Libraries and bookstores! Shelves upon shelves and books all over the place, full of stories that take you here and there and back again. Some people allow themselves to get lost between the shelves. Others know exactly what they want and head straight for the crime or romance or sci-fi section — or to books on how to make a stellar bird house or knit a pair of striped socks. Such a variety of genres, yet the books have one thing in common: Someone wrote them, word for word. With pencil or pen on paper in an English manor, on a portable Royal typewriter somewhere in Spain or Italy, or on a 2017 laptop in the coffee shop just around the corner. Fact: Someone has to write the stories. Did you hear that, you reluctant writer? Yes, I hear.
I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.
Streets are made to be walked and observed. Every once in a while we should adopt a modern flâneur’s attitude and stroll the streets. Walk down this street, look around that corner, say hello to a stranger. Sit ourselves down in a coffee shop and watch people passing by. Then go home and write about it.
Requirements: good shoes, a notebook, open eyes.
What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open. Life swarms with innocent monsters.
If you have read The Little Prince, you know what the box below contains. If not, take a guess.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicated The Little Prince (1943) to his good friend Léon Werth, but because the book was a children’s book and Werth was a grown-up, he dedicated it “To Léon Werth, when he was a little boy.” Small details like that make me a happy reader. He doesn’t stop there, of course, but quickly sets the tone for the book: In the opening chapter, the little prince asks the narrator to draw a sheep. The prince is not satisfied with the first drafts, but when the narrator draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it, he is content. “That’s just the kind I wanted!” he says. Delightfully carved out details — what a gift to the readers.
The Little Prince is 74 years old this week. It was first published April 6, 1943.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
If you noticed the lights in the top windows of an otherwise dark house at 3 a.m. this morning, you might have been looking at a writer’s cave, where R, standing outside his childhood home, decides it’s revenge time, all on page 187. On the next page, agitated and with a black look in his eyes, he crosses the point-of-no-return line. The End.
Words matter immensely. My philosophy is that they have been traveling alongside us since the dawn of the human race, telling our history. They have inspired writers, been meticulously stated in ink: guilty or not guilty, been used in declarations of war and peace: hate you, love you. They can entertain, inform, and make power-hungry small minds tremble. Through our pens, they pass on the stories of the past, comment on the times in which we live, and leave a mark for tomorrow. If we fail to catch the words as they pass by, they quickly fade away and move on, from writer to writer, always traveling.
Meanwhile, somewhere else, a writer is staring at a blank screen…
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
—John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller”
That feeling when seemingly out of nothing, the words emerge, one after another to form a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, a story… Slowly at first, then the pace quickens until it seems like the story is writing itself, as if you are just a transcriber of events. A city rises in front of you, fills with people and life, it’s the future or the 1960’s or a world war trench. Then the specifics, a yellow dress, red lips, and a gallant lift of the hat as the two meet. If you ever invented a world that didn’t exist until you wrote it into life, then you know what I’m talking about.
Facts will never move the human heart like storytelling can. Highly creative people, especially artists, know this and weave stories into everything they do. It takes longer for them to explain something, explaining isn’t the point. The experience is.
—Kevin Kaiser, 20 Things Only Highly Creative People Would Understand
Amateur writers wait for inspiration, others just go to work. A king on writing said that. Writing breeds inspiration. So when we run out of inspiration or motivation or maybe just procrastinate, we should hit the keyboard and compose one word at a time to get the engine going. Because writing is our job. Pilots fly their planes from here to there, surgeons operate one patient at a time. It’s their job. We don’t see doctors just standing there waiting for inspiration, or a plane stuck on the runway because of a pilot’s block. Some goals and regularity benefit the creative flow. Write from here to there, 2 hours or 500 words a day — or a blog post of 130 words about waiting for inspiration, while amateurishly waiting for inspiration.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
—Stephen King, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”
I don’t feel like writing but I do it anyway, just a couple of words, just some “push-ups” to keep my writing muscle in shape.