356. The Sheer Dumb Joy Of It

Today, on the way to work, while stuck in a jam that had inexplicably materialized on the other side of the LDP toll, I thought of what I’d say to aspiring writers when the time comes and I find a microphone pointed at my face:

Start writing your stories. Finish writing your stories.

It’s classy advice that I like to think of as words Mr. Gaiman never said. Or have not said yet.

I’m not sure about you – whether you’re the same type of writer I am, whether you’re a different sort of writer, a reader, or none of the above at all. For me, I struggled with two things: starting and finishing my stories.

When I was 16 and just starting to write, I had troubles starting. Not that I found it mentally or physically taxing, but I was simply overcome by a fear of inadequacy: I’m just a newbie writer, and this idea that I have is gold. Pure gold. I’m not nearly good enough a writer to take this on. I should keep it away until I get good enough to write it.

Some of those stories are still locked away in a notebook after 7 years.

When I evolved out of flash fiction and moved into the realm of short stories, novellas, and full-length novels, however, I found myself faced with the problem of finishing.

(I hope it doesn’t become a problem when I get married)

Put one word after the other, Mr. Gaiman advises, until the story is finished. It’s simple enough instructions. But being the easily distracted person I am, I usually get carried away by another shiny new idea before the first one full materializes. It’s a problem that has plagued nearly all my longer projects to date. A Song For The Rain still sits at the 30,000-word mark even though I have known, since about 3 months ago, what should happen next.

I have time, I reason. There’s no hurry.

When I was 16, I was concerned with writing the important stories. The big stories. The earth-shaking stories. Now that I’m 23, I’m concerned with writing the stories that gets into magazines. That brings in the check. That puts my name on the map.

Then there’s that self-aware part of me (that I suspect comes from the future – Future-Me, if you will) that is shaking his head at the two of us, Present-Me and Past-Me. You can’t write to change the world, he says. You can’t write to get rich, or get famous. The only thing you can write for is the sheer dumb joy of it.

More and more I’m realizing that this is true.

Despite the rejections, the disappointments, the lack of critical acclaim, the lack of dough rolling in by the sheer force of literary merit, I’m still writing. Starting more stories than I care to finish. Putting one word after another. I wonder why sometimes. It’s like a compulsion, as subconscious and as sensible it is to scratch an itch.

More and more I’m realizing that after all the reasons I give to people about why I write, only one holds up against the test of time and failure: I write because I like writing stories. And I don’t think there’s anything in the world that I’d rather be doing.

I’m not sure if you’re the same kind of writer that I am, or if you’re a writer at all. Maybe you’re just rolling in green because of the words you sell. Maybe your walls are decorated with medals and trophies and newspaper clippings singing praises for your works. But if you’re like me – just starting out, hopeful, a little jaded, but still young and full of energy, I only have two advice to offer:

Start writing your stories. Finish writing your stories.

And let whatever else is supposed to happen, happen.


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