(P.S. Well, what I ultimately came up with is… what you’re reading right now. What I like to think of as a Seinfeld blog post. For any random people out there unfamiliar with it, Seinfeld was a very successful TV sitcom characterized as often being about nothing in particular.)
I couldn’t come up with an idea. At all. Where’s the muse, I asked? Apparently, I discovered when I texted her, she took one look outside and decided to go back to bed. Said something about a migraine or something. So okay, I was on my own. What to do? Give up and go find a book or a mindless video game to play? It happens, sometimes: I stare at a blank screen. Its utter featurelessness resembles the whiteout in my imagination. I can either give up or see if I can’t make out some detail, some landmark, some waypoint, somewhere either nearby or far away. Today… I told myself: okay, five statements about… writing. Make five lousy statements about writing. Then see what comes out.
And as A.A. Milne would say: so I did. And this is what came out.
You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. Just get it down. Psst! Here’s a secret: I didn’t do this post in linear fashion. I wrote the five statements. And then I expanded on each one. Again, not in a linear manner. I’d put something down for the first one, then think of something I wanted in the fourth one, go to the second, back to the first… very random abstract. (Partway through, I thought of a catchy title. Ooh!) Chaotic, even. But it worked. Finally, I wrote the introduction. Last. This works for stories, too, by the way. I often do this with a given chapter. You know, you think of some really good description, or snappy dialogue, or whatever, for later on. Go ahead, write it down. Just leave good spaces of a dozen lines or so between written sections so you can see where bridging material needs adding later.
When I write more often, I write better, and the words flow more easily. Which is a real surprise, I know. Imagine being better with practice. What a concept. But it’s true. I gave myself a little new year’s challenge for January… I’d hesitate to call it a resolution, ‘cause I’m not a big fan of them. But I wanted to write some, every day some. Which I don’t, always --- I’m a career secondary school teacher, which, in spite of what some ignorant parents think (and occasionally say), is a pretty draining job, so there’s not always a surfeit (or even a dreg) of creative energy left by the time I get home. But what would happen if I did write every day? Even as little as 100 words? Things flowed. The converse is also true, by the way… as is Salman Rushdie’s pithy observation that, when he ignores a WIP (work in progress), especially for too long, the story “sulks” (his word, not mine). When you write less often, the words come harder.
Writing is incredibly therapeutic. Although it’s not always easy.
My current story world is called Arrinor. It’s an amazing place… at least, I think so. Beautiful and unspoiled and wild and civilized, full of wonder and terror and… it’s mine. A place to retreat to. Writing about the goings-on there is so refreshing. C.S. Lewis once said, “I never exactly made a book. It's rather like taking dictation. I was given things to say,” and my gosh, Jack, can I ever relate, because there are times --- exhilarating times --- when it’s just like that. (And sometimes it isn’t. As poet Edwin Markham observed, some days you are the anvil which life pounds the crap out of. And some days, you are the hammer.)
Characters are real people (and various other assorted carbon-based units). For me, this is one of the most incredible things about writing. Sometimes, they don’t do what you want them to do. They’ve become real, and like Pinocchio brought to life, they have free will. Which, in my case at least, they are not loathe to exercise. That can occasionally be frustrating, but ultimately makes for a better story.
Because of this, I find plotting is largely a waste of time.
It’s like plotting out how the next five or ten years of your life are going to go. Sure, in the rather prosaic life scheme most of us experience, we can sorta predict, barring the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, what life is going to look like a year from now. But we don’t know for sure, and I think most of us agree about the futility of trying to plan things from too far away. Or at least expecting everything to fall into perfect lockstep. Most of us… our lives are remarkably reactionary, by which I mean we spend a great deal of time reacting to things others do or say to us. So… I will often plot out a scene, or even a chapter, especially if I’m really unsure what’s coming next. Mostly that involves asking myself, what would happen in this situation? What would Character A or B or C do and say when confronted with this? Then I write it. But not infrequently, character A or B or C will decide they want to do something different, so it doesn’t wind up quite as I originally envisioned it.
So… yeah. Kind of a Seinfeldian post. But like a lot of things, I don’t think it came out too badly.