.
In the land of fiction writing, your imagination is your most valuable tool. It’s your survival gear. Without it, you perish. You can’t possibly know everything there is to know about everything. But you can imagine it. You can create it in your mind and bring it to life as you write.
Do you know that the human mind cannot distinguish between something you’ve actually experienced and an experience you’ve vividly imagined? I like that. Because I can, just like that, write about something I don’t know as if it really happened. How sneaky is that?
Now I just need to figure out how to vividly imagine that my house is clean.
I wonder about things. Don’t you?
I wonder about why someone would ever want to paint their whole house purple when it was a perfectly normal color before. I wonder if the road construction crews working near our home really know what they’re doing because it sure seems like they don’t have a clue. I wonder why people like zucchini so much and I can’t stand the stuff. I wonder what is so fascinating about my leg that makes spiders want to crawl on it – and no, I didn’t scream but I wanted to.
I could go on and on with my I Wonder list, but my kids already think I wonder too much.
Seriously, it’s that sense of wonder that makes for very good storytelling. I can assure you that there is no possible way I could ever attempt to write a fantasy novel without a whole lot of wonder going on. It (the wonder) kicks in when you think you’re going way out there in your writing but then you realize you haven’t gone far enough. That’s when you start getting those “ah-ha” moments. I love when that happens.
Our wondering mechanism can be stifled by life. We get so caught up in the jobs, the bills, the kids, the cars, the house, and everything else that when it’s all done at the end of the day, all we want to do is stare blankly at the TV screen and fall into some kind of comfort coma. It’s comforting, all right. So comforting that we eventually lose our ability to dream and imagine and wonder. I can’t imagine a life less fulfilling.
I wonder . . .