Sunday, July 21, 2013

Some Thoughts (and a few non-thoughts) About Writing

Here I am again, ready to tell the world what I think about whatever I’m thinking about, and I’m not really thinking about anything! The problem with setting a regularly scheduled writing objective is that one must satisfy that commitment even when there is nothing to commit to paper in the first place.

So I begin anew each week, thinking about what I have to say that is worth your time to read. That is a real conceit on my part, isn’t it? But of course, we who write for any kind of publishing, have to be somewhat conceited to think that what we have to say is important enough for others to read. This line of thinking is dangerous because when one puts such words in front of readers, you have the opportunity to say, "You’re right!" and simply click the little "x" in the top right corner and go on to something else. So I try to find something that I believe is worth writing about for those of you who are kind enough to read to the end each week, and even to comment on what you read.

This past week I’ve been wrestling with a number of interesting problems in a new story I’m working on. It is another story featuring Lissa King, that dangerous agent who, with her inamorata Stan Morris, confronts evil in seemingly quiet and peaceful parts of northwestern Virginia. This story involves more research than some others, mainly because I want it to feel authentic and the characters are taking me to places I’ve never been. I suppose the most interesting part of writing fiction, for me at least, is when the characters take over the story and begin leading me to places I haven’t been or even thought about. The writing process is like that for me: an idea for a story arrives while I’m doing something else, begins to interrupt what I’m already doing, calls out, claims my attention and we’re off and running. I keep notebooks handy wherever I might be in the house, and one in my pocket when I’m out, because I never know when the next sequence or conversation or a whole story will arrive and make itself known. I don’t know what to compare it to. It has been this way for me for as long as I can remember, and it doesn’t seem to be going away. I think there will come a time when new stories don’t suggest themselves, or let themselves be told even when I can see them. So, even if this seems to be a little precious to you, it is vital to me, that I continue to do what I do.

There are two quotations that guide me in my writing. The first is from F. Scott Fitzgerald: "You don’t write because you want to say something; you write because you have something to say." That in itself should be enough to stop a lot of the words that get printed or digitized every day. It’s easy to put down words. It isn’t so easy to pick them up again if they don’t mean anything. Once a writer puts a word in place it can be almost impossible to lift it up and throw it way, or put it somewhere else. I suppose that is why we have editors.

Mark Twain advises: "The difference between the right word and the ‘almost’ right word, is the difference between lightning and lightning bug." It reflects the difference in weight of words, as in comparing a rock and a pebble. Think "It was a dark and stormy night," as opposed to "It was raining."

I leave you with a final thought attributed to Hans Selye, who identified stress as a medical condition: "Facts from which no conclusions can be drawn are hardly worth knowing."

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