traveling in place

February 24, 2019

The magic of writing fiction is that if you can travel the world without leaving home. Today I’m in a vintage building in San Francisco, finding hidden artifacts in the walls.

Books give you somewhere to go when you have to stay home.

Last year at this time, I was poking around Oysterville on the extreme Washington coast, building a world for my work-in-progress.

Sometimes I look at the pile of books I’ve written and I wonder how they got there. Well, the best way to describe it is “word-by-word.” You put down a word. Then you cross it out. Then write a few more. Stare out the window. Wonder if the can opener needs cleaning. Wonder if someone’s having a hissy fit on a social network. Wonder why you thought this was a good idea for a novel in the first place.

And then you remember: This idea has power. It’s been haunting me. There’s a story here, and my job is to get it out in the most honest, beautiful, authentic way I can–word by word.

I plot a novel the way I put together characters, cobbling together shiny bits and pieces that interest me, and assembling them into a story arc. I have the common problem of not thinking things through to their logical conclusion until it’s too late to change. I have a plot disaster or crisis in every effing book! I handle it by swearing!

Outlining can be useful at any stage. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. Just list scenes and incidents and let one step grow out of the previous one. Putting together a synopsis is an opportunity to brainstorm and add layers and events to bring your story to life.

I was a storyteller before I could speak in fully formed sentences, or write words on paper. I know this because I have the kind of mom who tended to save things she deemed important—like a toddler’s markings on an old church collection envelope, or stick-figure drawings featuring imaginary characters. This is how I know that all my stories have always been about the same thing—an ordinary girl, facing extraordinary circumstances, whether it’s a kid up a tree with Bad Things after her…or a lonely young woman who suddenly discovers a family she’s never known.
But that’s just the spine of the story. For me, the magic happens when I discover just the right setting and tone for the story to unfold.

I hear it from emerging writers all the time. I’ve got a great idea for a novel. I’m going to sit down and write it as soon as I…
…get my day job under control
…get my final kid into kindergarten
…get my finances in order
…fix my marriage
…finish painting the house
…pay off the car
…clean the rain gutters
…get the puppy housebroken
…retire from my job
…finish watching the third season of “Weeds”
…get my Bachelor’s…Master’s…PhD…LLB…MD

…read all the Game of Thrones books
…check in with my nineteen thousand Facebook friends
…upgrade my computer
…finish knitting this sweater
…forgive my parents
…forgive myself
…get over my fear of failure
…get over my fear of success
…hire an agent
…learn to use the subjunctive case
…quit worrying about what my family will think of my story, especially the dirty parts
…stop smoking/drinking/playing online games
…figure out the business of publishing
…lose 20 pounds so I look good in my author photo…

You name it, and a procrastinating writer has said it. Let us all agree that there will never be a good time to write.

Life will always intrude. That’s what life is. Be glad for that. If you have no life, you have nothing to write about.

The good news is, there’s a simple solution. Make time for the things that are important to you. If writing your story is important, make time for it. Simple as that. Turn off the TV, leave the dishes undone, close your e-mail, grab a notebook and pen, and tell your family, “Don’t interrupt me unless your eyes are bleeding.” You’ll be surprised by the respect they give you.

The way you spend your day is the way you spend your life. So quit being your own worst enemy and start being your own best friend. Make time to write, even if you don’t have time.

#books #authors #writing

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