Rhymer’s Blog on Life
(or, I Only Write for Rewards)
All the writing I participated in over the last forty years, all the works I started before losing interest because I was certain I am not a writer sit with heft on a table in my office. That illustrious and fast-paced world of literary fame was something I could never have hoped to jump into, a dream only for those who know what they’re doing and are destined for something great from the start. And, yet, one of my first memories is as a little boy, maybe three or four years old. I was excited when my mom received a typewriter, even if I didn’t have a clue what the machine was actually for. I sat in the kitchen in front of the heavy, black thing while the snow danced to the ground outside, but I used the entire day to peck out a one-page story on a piece of wide-ruled paper about a cat. When my step-dad came home and read it, he found a spelling error and proceeded to edit my work. All I knew for sure was that I had spent all day on this, and in just a few little clicks on the typewriter, he crossed out my misspelled word. I was infuriated. I yanked the paper from the antique, the damn thing offering more resistance than I had anticipated as I dramatically tugged the sheet of paper, and I ripped the story into pieces as I ran to my bedroom. I writhed on my bed, tears forced by the agony of artistry.
The whole experience should have been the first indication I am a writer.
Through the next thirty-five years or so, I began so many projects, so many stories with no real characterization or destination. I wrote anyway. I still have legal pads full of stories from when I was in high school, story after story because it was just what I did. I’m not trying to be cute here; without realizing it, in my free time, I wrote to amuse myself. I felt powerful having characters do what I wanted them to, living lives I could only dream of. In my office is a table full of notebooks and papers of stories started with no intent to finish them.
Still never realized I am a writer.
A few years ago, I set out to write my first book. It took eight months to write 70,000 words. Once completed, I put the first draft on the shelf to allow myself some distance for six weeks, then went back and read it.
I quickly felt this was not a good novel. I didn’t know why exactly, but something about the mechanics just didn’t work. It was a good start of something, or to something, but the seeds of magic hadn’t been properly planted. I began researching and reading everything I could find about how to actually write. The elements in my failed novel that wouldn’t work began to highlight themselves, beginning with the first four chapters of backstory. The more I studied the actual craft of writing, the more I realized there was no character arc, no real progression of an interesting story within my novel.
In short, I had created something that should serve as the poster-child for everything to avoid when writing a book.
Turns out, writing is much more difficult than I could have guessed. I think it may be true that everyone has the ability to sit down and write a book; only a fraction of those have the talent to write a good one. I imagine only the smallest piece of the fraction have the patience to learn how to use and be used by the art of writing. Not everyone has the ability to focus on the more difficult and mundane aspects of storytelling so the reader is left to enjoy the story without the task of editing typos or finding an obvious plot hole - work the author should have already done.
Doing research for a story can be overwhelming. For a reader to give twenty percent imagination to the book, the author has to give eighty percent realism, or so I believe, something so that the reader can jump into a world of imagination and wonder without feeling hindered, without being ripped from the story to contemplate the believability of the written situation. With the right amount of realism in a story, there’s nothing that can’t be believed. Eighty percent translates into a lot of research to ensure the reader has nothing to think about beyond the actual story, nothing to do but fall in love with or hate the characters they’ve invested in. Research is the key to believability which, in turn, yields the potential for magic.
The act of writing is grueling, a lonely environment causing mental exhaustion by day’s end. Forget typos and messed up chronological timelines; the real mental exercise comes from the juggling act a writer must perform as he or she balances between characterization, plot, and progression, all while attempting to maintain a freshness within the story to make it as interesting as possible. It’s an odd dance, to think without thinking, to allow the characters to become who they’re working toward while I hover overhead and monitor their progress, keeping it all on track.
I think, for me, the worst part of writing is trying to rest when my muse wants a job done. I don’t know if other writers experience this or not, so maybe I’m just creating conversation here, but there are days when, while I’m attempting to nap, I can feel an itching in my core, a desire to produce something. It feels much like I think ants in the pants do, except I call it “Muse in the Fuse”. It’s a drive to write even when I’m trying to stay away from such addictions. But it calls, and, for a writer – and maybe it’s true for art in general – there is no escape. The only way to please this feeling is to write something, anything. Get it out, and soothe the muse.
It does feel like the work is not worth whatever rewards might be reaped. A writer isn’t guaranteed fame or money, we aren’t even sure people will read the words we put to paper or screen. So why do it if nobody cares? What’s the point?
The hard work described above is the way one grows. The only alternative is to stop writing altogether, and it also the only way to fail. Once we quit writing, we stop being writers; we become scribblers and people who copy, but we are no longer writers and creators when we become too good to become better, especially in a world where, as Hemingway put it, nobody will ever master the art. The only way to truly fail in writing is to give up.
It seems perfectly obvious to me that a writer would want to strive to change and evolve into something better for the sake of him or herself. What do we do when, as babies, crawling becomes inefficient and falling down hurts? We figure out a way to be better, to move by walking and strengthening our muscles. We learn naturally how to be better humans. The same is true with writing. There’s a point where we do all we can as writers on our own, and then we need outside help, eyes foreign to our work. We can only become better by showing someone else what we’ve created. It stings to hear that a piece of work isn’t as perfect as I’d thought, but I love that pain, that slicing of my personal feelings because the story becoming better is far more important than my ego. I know that sting means the story is worth making better, worth putting in the work. It’s not about money or clout…the reward is that I’ve achieved something small during the creation process, and that keeps the process going, the desire to do the absolute best I can simply because I want to.
The hard work brings about a better quality of work, and, for me, it brings along a higher standard of what I want to be as a human being. Completing something and then making it better, and then stepping it up still…it feels good to do something for real that I’ve felt in my heart for so long. There’s a strength there fueling who I am.
The best reward is finishing a project, producing a more tangible version of a world I’ve ever only seen inside my head. To create a work I can believe in, to hold it in my hand and know it represents so many hours of research and typing, all the nights of lying awake and replaying a scene over and over until I feel nauseated from the stress, it feels good. It is the physical culmination of hopes and dreams and personal magic, and that’s the ultimate reward for me. To hold the manuscript, to know the ink and paper are so much more than their physical attributes, that’s where I find home.
There’s no way I can write without so many of my psychological truths surfacing. It’s a little easier to see who I am when I inspect the theme of my novel, when I can see what’s really me and what’s imaginary. It becomes a beacon of who I am right now, a testament of who I’ve become versus how I’d like to see myself. There is a list of psychological translations protruding from this story I’ve written, and that list seems to be eternal. It’s scary to think about what I might expose about myself, but it’s fun to see who I am because of the characters just doing what they do.
The more I accomplish, the more I achieve, and the easier it is to discover the strength of my desire to be better. With learning how to correct my current novel to near-perfection comes a yearning to deliver an even better performance next time. I like my book, I believe in the story, and I love some of the characters. I want to do everything to make sure they receive the best representation I can offer. But there’s always a next project just over the horizon, and if that’s the case, why not try to learn? If the first book is good, then shouldn’t the second one be kick-ass? And that’s the fire commencing the cycle of writing, with the end result, hopefully, translating into a human who wants to discover the magic within himself, someone who wants to grow.
Whether I knew or it not, I have always been some kind of writer with no real purpose or direction. Only in recent weeks have I begun to suspect the reality that maybe I can hold my own eventually in the realm of writing. Even more to the point, maybe I should be doing this, if not for any reason other than evolving from the inside. In that light, it turns into something more personal, more spiritual. I feel like I’m discovering new parts of myself. It’s like I’m coming out again, except instead of being gay, this time I’m a writer. Finding that bit of who I am, that hint of purpose, I think, is all I needed to figure out a bigger picture, a frame I’m honored to be in. I’ve already experienced just a little of the magic, a taste, and I now want to do everything I can to feel that magic again and again. To be a better person is why I write. It fills all the requirements I have defining a spirituality. It’s the altar upon which I’ve been sacrificed by the muse, not so I can experience the ego of martyrdom, but so I can pay my dues as a newbie, appreciative and eager to evolve.