While in observation mode, I find myself peeping into other’s shopping carts at the grocery store. Like the cart of the young woman with a shopping list extra long. In my writer’s mind, I imagine that she’ll be hosting a dinner for her in-laws and has prepared an exact list of ingredients for the three courses she plans to serve. Not exactly a Martha Stewart in the kitchen, she has bitten off way more than she can chew, but everything HAS to be perfect ― she tries so hard in the life as a rookie wife.
Obviously, things cannot run smoothly, otherwise there is no conflict, no story. She knows that her wannabe something brother-in-law will boast about the food in the classy restaurant he claims to frequent. Her mother-in-law will give a lecture on how she would prepare the same dishes.
So what should our girl with the long shopping list do?
Should we let her fail royally? Or let her think, “Screw them,” and make her drain her credit card and order in from that classy restaurant? The SoB brother-in-law will not even notice, and the bitch-in-law will go on bragging about her own cooking skills. Will she — our protagonist, that is — tell them? Gloat inside? Or, even better: Save it for later and throw it in their faces at an appropriate time, when she has built the courage to announce that she has had it with them?
And where the hell is her husband? Maybe we should just have her serve hot dogs or order pizzas.
I groan to myself and pick up a carton of milk.
“The cat sat on the mat” is not a story. “The cat sat on the dog’s mat” is a story.
— John le Carré
We’re all been there, staring at an empty screen with absolutely nothing to write about. Maybe we scream, first to the blank screen, then to our mirror image, then from the street corner and the rooftop, from the top of the Eiffel Tower and on to Kilimanjaro, higher and higher, and then back to the freaking screen. It’s like sending letters of distress that are all returned unanswered. Eventually, we run out of places to scream from. Then it’s time for a new approach, like start writing.
When you don’t know what to write about, then write a piece about not knowing what to write about. It might become a meaningful story about a lot of things, as opposed to nothingness that raises nothing more than a shrug.
When words don’t come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.
— Strider Marcus Jones, Poet
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 allegedly said that, but not in “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” as many seem to think.
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.