My Process Or: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

My process is infuriating to me. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Bear with me, and you’ll find out what I mean.

I wish I could write a thousand words a day. I wish I could write every single day besides Christmas (I really do try to), as I’ve heard the great master Stephen King does. I bow to you through this new medium, sir.

My process is different. It’s slow and it’s technical and it’s (hopefully) precise. My palsy means I can’t type all that fast, although I’ve gotten faster over the years. If you told my sixth-grade self I’d ever be typing at this speed, he would have laughed. Then he probably would have cried because he’d be so happy I overcame the daunting computer and my former failed attempts to hunt-and-peck its keyboard.  My eyes make it so that I can’t read all that fast, either. A teacher once told me, “You read at the speed of a second-grader.”

I am grateful, to this day, that she did so in private.

I replied, “I sure hope I retain knowledge at a better rate than I read.” And I smiled, but I wanted to let the tears go right there.

Gotta love sarcasm, right? Humor has always saved me. It’s saved me from the palsy, from the pain of rejection, and, yes, at times it’s saved me from my own process.

Work it through, I have to remind myself now and then. You’re a writer. And it’s not a race.

Some of my friends have written multiple books. (Just look at that sentence! I have friends–real, true friends–who have written multiple books and who, in spite of my tedious process, think I’m pretty darn good at this thing.).

But here’s what gets to me sometimes, if I let it. Some of them also have books in a drawer. Unpublished books–manuscripts they can show an agent or a publisher as a way of demonstrating, “Here’s what’s coming next.”

I’ve got my novel, painstakingly written through an unpredictable ocean of deep, waving emotion. And other stories. Many that will serve as the basis for their own books in the years to come. But right now I’m focused on this one true and heartfelt piece.

“You could write anything,” my sister once said. I love her for saying it.

But the truth is that if I’m gonna write a story, if I’m gonna invest the time and the effort, if I’m gonna place emotion behind every word, and if that emotion is going to be properly communicated, I can’t write just anything. The story has to be one I cam feel. One I can make others feel. That is part of my process, too.

My process:

Start a story. See where it’s headed. Write the skeleton of what will eventually be the work. Doesn’t matter if it’s a page or two or three. This is not the outline. This is what I hope to communicate, boiled down. Then go back in and see if you can see the scenes.  This will change the work so far written a great deal. Deepen it scene-by-scene. Then ask yourself, Is this a story you can tell with feeling? If the answer is yes, go from there. Repeat process until every scene has been imbued with the truth you always intended. And make sure that the answer to the feeling question is always yes.

That is my process. It isn’t quick.

It’s infuriating.

But, to me, it’s real and it’s true, and I am proud of what it’s helped me to create.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, dear reader, never let anyone hijack your process. It is a significant part of what makes your art yours and not theirs.

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A Life Lived Without Complaint…

…is not a life truly lived.

I am exceedingly lucky in this life, and I know it. I am handicapped, but it could be much worse.

It is true that I may never drive a car, and in never doing so I’ll lose officially–without ever having gained it–a certain measure of freedom afforded most everyone else. My eyes fail me regularly. Come to me in the mornings–when they’re blurry at best, and struggling to focus, and I’ll tell you all about it. My back is aching right now, as I write, and will continue aching, for a good time to come, because in this weekend of goodness just past I overdid it physically. Too much walking. Too much climbing of stairs. Too much trying to prove to myself I could handle the collective it without admitting to myself that sometimes I need–and must accept–help. Too much… being alive and using my body the way most people use their bodies, while taking such use for granted. These things are also true.

Tonight, I allow myself to complain for just a second. So often–too often in films and literature–the handicapped person is made to seem like the portrait of the non-complainer, willing to take on all the crap he must deal with, as a result of his station, never raising his voice in protest..

That is not me.

And, whether or not you’re handicapped yourself or not, if you’re human, it’s not you, either.

But, in amongst the complaints and the crap, and the junk we must wade through as people breathing air on this planet, a planet which is not quite green enough anymore, and a bit more too carbonated every day, if you get my meaning, there are fleeting moments of goodness (mentioned briefly above) that show us why life is still the best thing going.

There is, for example, this.

I met my dad’s agent tonight. Living with him under a roof where creativity and love are celebrated, I know how hard he worked to find her. And now that he did, I can say she is a  real person, who is kind and smart, and we talked books. And family. And our dogs. And T.V. And pop culture. And the world.

And she showed me a way into my query letter–and out of a corner I’ve long felt I boxed myself into–for which I am extremely grateful.

So even though I’m in pain right now–having dragged my laundry basket up the stairs to begin the wash, an act that took longer and hurt my tender back more than I would have liked–I am able to drag my laundry basket up the stairs, and I began the wash when some among us can not. (It has now finished above me).

Also this weekend I watched, live and in-person with one of my favorite people in the world, while my Seattle Seahawks punched their ticket to the NFC Championship Game. (Remember when I mentioned climbing lots of stairs? Worth it!) In a city where sports mediocrity is the accepted norm, it feels great to delight in a winner.

I understand how lucky I am to live in this country, to be who I am, to have the talents I have, to know the wonderful people I know, even with my deficits.

But just… every now and then… if I complain, hear me out and honor the complaint. Can you do that? I would appreciate it.

Because a life lived without complaint is not a life truly lived.

The Lost Art Of Loyalty

This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.

We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.

The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.

He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.

He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.

“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.

Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.

“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.

“Happy?” Luke ventured.

“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”

“Content?”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”

“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.

“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”

Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.

“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”

“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.

“Your book may be big right now, bud,  but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”

“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.

“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”

“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.

“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.

“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent.  It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you  but you.

“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business,  that  doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”

“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”