My talented writer friend Brianne has been writing some great blog posts lately about the writing life, and it’s inspired me to do some thinking on the subject myself.
It’s been about two years since I started writing and submitting humor on a consistent basis, which has involved a long and exhausting learning curve. And it’s been really fun.
But it wasn’t until I decided to start putting lots of time and energy into writing a full-length novel, which I began doing a few months ago, that I began learning lessons left and right about what being serious about writing actually means; at least in my case—your mileage may vary.
1) Writing takes time, and it takes it away from loved ones and other important and fun activities.
When you work full time, and have a long commute, free time is precious. So using that time to write means saying no to lots of other things; often other things which seem like they might be (or actually would be, depending on how the writing is going) more fun, interesting, meaningful, and fulfilling than sitting in front of a blank word document on your laptop, or struggling through a scene in your book that you’re not sure is even going to make the final cut.
Choosing to spend your free time writing is essentially telling your spouse, family and friends that what you’re doing is as important to you (or, at that moment, more important) than spending time with them, which can make you feel like a jerk sometimes. If you’re lucky, you have a spouse, family and friends who are understanding and supportive (and have their own projects and interests to keep them busy). Also, I try to remember that writing consistently helps me feel happy and balanced, so that I am able to better enjoy the time I do spend with family and friends.
Even so, it’s still hard. Every hour I spend writing is an hour I can’t spend with someone I love (or relaxing, or watching an Arrested Development marathon for the fifth time). That’s no little thing. And it means that when I am writing, I need to make it count. I want it to justify the precedence I am giving it.
2) At least once in the middle of working on a piece of writing, you will have that moment of “Why am I bothering with this? I should just stop.”
Or, you know, multiple moments like that. Sometimes it’s constant. Sometimes it DOES make me quit what I’m doing for the day. Still, in order to fight the urge to give up, when it hits me I try to recall the many times I’ve wanted to stop while I was in the middle of a piece of writing that I ended up finishing, really liking, and maybe even getting published. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you have that feeling, it doesn’t mean that what you are working on isn’t worth finishing. And if you stop, you’ll never know, will you? So, just keep going.
3) You can learn about good storytelling from everywhere.
Now that I’m consumed by the care and feeding of a story of my own, I find myself observing the stories around me with a more critical and interested eye. When I watch a movie or a TV show, I scrutinize the dialogue, examine the plot and analyze character development. When I read a book or a long form piece of journalism, I do the same thing, and also zero in on the elements that work and don’t work in the narrative and descriptive language. Studying the good and bad, the how and why in other creative works teaches me how to improve my own writing, and also helps me enjoy those works on a deeper level.
4) Be grateful that the act of writing is cheap and easy.
In order to practice the thing I love, all I really need is a laptop (or, in a pinch, a pencil and paper). I don’t need expensive art supplies, I don’t need to leave the house to go on acting auditions or attend band practice. I don’t even have to wear pants. Whenever I feel burdened by the weird, obsessive and lonely writing life, I remind myself that I’m lucky that I can do it at home, alone and on a shoestring budget.
How do you go to the circus for the day and come back pregnant? Mrs. Bescombe asked her daughter. It was a good question. Sheila wished she could have answered it. However, she had
taken a vow of silence and did not feel at liberty to discuss what had happened with the Strongman.
His name was Stanley, and he was as charming as a monkey dressed as a dentist. Which is to say, that he wasn’t very charming, and there was definitely something unnerving about him.
When Stanley was a small boy, his father’s favorite thing to do was torment his son cruelly and
“Stanley, you’re going to be a shrimp all your life,” he’d told him. At age six, Stanley’s father had his son convinced that he was in fact twenty-four.
“You’re certainly not a boy,” he’d say. “You’re a man all right, but a tiny one. Your mother and I don’t know how it happened, but the day we found out you were never going to grow to be a proper size was a sad one for us indeed.”
Stanley would listen, round-eyed. Had his father been a good man, Stanley would have worshipped him. As it was, Stanley spent a lot of time feeling conflicted.
“We kept it from you for as long as we could, but upon your twenty-third birthday” (actually his fifth), “we decided that it was high time you knew the truth.”
As was only natural for a boy in his circumstances, Stanley developed an unhealthy obsession with size. Once he figured out that he actually was a boy, a little boy but a growing boy, he stopped trying to worship his father and began to work on growing large enough to beat the living snot out of him. He achieved this goal at the age of 14.
His mother found this note on her husband, who had been left unconscious on the living room floor one Sunday afternoon. Dear Mom-I love you but it’s time I set off. Love, Stan
And that was that.
Stanley didn’t start out as a Strongman in the circus. He drifted from job to menial job and traveled from town to town looking for excitement. He stayed in motels when he had money and slept in bus stations when he didn’t. Eventually he got a job selling movie tickets and rented out a tiny one-room apartment above the theatre. Stanley didn’t mind the size of the apartment, though. It made him feel bigger.
Lots of things made him feel bigger by then, though. His favorite thing to do was eat, but his second favorite thing to do was to lift heavy objects. A large-framed young man to begin with, he was consumed by the need to make his body as towering and muscular as possible.
The manager of the movie theatre liked Stan because while he was rather insecure in person, he absolutely loomed behind the ticket counter. Nobody ever complained about the movies or the price of tickets or popcorn during Stan’s shift. The two of them got along nicely, then, and when the manager was given two free passes to the circus (which was in town for that week only), for lack of a son, he invited Stan.
Stanley had never been invited to anything before, and was delighted. He found the circus fairly amusing, although there were lots of little kids there, and little kids always made him feel uncomfortable. They reminded him of his childhood. When the Strongman came out, however, he was mesmerized.
Tim the Terrific was his name, and he had arms like cannons and pectorals like cannonballs. Three large barrels made of iron were rolled in from the sidelines. He hefted them up onto his shoulders one by one and then juggled them. Tim the Terrific signaled the end of his act by tossing the three barrels into the air and catching one on each hand and one on the bottom of his left foot, which he thrust out behind him.
But on the night Stanley was there, Tim, distracted by a pretty young mother in the first row, miscalculated slightly and kicked his foot out when the third barrel landed on it, sending it barreling out into the audience. A collective gasp rose from the stands.
Tragedy would have ensued had Stanley not acted immediately. He flung himself across the
bleachers and caught the barrel just as it was about to flatten a small boy and his dog.
There was complete silence in the tent. The boy’s snow-cone was crushed and he was badly scared, but otherwise unharmed. The dog had fainted, but it was a little dog and easily carried.
Stanley was a hero. The circus administration thanked him profusely and offered him a job as their new Strongman.
That is where he has worked ever since.
As for Sheila, she had been in the audience during the barrel-throwing incident. As a matter
of fact, she had been sitting right next to the little boy and his dog. The little boy was her brother, Charles.
Sheila and Charles lived with their mother in a tiny, run-down house on the corner of a run-down block in the less popular and more run-down part of town. But they were happy. Her mother sold cosmetics and her father was in jail for insurance fraud.
Stanley’s sheer enormity had awed her, as had his obvious pride in it. Most men as large as he walked awkwardly, as though they were ashamed of how tall they stood. Stanley, however, carried himself with the puffed-up, exaggerated manner of a much smaller, more insecure man. Sheila found it incredibly appealing.
She had gone home that afternoon with Charles’ hand in hers and his dog fainted away in her handbag. In the ensuing weeks, she found she could not get the picture out of her mind of Stanley crouched above Charles, his great strong legs planted on either side of her as he caught that barrel. Sheila knew she had to meet him.