I have a secret I’m going to share with you. It’s not that searing of a secret, just something I haven’t really talked about with anyone; perhaps to keep from raising expectations, perhaps due to fear of failure. But I think I’ve learned something from keeping this secret that undermines its relevancy, so it feels more interesting to share it than to keep it.
I’ve been writing a story. I thought at first it might be a big enough idea to be a novel-sized book, but I’ve since decided a book would invite too much bloat, so I’ve revised it back down to novella length, at best, although if during the writing process it demands more or less, so be it. I’m not drawing fences around this idea or letting expectations determine outcome. It will be what it will be.
I’ve got a pretty solid outline sketched out and a layout of the major plot points, conflicts and reveals. I’ve got the general continuity figured out, which is darned important for this particular story, something that has been a sticking point in the past with other projects I’ve started and abandoned. The endgame this time is solid. I’ve settled on a name for my main character (surprisingly hard for me to do) and in fact all the main characters – there aren’t that many – are well realized, if I do say so myself (even though some key secondary characters are still vague – I’m kind of waiting for the story itself to tell me how to bring them into focus). I’ve actually gotten the opening scene written (but not finalized – I’ll tweak until the bitter end). And, I’ve hit my first snag, which (and this is huge) I’ve decided I’ll simply set aside for now and instead move on to writing the next “scene” (which is crystal clear in my mind); I’ve accepted I can circle back to the gaping abyss in the story later, maybe even much later.
This has been my biggest stumbling block in the past when I’ve tried to write a story, besides not having a viable idea – allowing an obstacle to stop my forward momentum and bring the entire project to a screeching halt. Instead of finding a way around the roadblock, or heading down a different path, I’ll just sit there like a stubborn donkey, expecting the boulder in the road to magically disappear. Typically then, confidence will waver, initiative will stall, and the project eventually gets abandoned. This time, though, I believe enough in my idea that I’ve decided to simply set the sticking point off to the side and connect the dots later.
This makes me trust that this time, this story will get written, and that I’ll be happy with it, and that it will fulfill some deep seated dream for me, signaling a personal success that has long eluded me.
“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”
I haven’t wanted to share this secret with anyone, because it’s not the first time I’ve started a writing project with the best of intentions. Indeed, I’ve attempted to write things in the past which nevertheless never amounted to anything. And this has happened to me in more than just writing. Invariably, for many of my interests: voice acting, stained glass work, paper-making, volunteering, playing the piano, gardening… the desire was there, and an initial urge, an energizing drive, but then a roadblock, a passage of time, another necessity usurping time, energy, opportunity, and the moment passes, never to be revived. Revisiting what was once an irresistible desire only evokes, at best, fond nostalgia; at worst, a longing for what has passed.
So why am I sharing this secret now? Because it’s stopped being a big deal. Unlike what I previously feared, it’s not a harbinger of success or failure; there’s no pressure one way or the other. You see, I’ve come to realize that even if this story sees the light of day, heck, even if it gets published – that still won’t make me a writer. Regardless of what happens with this particular project, I will not yet and probably never will be an honest-to-goodness writer. And I’m okay with that.
Before you start protesting, know that I never have really considered myself a writer. Oh, I can be clever with words, and for short snippets of text – about 1,500 words or so – I can come up with some pretty killer essays and lovely crystalline snapshots of ideas. I don’t need validation to tell me that yes, I can write, and yes, I have some talent when it comes to writing. I take great pride in these Gimblings, and enjoy the feedback I get on what I share just like anyone else would. But I don’t believe whatever skill I possess makes me a writer, and to be honest, I find even well intentioned protestations to the contrary to be somewhat patronizing.
For while I have the ability to craft a piece of writing, I do not possess the art of writing.
To write as art, to be a “real” writer, one has to have a passion to write. Writing has to be more than a drive, it has to be a compulsion, something that exists beyond the idea on the page. True writers write when they are tired, when they have other things to do, when it’s late. They write despite having a job to perform, children to attend to, housework to be done, classes to absorb and tests to take, while other obligations are pulling at them. They don’t write merely because they are inspired or only when the opportunity presents itself – they write despite all else. They write because they must.
“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
The Editor in Chief here at LitStack, Tee Tate, is a writer. She has written six published novels and a novella, and any number of short stories. And she’s working on more. I am honored to be her editor, so I get to get a glimpse of what goes on “behind the scenes” – and it astounds me. She has a full time job, is fully involved with a family that she adores, has time for friends, runs this website, self-promotes her work, takes on free lance editing gigs, and still writes like a maniac, often late at night, running on caffeine and a compulsion to write. Her output is amazing, her focus is mind-boggling, her process is fluid, and even though at times she struggles, she still gets it done. All of it. She takes ideas and flies with them. Sometimes they may end up quite different from where they started, but she’s walked them every step of the way. And for every work she publishes, she’s got two, three, four more ideas simmering in her head, or already halfway realized, or halfway written, and I believe she’ll finish every single one.
She is a writer.
I have a friend, Brady Allen, who writes creepy, macabre, wonderful horror stories. He’s got one published collection under his belt and many other stories published in various anthologies, magazines and journals. He also is a college instructor at Wright State University (one of those instructors who truly cares), is a single father, maintains a blog for his professional interests, is a keen observer of life (and an avid baseball fan), and dogged promoter of the horror genre – he even recently took a foray into acting in an independent film based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House”. He also is constantly sharing ideas he’s gotten for short stories, that often come from ordinary, everyday interactions with others in his smallish Ohio home town. “Got a new idea for a story while standing in line at the check-out counter…”, he’ll write, or “Here’ s the first line of a new horror story I just came up with…”, and then the most remarkable things will follow. Something that is mundane to me, he’ll see with a different viewpoint which makes his chance meetings, his inconsequential moments come alive, to crackle with the bizarre or the strange or the baffling, or even occasionally the brutish or sad or hilarious, heartbreaking, horrifying. And they become his stories.
He is a writer.
Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.
– Neil Gaiman
Ernest Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” That’s what Tee does. That’s what Brady does. That’s what any number of writers that I know, writers that I know of, writers that I’ve studied and friends that I know who have yet to publish anything but still are writing do. It has less to do with being published, making a living by writing, accolades, even talent and ability, any modicum of “success”. It’s that these people are compelled to write. They can’t not write. They sit down at a typewriter, and bleed.
Now, me…. if I am at a typewriter (or word processor) and start to bleed, I’ll get up and find a band-aid.
I’d like to be a writer. I wish I was. But I wish I was a writer in the same way that I wish I could be a good cook. I’m a passable cook. I can do some things fairly well, and my family gets fed and usually is satisfied. But I simply don’t have a discerning enough of a palate to be able to be a real cook, let alone a chef. I can’t taste a something and tell you what’s in it. I can’t tell you how much garlic is too much garlic (if there is such a thing) or when olive oil would be better to use than canola oil. I know there is a difference between yellow onions and red onions and green onions, but am not confident I know which one would be best given a new recipe. And believe me, when cooking, you do not want me to improvise.
I could probably up my lack of cooking skills considerably, lack of discerning palate notwithstanding, with the proper level of commitment. But I don’t have that level of commitment, not to overcome the lack of time or funds or training. There’s no financial cushion allowing me to obtain the proper equipment, to experiment with different and/or exotic ingredients, nor do I feel driven to work towards obtaining them; it’s not a burning goal. My family doesn’t expect or even want anything fancy. Nor do I have the initiative to teach myself within the constraints of my current situation. I simply have accepted that will never be a “real” cook.
And I will never be a writer, for many, many of those same reasons.
“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”
—Robert A. Heinlein
But you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m still going to work on my story. I’m still going to do my best to get it done. When it’s done, I’d love to get it published, if warranted. That would fulfill a dream of mine – to be published. And if I have another idea for another story, I’ll write that one, as well. But I more than likely won’t lose any sleep over them, literally or figuratively. Unlike Tee. Unlike Brady. Unlike those folks who truly are writers.
Sure, I’d love to say that I have written something, past tense. Something good, something of which I can be proud; that would be incredibly satisfying. And that’s why I can share the secret that I’m writing – really writing – a story. Because it’s not a secret that will change the world or expose my heart, nor a secret that dares me to be something I’m not. It’s not a secret that will define me as success or failure, it’s not a secret that will have any real ramification at all. It’s simply a public acknowledgement that I think I’m going to get it done this time. Eventually. Most likely.
Maybe I should put a box of band-aids next to my keyboard, though, just in case. You never know when they might come in handy.