Writing: A Love Story

What we do is hard. And yet, every day, we wake up and there it is: the story. Waiting. Just picking it up and putting it down on the screen is enough to make us ache. It’s never as good in black and white as it is in the mind’s eye, but we type on, and delete, and re-type and hope that every time it gets a little bit closer to what we see when our eyes are closed. And of course it never quite gets there. There is always that chasm between what we can do and what we are truly capable of. Is there any way to bridge that gap? Can anyone ever write as perfectly as their conception? Nothing is ever as good as that.

It’s like first love. The one that got away. The one that, for all its rush of overwhelming emotion, never quite got off the ground. The one you never forget. But when you’re writing, you are loving all over again. Every time. With the same amount of passion and attempt at commitment. And then when you are done, exhausted from effort and knowing full well that what you have to give is not enough, you lick a stamp and send it out like a declaration of love. And you stand, chest open, heart beating to wait for the answer.

I don’t know how many times I can have my heart broken. Except that it’s involuntary; the nature of love.

I don’t know why anyone would ever choose this.

And yet, you cannot go anywhere without meeting people who want to write a book, or who say, “I’ve got a novel in me.” Everyone can tell a story, right? They tell them on cellphones on the bus on the ride in to work. The writer’s life is anyone’s taking. Go to any bookstore and pick up ten books and I guarantee at least one of them will disgust you. One of them will make you say, “I could’ve written that,” or “I can’t believe this got published.”

I remember once going to a children’s bookstore to find new picture books for my class and being accosted by a large, odd-looking blond man. He shoved a book at me. “You’d read this right? It’s about…” and he  launched into a mini-commercial. It turned out he was the pitiful author of that book. I had to admit (not aloud, and not to his face) that I wasn’t the least bit interested in the book, and even if I was, the fact that he’d creeped me out made his book rather unappetizing. Now, I couldn’t tell you the name of the book, or whether he went on to produce another, and I certainly couldn’t pick him out of a lineup if I had to. But I do remember the anguish in his face. There he was: a published author, and as far as I could tell, nothing had come of it. I’m sure that my disinterest broke his heart, too.

But everyone wants in. Well, come on in, then.

Tolstoy once said: “If you ask someone, ‘Can you play the violin?’ and he says, ‘I don’t know, I’ve not tried, perhaps I can,’ you laugh at him. Whereas about writing, people always say: ‘I don’t know, I have not tried,’ as though one had only to try and one would become a writer.” But we are living in a world where it seems that people who put out the minimum effort (that being, the exhausting effort of getting the story on paper in the first place, and the courage to send it to someone for their yay or nay) get published, and those who are toiling day after day, working on their craft, creating beautiful stories often get ignored. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting myself in either of those categories. I have no idea on what part of the spectrum my abilities lie. But I have read enough bad YA to know that the minimum requirement is an idea and a set of balls.

So to the more than 6.5 Billion people in the world who know they have a story in them: Write it. Write it, and then mail it out with your heart in a SASE. This isn’t some small company you’re dealing with. You are writing not just against the void, or yourself, and the images in your mind, but you’re writing against the odds that the whole world, 6.5 Billion people can’t do what you’re doing, not to mention the literary greats who are mulching in their graves while their works are still crowding the shelves.

You do that and then wait. Then see if you can do it again. And again. And let’s see who’s still declaring their love the next day.