This morning I wasn’t so sure. But tonight I thank God I am a writer.
And not just because I pretty much suck at most everything else I’ve tried, either.
Earlier in the week I posted a guest blog on a very Big Deal writing site you’ve probably heard of. It was on my thing, which, if you’ve been here a while, you already know: the power of story architecture and the elements that comprise it.
Related to this topic is the issue of how we write our stories, either from a plan (some call it an outline, but it can be in any form, including all-in-your-head) or from the seat of your pants, just making stuff up as you go along.
Doesn’t matter, as long as it leads you to a good story.
People think I’m talking about outlining, but that’s not entirely accurate. And that’s the source of my frequent back-to-the-wall position in this debate. I’ve come to understand that the debate isn’t between outlining or not outlining at all. It’s about what you bring to the writing process in the way of understanding what makes a story work.
Neither process works if you don’t understand the principles of solid story telling.
It’s like a lawyer who drives to the courthouse in a Mercedes or on a bicycle. How you get there isn’t the deal, it’s how effective you are while you’re there. And no lawyer – at least one that you or I would ever hire – just makes up the principles of law as they go along. They arrive with four years of law school in their bag of tricks and their own unique way of applying what they know.
Makes sense to me. But alas, not everyone gets the analogy.
Most responders to my guest blog got it, liked it, appreciated it. A few didn’t.
And that’s fine, though those particular folks couldn’t get beyond the mistaken perception that I was attacking pantsing rather than advocating storytelling competency. Probably my fault I didn’t make it clearer.
Then again, like talking about health care lately, some people just shut down at the first mention of process (or political party, not a dissimilar analogy here) and don’t hear a word thereafter.
But then there was this one complete whack-job who popped up as a commenter. Not only did she fail to grasp the point of it all, she went into complete attack mode, calling me in separate posts foolhardy and – get this – a prick. Twice, in fact.
After a few inexplicably vile volleys the lovely woman who moderates the site expelled the whack-job (it didn’t stick, she’s back and as inflammatory as ever), and having chosen to take the high road, and on the stern advice of my oh-so-wise wife, I’m refraining from further engagement.
Good idea… it could get ugly. And ugly serves no one . I learned that early-on during a similar debate on another writing forum. Got my head handed to me in the ensuing beatdown.
That’s why this morning, when I wrote a comment completely eviscerating her before erasing it, I wasn’t all that crazy about being a writer. I didn’t sign up for this, I was trying to help people improve their writing.
We shouldn’t give whack-jobs that kind of power over us, I know. But when you care passionately about something, the skin grows thin.
And then tonight rolled around. And my emotional context took a whopper of an unexpected turn.
About three months ago I heard from a woman I’d met at one of my workshops, who later hired me to evaluate and coach her novel-in-progress. I was pretty hard on it – I always avoid brutal honesty, but clear and constructive feedback feels that way sometimes, especially when what you’re looking for is affirmation – and we parted something less than friends.
At least in her eyes. I just felt bad I couldn’t help her see what she needed to see.
So later, when she asked me if I’d consider serving as an expert witness at her brother’s forthcoming murder trial, I was stunned. And very willing, because the guy was, she assured, innocent. I would be telling the court that just because a writer – which her brother was – cooks up dark and brutal doings on the page it doesn’t mean they harbor serious real-life intentions.
And, having cooked up more than one dark and brutal scenario in my own published work, I was just the guy to say it.
Later she forwarded a writing sample from her brother, penned from his 7-by-11 foot cell in some dark and dank county jail where he’s been awaiting trial without bail on murder charges for the last eight months.
The writing completely blew me away.
As I wrote in my responding email: This is one of the most fabulously written, moving, disturbing and hopeful pieces of writing I’ve ever consumed. I’ve honestly never read anything, especially non-fiction, that sucked me into the time and place and emotion and anger and fear and confusion of the writer as effectively as this did.
Four hours later and I’m still wired from it. It inspired this post tonight.
It will inspire me later this evening as I work on my novel-in-progress.
And it will inspire me tomorrow in whatever I do. Because like any stellar piece of writing, it changed me.
It set such a high, wondrous bar. It is the embodiment of the inherent potential of the written word to move, to create connections, to inspire action, to draw from us our most sacred purpose, which is to embrace life and offer the world something in return. Even if it’s simply a new awareness.
I am humbled and honored to have read it. To be in the position to be able to read it. To feel how the power of writing can transcend anything and connect people in miraculous, amazing ways.
To pursue the possibility that maybe, just maybe, something I will write will touch someone’s life as this piece touched mine.
Tomorrow there will be the blank screen and another chance to try for that bar. To have an impact that empowers someone’s writing dream. Hopefully yours. I am humbled and honored by that, too.
And perhaps to take my own dream to the next level. I’m not done on that front, either.
Tomorrow there may be another ranting missive from the whack-job who thinks I’m a foolhardy prick. But I don’t think I’ll mind so much now. Because even if she doesn’t, I know who I am. I am a writer.
And for now, I’m energized and ecstatic to be a writer. Because there are 600 of you who receive my work in their inbox nearly every day – not bad after only three months of being here – and another few hundred who visit daily to see what’s up on Storyfix. At this pace we’ll be at about 2000 subscribers by year end.
And that makes me a lucky man. A man with something worthwhile to do everyday.
That’s why I wanted to be with you tonight, to feel that connection for myself, and to offer this simple yet life-altering thought: be thankful you are a writer. There are so many reasons to be.
Because, as observers and scribes of the human condition and all the myriad dramas and comedies and love stories and tragedies and mysteries that unfold upon that stage, more than most we look deeply into the abyss and see, with stark clarity and purpose, our own role.
We get to write it all down. And to do that well, we need to feel it.
And that’s the very definition of being alive.
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