Saturday, November 25, 2006

Faith and obstinacy

So several days ago, a very good writer I know said that you shouldn't write stories if you don't have stories you need to tell.

This made me feel like jumping off the roof.

I don't have zillions of stories that I am aching to tell, stories I need to tell or I'll burst. Other than, of course, the weird shit that happens on the bus or at class or in the shoe store that I need to write about here, because I can make them more funny or more tragic or whatever.

But then I thought about Johnny Cash. Have you seen that movie? Walk the Line? There's a scene in it, fairly early on, where Cash is singing some dippy religious song in an audition. It's coming across as superficial and dopey because it is superficial and dopey; you can tell Cash doesn't mean a word of it.

And the producer who's listening to it stops him cold and asks him what song he would sing if he knew it was the last song he'd ever sing. That was Cash's turning point - at least according to the movie. That was when he started singing what he meant to sing. It wasn't sappy religious crap, either. He started singing the stories that mattered to him.

I'm still waiting for that moment. I'm staying open to it, looking for it to come. And in the meantime, I'm writing. In other words, before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

But that talented writer? Just this morning, she amended what she said. She said that while, yes, there are stories that just poured out of her, stories she knew she had to tell, there have also been stories that snuck up on her when she thought she was writing about something else. Stories that took her entirely by surprise.

And you know how she got to them? You know how she figured out what she was supposed to be writing? By writing. By putting in the time, the hard work, the struggle. By keeping the faith, and when she maybe couldn't keep the faith, by being stubborn and just writing more.

So I'm good to go, now. My faith has been restored. I'm going to write this novel, and then the next one, and then the next. Who knows if I'll ever get one published? Plenty of people keep writing novels and never get published. But publication is not the point. The point is to keep writing. Chop wood, carry water. Amazing how often I need to remind myself of that.

By the way, here is what that writer friend of mine said:

"I think the fact that you can't quit pretty much says you have a story that needs to be told--yes, I'm looking at you, Brooke--because otherwise you wouldn't write stories, you'd write poetry, which is much easier to demonstrate beautiful writing in. I think people who love words and emotions alone tend to gravitate toward poetry. And people who love people (stop it, stop it RIGHT NOW!) people who love character and want to write about people gravitate toward fiction, and maybe they're not really great at plot (that would be me) but they want to write stories about people, and that's why they end up on this side of the line, rather than over there in the words and feelings and iambic pentameter country.

"I could be wrong, of course. It's happened. I think it was 1996 . . . "


Blogger Waverly Fitzgerald said...


I'm happy to happen upon your writing blog while preparing to send out my next writing newsletter and wanting to mention your successes. Remember those?

Anyway, I so don't agree with this comment. I've heard it myself from many famous writers, including most recently Elizabeth George at the Write on the Sound conference. She said "we write because we have it."

B.S. I don't write because I have to. And I could be perfectly happy not writing. I write because I want to. Not because I have stories to tell that NEED to be told, that the world needs. No because I love messing around with words, simply messing around with words. Pure pleasure for me. And ultimate one hopes, for one's readers.

12:22 AM  

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