Something new from Clive Barker? Peter Straub? Another sequel to Psycho?
Nope. It’s not a novel, it’s not a book at all. It’s just a thing. Spontaneous and demanding of my attention.
I can’t shake it until I get it out of my head. And into yours.
Writing is like that, as you already know. Because you are a writer.
This post is about writing. About life. Something to share with other writers.
Or anyone, writer or not, who isn’t done.
Or even more so, anyone who thinks they are.
It’s a true thing, too.
It happened to me during a road trip – still underway – that gifted me with nearly 20 hours of interstate solitude well in excess of 70 miles per hour. Amazing what so much dreary monochromatic scenery does for the writer’s introspective imagination.
Between Palm Springs and Phoenix — that’s as dreary as it gets — while busy outlining my next novel in my head, I came up fast behind yet another 18-wheeler. One of thousands I’d passed on this trip. I respect those guys, they know how to share the road, especially in contrast to the occasional clueless Camry-driving airhead cruising in the left lane below the speed limit.
Don’t ever be that guy.
I like trucks. A holdover from childhood fascination, one of many, all of which I cling to with age-resistant melancholy. I always notice the graphics on the big trailers, just for the hell of it.
Sometimes I can tell what’s inside. Sometimes not.
Trucks are like people in that way.
This particular truck, though, changed my day.
Almost wrecked it, in the sense that it became my day in both a dark and beautiful way.
Dark because it linked to another of those childhood fascinations that took the form of terror. I’ll tell you more about that in the next post, because it, too, relates to one of the most basic truths of storytelling.
Beautiful, because it also inspired today’s post, three days later. Which I’m finally, right here and now, getting out of my head and into yours.
The truck was full of boxes. Nearly 100 of them, by my rough calculations.
The side of the truck proudly, yet in an appropriately understated way, showed the logo for the Batesville Casket Company.
My immediate thought: inside that truck was the inevitable eternal home for 100 people still spread across the planet, still living and breathing, with no idea whatsoever that their final abode was heading east on I-10 at that very moment.
Empty now. But with a destiny as certain as my own.
Sobering. I wondered if they were done.
Some were certainly already lying on the bed upon which they would die – literally and figuratively — others driving in the cars that would kill them. Still others were out there simply living normally, tending to children, absorbing the latest Lindsay Lohan news on television, silently worrying about their 401K balance.
Then I wondered if any of them might be writers.
And if they were, if the story they were writing – their last – would be the one they’d want to be remembered by.
If it would be a parting gift to the rest of us. Or an unburdening, a confession, a hopeful vision, and vicarious dream.
If they were writing it the right way, informed and empowered. Or if they were just wandering through a sea of options with no awareness of what works and what doesn’t.
I wondered if the story they were living – we are all living a story, writing each page as we go, and in complete charge of how it ends – was the one they’d script for themselves.
Story planning, life planning, intention, discipline, values, choices… same consequences.
As Donald Miller says in his brilliant book, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, the best, most rewarding lives inspire funerals in which the attendees share a common thought: what a shame, he/she wasn’t done. His/her story was unfinished.
That kind of grief honors a life well-spent.
A story well told.
I pray that my own story is still going strong – indeed, that it is a blazing, raging fire of passion – when that day arrives on my calendar. You are all invited.
Writing is my vehicle on that journey. It is traveling east on I-1o, in the shadow of that truck, trying to out-race the clock.
As the truck faded into my rearview, I found myself overcome with gratitude that I am a writer. That I can scribble these thoughts onto a blank sheet of white software-generated space, and create something that might touch someone, somewhere, that I’ve never met and never will.
Someone who, by virtue of reading this, realizes they aren’t done.
And perhaps that their story – on paper, and in life – isn’t the one they hope to stake their legacy on. That it isn’t worth the time, which continues to tick, as they move forward toward a destination they cannot comprehend.
To connect, just once. To pay it forward, and know that it will live on after me.
That is what it means to be a writer.
If you are one, too, you are already connected to the destination.
Because for us, more than any other avocation I can think of, the journey is the point. To have started, to persevere, is to have arrived.
The objective isn’t to publish. The objective is to connect with someone you’ve never met and never will.
Or not. To have strived for that linkage, to risk, to reach out, is the point.
And the story we leave behind is the gift that bears our name.
Write your story. Live the story that defines you.
That gift goes both ways.
Never be done.
As for me… I’m thinking cremation. Those boxes still creep me out.
Please buy my new ebook, about getting published before you die, before either one of us does. Thank you.
Photo credit: Michal Minter