If you think writing that first draft masterpiece was easier than everybody said it was and now it’s ready for publication…step away from the self-publishing website, turn off the computer and think again.
Ever heard of the short and the long of a subject. Old people say it often: here comes the short and the long of it, meaning the entire story of whatever story is being told or generally the entirety of a thing. Well, writing has a short and long too. The short of it is easy to master…it’s the long of it that’s a bitch. Most beginner writers can master a few great pages. It’s the entire story or the entire book that presents a problem. I have several friends who can write a brilliant…four pages. Any story that goes beyond that is an incoherent mess. And there is nothing wrong with four great pages. Flash fiction is built on the short of it. But…if you want to make the leap to the long of it then you have to master the long of it. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learn to sustain conflict. Learn to write interesting characters. Learn the difference between plot and story. Learn everything you can cram into your head about sustaining drama, suspense, hurling towards climax, believable but challenged characters, the growth of characters, etc. Then incorporate these things into your writing. Be able to write the short and the long of it.
I recently heard an interview of Toni Morrison on Beloved. She said she wanted to tell this story of a woman who wanted to protect her kids from slavery so she decided to kill them rather than let them be re-enslaved by her former master. The story was a true story she had discovered in an old newspaper clipping. She said she struggled with how to tell this story so she decided the only person that could judge this mother justly was the dead baby and thus, Beloved was born. And then she said something that fascinated me…well all of Toni Morrison fascinates me but this was something extra. She said she considered how it must feel to have a mother that tried to kill you. The small things like eating her food and going to sleep around her. In that moment of listening to Toni, the essence of what we do occurred to me. It is these small tedious things that inform our work, that makes it come alive to the reader. Of course the huge, magnanimus acts are remembered but what connects us to our readers are those things that make us human. Fear, love, hunger, boredom. These are the very human emotions that propel our stories off the paper and into the readers minds. Because we have the same desires and inclinations in our own lives we can understand and relate to who people end up in dire circumstances that started very simply. That’s writing guys, that’s writing.
What’s the shit that weighs you down? Your day job? Your honey? Fear? Well, as Nikki Giovanni says, writers write. There is no good reason that you do not write except you don’t love it enough. Writers write, period. Even if they aren’t published, even if the only one reading it is the pizza delivery man. Writers write. You want to fly jets? Get the shit out of your wings.
No Bullshit…no excuses..no tomorrow. Right now…right here. Let’s do this. The work…the re-work….the re-write. Your story here and now…get it on paper and finish it. No more talking about it or reading the same ten pages in twenty different workshops. No more running it past your friends, your family or your honey. Put it in the mail, put it in the e-mail…lean in. This is the year you shit or shut up. Are you a writer? Are you a writer dammit? Then shut up and write! Go For It! Lean In!
A very good friend of mine who imagines he is a writer gave me a story to read. I’m not saying he isn’t a writer. I’m not even saying he cannot write. I am saying when you give me a story to read at the very least have one character in the story I give a damn about. I don’t have to love the character. I don’t even have to hate the characters guts. But I must find the character worth my time to read about. Mediocre will not do. Why would I spend an hour or two reading about a bland man with a bland life that has no drama and no surprises in it. Hell, I can see that in any office building in America, I don’t have to invest my time and money reading that. Have the decency to make him fall in love with a prostitute or find a dead body in his hallway. Give me something to work with. As a writer, unless you are writing for your personal pleasure or you look forward to never selling anything, ask yourself why does anyone give a damn about what you are writing than answer that question in your work. Jimmy gets shot in your story? Why do we give a damn! Stella got her groove back? Why do we give a damn! Answer that!! That is your story!! Make the reader love, hate , pity, empathize with your characters. Want to write a great story? Start with great characters! Than tell me why I should give a damn!
What if it all goes right?
What if it all works out?
What if the stars line up and good luck rains down?
What if you chase your dreams and it changes your whole life?
Yeah, what if it all goes right?