Greetings Readers and Believers in the Magic of Books!
Just felt like saying something that makes me feel good – something about books and readers and the way stories make us feel. What we talk about most, it sometimes seems, is what matters least in the larger picture of our lives. For example, we talk about politics these days constantly. We talk about it until we want to scream at everyone to shut up already – no more talk about what we cannot do once we have cast our ballots in the next election or given dollars in a desperate effort to make things better and just gotten it off our chest so we can sleep again on those nights when we wonder what in the world is going to happen next?
Well, this blog is not about that.
Mostly, this blog is about something I can address from experience and not ruminate on in frustration. This blog is about writing and writers and one aspect of both that I consider to be of monumental importance to the difference between success and failure in exercising our craft.
You know how it is when you come up against something that stops you cold? For writers, there are all sorts of situations when you start to write something you think is important and it overwhelms you. You’re telling a story and you come up against a scene, a plotline, a character, or an emotional barrier that you know is something you cannot write about adequately for one reason or another. Maybe it is too personal. Maybe it is too harsh or too complicated or too sad. Maybe it isn’t something you think you can address because it feels like you are going to have to open a door that ought to stay shut. Writing fiction, you come up against those moments all the time. I encounter them mostly during rewrites and editing efforts because you don’t even see them or recognize them for what they are on the first draft. Sometimes, they just sit there waiting for you to realize that you have cracked a door where you are about to enter some unknown and perhaps not entirely understandable territory, and you think you might be better off just stepping aside and letting it go.
What should you do when this happens, writers?
I suppose it depends on who you are and what your philosophy of writing requires of you. But for me, the answer is always the same.
Just Write The Damn Scene!
I have to. I am being challenged to do so. This is a test of my skills, my courage, my abilities and just about everything else that takes me a step closer to being the writer I am always trying to be. Doesn’t matter how hard or large or difficult the challenge. I tell myself the same thing each time; I have to face up to it.
Maybe it’s good advice for you, too.
The only real consideration for these difficult situations is that you must ask yourself whether or not the writing is necessary to the success of the story you are writing. Once you can answer that question in an unequivocally honest fashion, you have your marching orders. Sometimes we think it better to just let things go – to step aside and let readers imagine how things would probably work out. Maybe that’s the whole point of what you are trying to do. And that is a valid consideration. But only sometimes. Mostly we have to confront those hard to write scenes – whatever their nature – and overcome our reluctance. We have to write them because they are daring us to try.
Come on, come on, take a shot at me! You wuss, you can’t do it, can you? Makes you so uncomfortable! Don’t you think you have the words for or the emotional grasp of the structure you are considering! Don’t have the abilities to make it come alive! Okay, let it go or people will see how pathetically inept you really are! Just step aside and move on.
Well, no – don’t ever do that. Not if it is an important part of your storytelling. Not if just the thought of doing so troubles you. No, you have to write it. You have to write it until you do so in a way that satisfies your inner critic – the one that’s always there to remind you what your writing skills are all about. Challenges – over and over again. The hard stuff is the most important – all the stuff you dread or worry about or fuss over because it requires such personal involvement or commitment or emotional expenditure.
Writing is a test of your storytelling abilities but it is also a test of your understanding of how the world works. We all think we know a lot about how things are, but we are often a bit deluded. We understand the mechanics, but we don’t always comprehend the emotional struggles or the personal despairs or the lasting impact on the characters. Or maybe we just can’t think of a way to make all of it come out sounding the way we want it to. Or even come out the way we see or feel it because the words, images and emotions just don’t seem to come alive the way we want them to.
Well, too bad.
Did you really think writing was just a simple putting down of words?
We signed on for the long haul, and sometimes the going gets pretty rough. Words are slippery and elusive and sometimes just plain impossible to control. But when you are a writer, you have to find whatever it takes to overcome those barriers.
Think of it the way you think of your life. Your life doesn’t always go the way you want it to, and sometimes that isn’t even your fault. But answers to your problems do not come from stepping aside and pretending things are not the way they clearly are. They come from facing down the difficulties and making the best of sometimes bad situations. They come with reason and understanding and acceptance of what they are and how best to reduce their impact. But you cannot just ignore them. You cannot pretend they don’t exist. Answers take work and more work. They take patience and sometimes courage.
Say the words to remind yourself.
Just write the damn scene!
Then do what you’ve told yourself you must because then you cannot pretend the answers you need don’t exist. You have to find a way to diminish or overcome all those pesky unwelcome difficulties and maybe even come to better understand them by doing so.
Is it simple to do this? You know, just step up to the plate and swing the bat? Hardly ever. It is difficult. It is demanding. It can tell you if you are a writer and not just someone blowing smoke.
Be well, Everyone. Remember – reading is life. We all live it the best way we can, but it isn’t always easy. More later. Maybe.