Saturday, December 4, 2010

If You Write It, They Will Come

"They?"  Readers?  Dollars?  Fame & Recognition?

Well, maybe.  But what I am talking about is ideas, plots, characters.  Words in a row.  Nobody writes only for fame and fortune (nobody successful, anyway.)   We write because we have something to say - something only we can say, in our own way and style, whether we are saying it to ourselves, in a journal, in pages tremulously shared with our writers' group, in a blog, or in a best-selling novel.

We write because we have an internal drive, to get it out - on paper or on screen.  And yet... there is a part of us that wants to destroy that joy.  An evil queen who wants to kill the happy, singing Princess, to cut out her heart and seal it away in an elaborate jeweled box.

Procrastination is one of her huntsmen.  We can always think of an excuse not to write.  We have so much to do!  I once made a list of 50 reasons excuses to put off writing, and I didn't have to stretch much.  We could do 50, or 150, or 250 excuses, easy.  By the time we have cleaned the toilet, reorganized the closet, and fed the cat (okay, ya gotta feed the animals, otherwise they will bark and meow you into madness) and sit down at our computers, the inspiration is gone.

Another weapon she uses is poison, that slow drip, drip, dripping of "You're not good enough.  Why waste your time on this?  No one will ever want to read anything you have to say.  It's all been said before, and better."

Perhaps - but it's never been said by us before.  And here's the thing - writing is about REWRITING.  Again: writing is about REWRITING.   What's writing about?  REWRITING.  (Glad you were paying attention.)

Writing is not about getting it perfect on the first draft.  That's why it's called the first DRAFT, d'uh!  Every writer we've ever heard of has revised his/her work.  We can churn an idea in our heads forever and a day, but sometimes it's only in writing something down, in writing towards an idea, that where we are trying to go becomes clear to us.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Chilean author Isabel Allende speak in person.  (Btw, her first novel was written and published when she was over 40, for late-bloomers!)

One of the things Ms. Allende said when I heard her speak, which is not in the clip above, was that she will often begin a novel and throw away the first fifty pages.   What?!?  That idea filled my soul with horror at the time, and it's still something I struggle to accept.  Lady, do you have any idea how much work goes into my first fifty pages?

But since she's written over a dozen best-sellers, several made into movies, and I do envy her evocative, poetic prose, I thought I should at least hear her out.  She went on to explain that the work is not wasted, because those fifty pages help her learn things she needed to know about her characters and their story. 

And you know, it does make sense.  Michael Phelps may be the greatest swimmer on earth right now, but his training is not 100% pool time; he does weight training and other activities, as well.  When you date someone for a year before deciding to marry, that time is not "wasted."  (Well, depending on who you marry, but that's another issue.)

Of course, the research/background/pre-story can become another trap, too, one I've personally fallen into many a time.  I have to read 15 books in the same genre and know how my characters' great-grandparents met and at least 1 billion of the 19 billion names of God, before I can possibly sit down and write.

Back to our happy Princess, once gathering flowers in the forest and singing tra-la-la, now lifeless in a glass box.  Understand, we are the princess - and we are also the evil queen, the dwarves (how, I'm not quite sure), the huntsman, the bunnies and raccoons....

If we want a happy ending, we have to wake ourselves up, in the guise of the Prince.  In dreams and Jungian psychology, men and princes stand for masculine energy, the life force of action and carrying things to fruition.  We don't need to wait for an outside rescuer - we are right there, ready to "rescue" ourselves.

We have to throw away all the poisoned apples, and bring together the Princely force of doing with the joyful, creative spirit of the Princess.  Look how happy they are together! 

That means sitting down at the computer in front of that dreaded white screen, or the typewriter, or in the park on our laptop or iPad, or in the library on their computer, or with a big yellow legal pad and a fistful of sharpened pencils, or speaking into a recording device and transcribing later.  Whatever our style is to write, we need to go Nike and Just Do It.

If we make time to write, if we sit down and allow ourselves to write, imperfectly and without worrying about spelling and grammar and all the BS that can be fixed later, the words will come.  Words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters.  A short, private letter to one's dead grandfather can become a 500 page best-selling novel. 

And even if it doesn't, even if what we're writing is private poetry no one else will ever see, we'll still have created our own happy ending.

Yes, M, this one's for you.  And for me, and for everyone else who's ever put their Princess into a deep sleep. 
Leave me a comment and let me know what your biggest "poison" is.
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