On Stones Along the Way

I think it’s fairly obvious that my posting here is sporadic in nature. I’m a student, so studying for finals this past week took priority. I just finished my last final and now I can put away all the textbooks until January. Between now and then I’d like to write, maybe even every day. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once.

Many things have happened since I last worked on my novel. I’m so thankful, even for the things that are difficult. This past Monday my Dad had surgery to remove a nodule in his lung; they found out that it was cancer and removed the whole lung. Now he is adapting to having only one. Thankfully, he is doing well despite all of this. I’ve heard other news from back ‘home’. My best friend from high school tells me of difficult situations for people I knew and also for their families. It all seems so dark sometimes. I pray for brighter days for them; that they find the last fragment of light and hold tight to it. I know what uncertainty is like. I know what feeling inferior is like. I know what it’s like to stare at the sky and want to scream at the top of your lungs. I know what it’s like to struggle, to doubt, and to ask “why” a million times. I’ve been there. I see my fellow human-kind do the same.

In all these things I’m reminded of why I’ve decided to write stories. I’m reminded of the course set before me. I’m reminded that I am not my own. I have been given gifts. I have been given purpose.

The further in life I go, the more convinced I am that the job of the writer is to bring a commentary on all the things we humans fear too much to speak of aloud. We are to hold a mirror and let the reader take a long look. We should do this with conviction and grace intermingled. We should do so artfully, with syntaxes that flow softly and imagery that is strong.

No matter how hard we writers try, if we are truly writing well, we will be unable to separate ourselves from what we have constructed. That’s the danger of writing (and letting someone read it!); we write from what we know, or so I’ve been told. It’s a risk, especially for those of us who are far more eloquent on paper than in person.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I’m thankful for the dark clouds and the blue sky alike. I’m thankful be it in sickness or in health, in life or death, in pain or laughter, in depression or joy, in fear or security, in weakness or strength.

All these things are but markers on our path, memorial stones of where we were. When we can look back at these things and see that what was meant to harm us has been turned to good, when we can see that out of nothing springs something new, we see the world differently. We see people differently. We see them not as obstacles but as people with circumstances as real as our own. We see their pain and remember our own. And out of that we can’t help but extend kindness in some form.

As a writer, I can’t help but reach out through these strings of words. I want to reach out and touch the shoulder of the person who thinks they aren’t worth anything. I want to take the hands of the addict and the bitter of heart. I want to wipe tears from the face of the crushed, and join hands with the invisible.

All of these things I would be unable to do for others beyond my reach if it weren’t for writing.

I was once told to “write from what you know.” That’s exactly what I aim to do.

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Five Hundred Steps Backward, One Step Forward

My “usual” seven and a half hours of sleep has dwindled as of late. Actually, I’m surprised I’m not suffering more ill effects.

Yet.

I feel it like the thunder that rumbles in the distance as a storm rolls in. The ceiling is probably about to break.

I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing, I admit. Maybe it’s a consequence of my sleep deprivation, or maybe the result of exhausting my brain with academic endeavors and muddling through life. Likely it’s both.

Without going into fine detail, I’m a Junior in college and still lack a clear direction for what I want to do in life. They say part of going to college is “finding yourself”, but truly I thought I understood myself. I thought wrong. Last semester was rough, not because my classes were too hard (some were difficult) but because I put together a few more pieces of my identity. I guess that’s the best way to put it. In between all that, family with health issues, pressure to get a job, and pressure to figure everything out soon so I won’t be building up unnecessary student debt aren’t contributing to a positive outlook. I could gripe and complain here but it won’t be of any use. So now that I got that off my chest…

I wrote something today! Yes, slacker me sat down in the library quiet area, pulled out a piece of notebook paper and wrote a scene. Is it poorly written? Yes, but the point is: I wrote something. Well then, what magnificent thing did you write you ask? I wrote a scene that’s part of book three and happened way before any of the events of book one occur. It’s a memory, and a dreadfully sad one at that. (I always got knocked for having no remorse about bringing bad circumstances down on my characters. Some people have trouble letting anything happen to their beloved “paper people”; I don’t mind letting chaos break loose as long as in the end one tiny good thing comes from it.) I wrote a character’s death scene. This character was essentially my main character’s “soul mate”, and I let the antagonist get rid of this character because I needed to rip the rug from under my main character’s feet and give her a reason to act the way she does later. I know that sounds harsh, but this story isn’t any old picnic under sunny skies and rainbows. I’m just happy I wrote something. I’m not enthralled by it because my creativity has been squashed for so long that none of the writing process feels natural.

That makes me sad. It’s something that needs to change. I remember when writing was my go-to and the characters were like good friends. Writing was a pleasure. It gave me joy to breathe life into my characters. Now it seems like… my characters are just pretty words thrown on a page. That isn’t how it is supposed to be. I don’t want to abandon this project. It does seem like everything else is working against me though.

I hope I won’t give up on this. I hope someday I finish it. If nothing more for the sake of being able to say (for once in my life) I finished something.

First and Wait

Before a word ever hits the page (or is typed on the screen) some things have to happen. You must decide on a word that fits. You must have identified what is happening in the story. You have to be there. Before that a thousand other things may have needed to happen; the laptop needs charged or your pencil must be sharpened.

And before that?

Well, you had to have the nerve to decide to do this. Deciding to write a novel is not a task to be taken lightly. People write for something. They want money. They want recognition. They want their names printed in bold font on the front of their book; they want it larger than the actual title. They want to say it: I’m published! They want in on that elite group for whom a Google search turns up more than a Facebook “Not the So-And-So you were looking for?”

Writers want something. I want something too; it’s not any of those things I just mentioned though.

What do I want? Ask yourself that if you’d like. What you want is closely entwined with your why. I want water. Why? I’m thirsty.

First. You have to know the reasons. If you have no reason for writing that novel, you won’t do it. When you sit down at your desk or wherever and pound out another sentence there is something keeping you there. Opinions differ. Everyone has their reason. Novelists wouldn’t treat their books like children if they didn’t. Find the thing that drives you, that thing that keeps you doing what you do everyday no matter what.

For me, it’s that I can’t not do it. There’s a story in my head, a thin storyline coiled around my heart and it’s in my blood. I don’t know why I’ve been given this story and not another one that would be “easier” to tell. It’s not about me. That is all I know. It’s the same place my protagonist has arrived in the last chapters of the third and final book. Would it be easier for her to turn tail and run from the likely outcome? Yes. Would it be easier to for her to turn from her cause? Yes. Could she ignore what has been abandoned to the depths? She could. But she won’t.

I am not my own. Some things are not for me to understand.

First. It’s not about me. That’s why as a writer, my book is the product of blood, sweat, and tears. I bleed description, I sweat the emotion, and dialogue burns as it cascades down my face. This continual outpouring of words is my giving of myself. That’s what I want. When someone reads my novel I don’t want them to see me. I want them to see themselves and more.

Wait. Nothing is instantaneous. My writing is a patchwork of ideas and concepts. Some days I’m stitching scenes together in book one. Other days I’m careening down river in the chaos of book three. Sometimes I’m arranging the plot of book two. All in the same week; sometimes the same day. Bouncing back and forth in plot time as I write. That’s my storytelling style. I don’t just sit down and write a page. Is that frustrating? Absolutely. I’d love to actually finish something.

It’s a hard thing to be so struck by creativity, and unable to channel it forward. But that’s okay. It’s not about me.

First. The why. Wait. The how.

-RJ

Word(s) Count

15466. That’s how many words I’ve written so far in two years worth of time spread over nearly five years for one novel. It makes me feel pathetic and proud all at once. I crossed the 10000 word barrier earlier this year and hadn’t checked my word count ’til now. I’m nowhere near finished with my first draft, but I’m okay with that.

A lot of people in college seem to make a big deal of word count and pages. People I knew were like that in high school too. Me? Not so much.

I could care less if you wrote sixteen pages for your report on this-and-that. Did you say anything meaningful?

Some people love a four page long description of the coffee table a character sets a coffee mug on. On the other hand some could care less about the character’s surroundings, the action is more important to them. I don’t belong to either of these groups.

Quite frankly, I don’t care how many words it takes you to explain something, but you’d better tell me what’s happening and why that coffee table relates to the character’s inner condition or else don’t tell me at all. Half-cooked is how people get salmonella and the like. Reading a half-baked description makes me queasy; I feel like you’re asking me to drink the run-off from the bag of frozen chicken you accidentally left in your car last week.

Chose your words carefully; each one is a two-edged sword.

It’s your words that count, not your word count.

-RJ

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New Beginnings… Old Habits

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Beginnings are a funny thing, aren’t they? They may incite excitement or perhaps trepidation. A beginning is a start; that place at the trailhead with a sign showing the mileage from here to there. There’s about a thousand ways to get started off on the wrong foot when you step to the other side of that sign; and about a thousand more to start your journey off right. Maybe you’re dreaming about the end of the trail; that place of bliss where you can yell at the top of your lungs that you did it. You FINISHED the trail. Maybe you’re looking down the path and can’t see what is beyond those scary looking trees; you’re thinking “Well, maybe this was a bad idea.”

Writing is like that. Sometimes you’re thrilled to start something new; other times you wonder if it even really matters. I know (as someone who loves the art of storytelling) I’ve been there before. I’ve stood there at that sign and looked at that seemingly HUGE number. That number is miles, chapters, words, novels, and so on. Sure, you want to write that novel, but by default that means you have to write words… lots of words.

Maybe you start making excuses. You’ll get around to it next year, you don’t have time, it’s too difficult, your friends will think you’ve lost your mind, you might actually lose your mind. Excuses are just cardboard walls painted to look like they’re made of stone. Cardboard doesn’t hold water well. That story in your head is fluid; it changes, moves and responds to outside forces. That box of excuses isn’t going to hold that story in forever; that story will leak out in some shape or form.

If you’ve written before you may have tried to adopt some habits that keep you writing instead of twirling your pen over your thumb. I know I formed habits that reinforced my writing behavior. I (reluctantly) joined a writing club in high school; we wrote something, anything each and every time. Even if it was terrible and frustrated us to no end. Each and every week I wrote something. Then a funny thing happened. I started writing more often. Writing must do something to a person’s brain; in the same way runners get “runner’s high” I got “writer’s high.”

Then “real” life sneaks up on you. There’s standardized tests, applications, work, and the stuff that just won’t go away- like the laundry. Suddenly, you’re laying on your back saying “Hey. Hold up. I haven’t even had time to write anything!” That’s right. So, now you’re back at square one. No motivation, a plethora of excuses and that trail sign. Those excuses aren’t going away, and odds are (if at heart you are a writer) that trail sign isn’t either. The choice is yours, you can walk away and say “maybe later” but you’ll be back. You’ll be back because at the end of the day it’s not about being published, it’s not about money, it’s not about fame or friends. That story you’re dying to write is dying to be written because YOU are the only one who can write it. If you don’t write it, it dies with you.

You were made for your story. The art of story-telling is your purpose, your gift, your call. You have something to share.

“No one really believes that,” you say.

Well, I do. So if you want to stand there a moment longer and contemplate that trail sign that’s fine. I’m setting off on this trail; it’s going to be rough, but I’ll get there sooner or later. One word at a time this story will be told. I’ll reform those old habits that were helpful, I’ll put the pen to the page, and I will finish.

Care to try a new beginning? Care to start over if nothing else but for what you’ll learn along the way?

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
I say that may be, but the shoes will tell the tale.