Pulling Words Out of the Air
Do you ever sit staring desperately at the blank screen while the cursor blinks in mockery of what you are, wondering if the words will ever come to you to write this darn thing? Do you ever start to wonder why you keep doing this to yourself and wonder if you should just give it all up - just before the words fall into your lap like so many snowflakes, each one unique and beautiful alone, but a magnificent thing to behold once they're gathered all together in one place. That's what this wonderful, frustrating thing we call writing is really like. Forget all the stereotypes you've read about, this is the real deal.
I think when people who don't write think about writers and the art or act of writing, they immediately call to mind images of JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, James Patterson and the like, and immediately believe that the life of a writer is so glamorous. Books being sold by the millions, world-wide fervor from eager fans, film rights and red carpet premieres, rubbing elbows with stars. Yeah. Okay. Stop. Rewind. Back to the actual writing end of it.
For most of us, the act of writing is that moment when you are sitting at your desk, staring at a blank screen and convincing yourself that the cursor is laughing at you because the words won't come. It's the wonderful time when the idea first comes and you think, "This is it! This is the idea that's going to become my best book yet!" Followed by a mad period of brainstorming, researching (wow, who knew there was so much to discover about mermaids? Aren't they just mythical creatures - can't we just make this stuff up? Oh, wait, too much research, got to write now), outlining (well, okay, so I'll just sketch out the idea and go from there - wow, look at all those details! Okay, so technically, this can be my first draft), sitting down to write the first chapter - Hooray! I'm going to write the first chapter now. Chapter One. The first. Numero Uno. Why the heck can't I come up with a first line?
Because it has to be perfect, that's why. It has to pack a punch, hook the reader. If your story doesn't hook the reader with the first line, chances are it won't with the next one or the one after that, either. Readers want to be reeled in right away, immediate payoff. I blame the Internet, where everything comes to you the moment you want it - maybe they should call it the Instantnet because that's basically what it is, an instrument that brings things to people in an instant. Damn instant gratification anyway! Whatever happened to the slow build where the writer was really able to establish a sense of place and time before getting into the meat of the story? That's getting such a bad reputation these days. Nobody has time for the slow build. They want to be dropped into the action on the first page and pulled through with nonstop action to the last one. Do they know how exhausting that is to write that?
Especially when the words won't come. When that all important first line dangles just out of reach and you really begin to question the sanity of this path you've chosen. Why did I want to do this? you might wonder. What was the attraction in the first place? I'm a relatively sane person, so why would I want to put myself through this craziness every time a moderately interesting idea for a story presents itself to me?
And just as you are about to pack it all in and find something else to occupy what little time you have between work, family and life, you pull the words of the air - somehow - and that all important first line stares back at you from the no-longer blank page and this time, the cursor winks at you in approval. That-a girl, you can do it. Thank you, cursor, I think I will. So you type another line. Hmm, that's not half bad. Then another. Oh, I like that one. And another. Wow, I've really got something here! And before you know it, your fingers are flying along the keyboard in a mad dance of letters and punctuation marks that represent everything you have ever dreamed of - a novel. Before you know it, you are typing the final words of your masterpiece and you are just starting to feel a sense of accomplishment when you realize that it isn't finished. You have to go back and edit the thing, over and over, until it is Just Right, and edit it some more when you finally sell it to a publisher, which is okay because this is what you wanted. This is the realization of your dream, the true nuts and bolts of this thing we call writing. And hey, someone really likes your story and wants to put it between two fancy covers and sell it to the world, so the least you can do is revise it one more time, right?
If only that new idea wasn't kicking around in your head, demanding attention...
So forget the stereotypes you see in the movies and the examples of writers who've become megastars and get just as much attention on the red carpet as the actors who bring their characters to life. You can dream about that being your destiny, yes, but the truth of the matter is, it probably won't. If you want to be a writer, a true writer, you must prepare yourself to do a lot of it. Writing. Word after word after word. So make sure it's an idea that you really like and want to spend a lot of time with because you will, and be prepared for the reality that only a small portion of the population will ever read it. But don't despair. Remember, always, the true reason why you are writing. For me, it's because I couldn't imagine doing anything else, I'm obsessed with the idea/act of putting words down on paper, and it's the only time in my life that I can totally make things up, tell the biggest lie, kill someone without going to jail for it, give the Mean Girl her due, be the ultimate mother/kickass heroine/daredevil - and all without ever leaving my house! Ah, what a life! Remember, if you write for the right reasons - i.e., because you're driven to it and you truly, madly love it, as I do - then your writing will always be right. It's when you write with the idea that you want to make millions that your writing doesn't ring true. Sure it would be nice to make a tidy profit from it, but for me, the true payoff is the satisfaction I get when a total stranger says to me, "I really like your book." All I can say to that is, "Thank you."
Now, where should I go off to today? I wonder what's happening in Paris...or maybe Vienna. Oh, Scotland! Ireland...
(Incidentally, this post is a good example of Pulling Words Out of the Air. When I sat down to write it this morning, I had a blank screen, a sarcastic cursor - and no idea of what I was going to write today! But it came to me.)