I Could NEVER Do That!
I get that all the time. Or “I can’t write” or “I can’t tell stories” I shake my head until I get spots in front of my eyes. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! I am going to assume you are one of those people and talk directly to you, the same way I would if you were standing in front of me. Look, you can tell stories. You do it every day! Think about your last phone call to your family or friends. What were you doing? Telling stories. When you were a kid, you told stories all the time. Look back at anything that you parents saved from your early childhood. Chances are it’s a work of pure imagination. Then, somewhere along the way, someone told you to stop fantasizing, to keep your mind on your work (school, college, nuclear power plant controls). Most often, it's a good idea, but you thought they meant it 24/7. If you’re relentlessly driven towards a goal that requires unswerving dedication, like the Olympics, or the NFL, or a Harvard scholarship, I get it, something’s got to give. I didn’t do any storytelling when I was trying to get into West Point, but the urge never left me. What happened, though, is you just stopped imagining altogether. It’s actually the worst thing that happened to you. Sure, you’re no longer drawing 30-foot T-Rexes with someone’s legs sticking out of their mouth, but you also stopped imagining how you could live a better life. The same thought processes that take an image like T-Rex and figure out a story around it are also applied to imagining getting an in-ground pool in the back yard and making it happen. Now, I am not trying to belittle you, or say that I am better, or anything like that. What I am telling you is that you have the same fertile imagination that you had as a kid, and it’s just as accessible to you. So how do you access it? Short detour here: My brother died suddenly in October of 2015. I help run something called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)for the Central NJ Region. I was required to write 50,000 words in the month of November as an example to other writers that it can be done. But bro is dead! Ah. I can hear him now: “No, Bill, you have to do it. Just start writing. I’ll wait.” He was like that. But I really couldn’t concentrate on a story line, but I really DID want to progress on the work. What did I do? I started drafting emails. Between the characters. Peter would write Suzy, and she’d reply, but then she’d draft one to Jenny and her friends about Peter. I wouldn’t let the chains get too long, and the emails never left my writing program, but short emails fit in well with my inability to concentrate. When I finished the month (yes, I made 50,000), I realized I had stumbled upon a great tool for people who don’t think they are writers. Want to try your hand at it? OK, figure out what kind of story you’d like to tell: romance, thriller, SF, whatever. Then create a main character and one other. Then start writing an email from one to the other. Never erase or edit them. Just type. Notice I didn’t say anything about a plot? Or any of that high-school nonsense like topic sentences or key paragraphs? Nope. You’ve got the main character getting an email from their friend, asking for help with a problem. You’ve got to respond! So go do it. That’s the beginning. To use my favorite metaphor, you’re just dumping clay on the potter’s wheel. The first draft is the main shaping of the piece on the wheel, where you mostly add, but sometimes remove clay, but are more interested in giving it form. There’s a lot more after that, editing, covers, marketing. Don’t worry about that now. Just get that clay on the wheel. Grammar, plot, spelling, three-act structure, yes, all of that is what turns a pile of clay into a vase. But first there must be clay. Start loading your wheel now. You can do it. You did it as a kid, so the ability is still there. Apologize to your subconscious, and tell it that you’re sorry for neglecting it for all these years. Now, though, it’s playtime.