A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I realize that talking to a bunch of bloggers about writing is like trying to teach a dolphin how to swim. (It isn’t really necessary and annoys the hell out of the dolphin.) However, here I am because I know that anyone who’s ever touched pen to paper has suffered from writer’s block, writer’s cramp and — that worst of all literary maladies — writer’s fatigue. I’m sure even the great Billy Shakespeare sat around, on more than one occasion, twiddling his quill and thinking, “I’m going to quit this bullshit and sign on with Drake.” (Sir Francis, not the other guy.) So, in the interest of keeping literature alive in these troubled times, here are a few tips to get the ink flowing again, when, for some reason, it gets stuck in the pen. (I know, I know! Nobody writes with a pen anymore – but I like the metaphor.)
Walk Away – It took Margaret Mitchell 10 years to write Gone with the Wind. Turning your computer off for a couple of hours isn’t going to kill anyone.
Make a Cup of Tea – The Brits, who are the most literary people in the world, use tea as a cure-all for everything from a broken leg to a totally botched Brexit. And they’ve been doing it since John Milton versed out Paradise Lost in the 17th century. (That’s a lot of words under Tower Bridge, my friend!) What tea does is slow you down. It separates you from the real world. It gives you a wall or a window to stare at. It’s warm, it’s cozy and it forces you to think. Which leads us to Item #3
It’s About You – Instead of trying to forge a Brave New World out of thin air, you need to get back to basics. Start with you, because even though you might be the most kale salad, whole wheat, Friday night Netflix, middle-class-dull person in the history of ordinary … life has happened to you. You have memories. A red house. A stupid Tweet. A grocery clerk. Morgan Freeman’s smile. Grab one (it doesn’t matter which one) and write it down.
Ask The Questions – Every story from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower is merely who, what, where, when and why. It’s not brain science or rocket surgery – that’s all there is. Answer those questions and you have a story but …
Don’t Paint A Picture – Insisting on the exact right word ad infinitum eats up creative energy, so keep it simple. Lose the adverbs; lose the adjectives. This isn’t War and Peace, for God sake! Call it a sleigh not a seasonal horse-drawn transportation device. Less is more. Tell the tale.
Some Things Don’t Matter – I don’t know how long it took Herman Melville to come up with “Call me Ismael” but he could have written “Call me Brenda.” and Moby Dick would still be unreadable. So, don’t waste time sweating the details. Your job is to get words on paper.
Remember – If you have the audacity to string words together, you have a responsibility to your audience. Because, as Galadriel said to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “This task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.”
And that’s a sin.