I have no idea who said it, but I’ve heard it a couple of times over the course of my life – something to the effect of “God does the writing; I just hold the pen.”
And I always thought – UGH! UGH! YOU ARE LYING! Because for me it was never that easy. Poems yes; stories no. I struggled and stressed and ultimately kept abandoning stories, especially when I was attempting novels. My problem? Perfection.
Well, its pursuit. See, it took me a long time to get to a point where I could be like, “fuck it, just write whatever you want and figure it out later.” I have spent most of my life freaking out that whatever I did had to be perfect. The first time. Right out the gate.
Goddamn it, no wonder I never finished anything.
So whenever I’d come across a person claiming that they were just the passive channel for some Great Writing Force, I’d be like, bullshit. It can’t just be that easy. But you know what?
It totally is.
Perfectionists are control freaks. How not? The two go hand in hand – you can’t perfect something that you can’t control.
Stories, on the other hand…stories are not perfectionists. They are messy and headstrong and they have their own opinions. They float around in your head and they’re right there for the taking only you don’t even see them if you don’t know how to listen.
Everything changed for me when I started listening to my story. And I guess it’s not that different from how I write poems – something starts clamoring around in my head until I notice it, and I say “okay words, what do you want to be?” and they send my hand for a pen and are like MOVE ASIDE AND WE WILL SHOW YOU. And then there they are.
Stories were harder for me, though, probably just because of the length, the fact that I can’t write a novel in one sitting. I can’t even write a chapter in one sitting, not in the sittings I have time for, which is one hour from 5-6 in the morning, before I’m really even awake. Long before work, before a shower, before even turning on the lights. It’s just me in the dark with my story.
It’s instinct. In the dark, you listen. (That’s both literally true and a metaphor. See what I did there?)
So I had this story. I started making notes for it in Spring of 2012, after having daydreamed a scene from it since I was about seven years old. Clearly, this story wanted to be told. I was afraid to start it because it had been with me so long, what if I tried to write it down and screwed it up? So I kept on making notes, world-building in a passive kind of way. Then, in November, I turned 30. And I was like, whoa whoa. Enough with the doodles. You gonna write this thing or not?
So, I came up with a plan. I started writing. I committed to carving an hour out of my day, with a goal of writing at least 500 words. I just hit 40,000 words last week so it’s coming along. Amazing how those little words add up.
One problem I face sometimes is that even though I know the big gist of where the story is going, I’m sitting here before the sun gets its lazy ass above the horizon, writing away at this story, and I forget things. I forget when something happens, I forget what a character’s motivation is – my brain is still asleep on some days, and sometimes that gets me into trouble.
Over the past couple of days, my story went from being like “cool, let’s do this” to “mehhhhhhh I don’t want you to call me anymore.” I couldn’t figure out what I’d done wrong. I was still writing, I hadn’t skipped a bunch of days and lost my rhythm, I was on track for going where I was supposed to go – so what was wrong?
Today on my lunch break, I made some notes. I find that asking myself questions and writing longhand is a great way to figure out what I’m doing. In asking and answering, I realized that something I was writing for a scene to build off of already happened a couple of scenes ago. My story was telling me that I was doin’ it wrong. I think the story is female, though, because it wouldn’t tell me WHAT I’d done wrong. I had to figure that one out on my own.
Once I realized that, I swear to god I borderline heard a voice in my head going YES! YES! THIS IS HOW I GOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! So clearly, the story is glad I figured it out.
I’ve had my characters change their minds on me, because they knew something I didn’t, and it led to the story being better. And now this – the story itself is talking to me.
I feel like a crazy person, which would bother me except that I know all artists are, in one way or another, a little mad. So I’m cool with it.
But today, when my story straight up yelled its excitement into my head, I realized that those people were right. Sometimes I really am just holding the pen. And it’s still work to get the words down on the page, it’s still time and effort and thought and process, but ultimately, the story knows where it wants to go. I just have to be willing to pick up the pen and listen.