I write for the exact reason Dillard implies–to figure out why I’m interested, why I care, or why I’m bothered. I write often, for example, on the topics of parenting, marriage, and friendship because I wonder about behavior, motivation, consequences, and how to get better in all three areas. I’m not an expert. I’m just exploring. I write to analyze. And I analyze to improve.
I still get stuck when I’m typing, and when I do, I reach for my journal again. It’s a wonderful place to be messy and unsure about all kinds of story ideas. In the journal, I’m not self-editing or thinking about the right words, I’m just pondering my possibilities. If I can’t think of what comes next in my story, I write out possibilities until I find one I like. I list character names or locations I might use. I list hurdles to throw at my main character and her possible reactions to them. I draw bubble maps and family trees and murder weapons.
The key is to write what you’re led to write, not what you think others will like, not what you think will get the most page views, and not what you assume will “sell.”
The thing we most need to be aware of is the passage of time. What I mean by this is perceived time versus actual time. The goal is to have the audience feel like they haven’t spent enough time with you and your work.
The drive to write creatively comes from some place gut-wrenching for all of us. As much as I’d like to protect my inspiration behind hard knuckle, I carry this love of place below the rib cage between belly and soul, tucked under soft tissue where the breath is knocked out in one hard oomph when the punches land. For me—introverted, drawing always from within instead of reaching out—the places I know and love and hate and remember draw the most visceral reactions.
I write because it makes me feel more alive than any other activity. When I am writing, I am so in tune with my body and the world and all of its energies that hours feel like minutes. And when I don’t write regularly, I feel slightly less human. I know that might sound extreme, but it’s true.
But I really wanted to be a writer. No, I really needed to be a writer. It fed my soul. So, while I find the actual act of sitting at the keyboard and clicking away on crappy first drafts, editing a hard copy with my fountain pen, devising marketing plans, negotiating contracts, keeping track of expenses, and all the other stuff that goes with being a writer difficult and just plain hard work, I keep at it.
I was rejected by MFA programs twice, five years apart. But I didn’t give up. I held to the belief that all I had to do was put in my time. And during that time, I gradually learned the most important truth: that I would never stop writing, that, good or bad, writing was a part of my human fabric.
Once I start writing I’m obsessed—playing with starting points, characters, voices, turns and twists, outcomes. Three hours can go by in a flash. I feel powerful, exhilarated, and while I’m writing I am lost in the world I’m creating.
The first time I had a story accepted for publication I was so excited that I called my husband at work and danced around our living room. Finally, I was a published writer. But then the story was published and I had to start all over again with a new story. Now, each publication is still a thrill, but it only lasts about five minutes.