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This piece first appeared on Loren Kleinman’s blog on writing. Check it out at lorenkleinman.com, and follow her on Twitter @LorenKleinman. The above photo was taken by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned.
Seduce the Words out of You
Writer’s are told to draft everything before rushing in. We’re told to have an outline to refer to when we get stuck. It’s a good check against writer’s block. It’s hard to lose the plot, when you can see every link in the chain. You know what happens next. You know your responsibilities. Your role in the relationship is defined.
This technique is great, for those with the right temperament. For those who are looking to settle down, to plant roots, to find stability.
The problem is, my love for stories is fleeting. If I can see the scope of a relationship on the first date, I bolt. I’m not ready to be tied down to one plot line, to one point-of-view, to one genre. I want to sow my wild oats. I want to experiment. I want to write without protection.
Writers are afraid of commitment. To start typing is to declare your intentions. To group sentences into paragraphs, is to fill out your dance card. To name a Word document, is to go steady.
That’s why you have to seduce the words out, to woo them, to trick your brain into thinking that it’s just checking a story out, lusting after an idea, when it really is planning for the future.
You wait to tell people what you’re working on for the same reason you wait to change your relationship status online. You’re not ready to go all in just yet. You’re not ready to put a term on it. You’re not ready to give up the night life for something that might not even go anywhere.
Just like a good relationship, you can’t lead with a diamond ring, you can’t call those first words on the page a novel. Approach writing like dating. Flirt with a story. Who knows where it’s going? You won’t know if you’re an item until you’re twenty-thousand words deep, and by then your feelings will start to crystalize. Write your way through the honey moon stage, then you decide if the spark is still there.
Writing is a lot like love. At first it’s full of fear and doubt, then it’s fleeting, then the doubt returns and you have to decide whether it’s still worth it in the long run. Like love, you will give it your youth. You will not look at it the same way once you grow older. You will take breaks from it. You will cheat on your novel with short stories. You will look back and wonder what you ever saw in your words.
Love takes work. You will have to rekindle the flame again and again. You will have to make romantic gestures: take your novel to strange exotic locations, have second weddings with every draft, give it children in the form of novellas.
A good relationship lasts as long as it can. A good work of fiction takes as long as it needs to spill out of you. Harper Lee wrote a single page of To Kill a Mockingbird every day for two and a half years. Stephen King wrote all eight books in the Dark Tower series in one sleepless month, living out of a motel, subsisting on Robitussin popsicles (don’t look that up, just take my word for it).
If you want a story to blossom into something bigger, stop asking yourself if it is the one. Stop comparing it to past manuscripts. Stop thinking they’re just the same lovers with different faces.
Just have fun with it.
You’ve been burned before, by manuscripts that couldn’t satisfy, by agents that broke your heart, and now you have a well educated fear. You have a thick skin. The heart on your sleeve is covered by the chip on your shoulder. Now you don’t even trust yourself.
You name all your characters before they have time to introduce themselves. You know the scene count, before you’ve written the first one. You draft your story until you’ve spoiled the ending for yourself.
Telescope in hand, you’re trying see your destination, from the wrong side of the horizon. You’re plotting a course, under the presumption that the world is flat. You’re trying to find your sea legs from the safety of the shore. A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for. Get out there. Make some waves. Let the wind take you where it wants to go. Discover the continent you never thought to map.
Drafting a story before you’ve written the first sentence is like planning a wedding before you’ve met the right person. It seems like a good idea. It’s something all your peers tell you to do, but all that time you spent planning can suck out all the romance.
Expectations overshadow the moment.
They’ll tell you that fools rush in. That entering into a relationship with a story you know nothing about is a great way to get writer’s block. Where are they late at night while you’re all alone looking for something to do? They’ll wave an outline template in your face like a prenuptial agreement, but if you’re really in love, you’ll never look at it again.
Some people need big gaudy rings to remind them how they feel. Some people need mental maps that span across three monitors. Some people need to post their vows in big public forums. Some people need to know the chapter titles before they’ve written word one.
Over planning is a great way to commit to a weak lover and an even weaker premise. Before long, you’ve put so much of yourself into this relationship, that you have to stay and make it work. If a premise isn’t strong enough for you to draw it from memory, then it’s a high maintenance lover, in need of constant reinforcement.
When it comes time to write from your outline, the thrill will be gone. You’ll know all of your lover’s stories. It will stare back at you from the page and say, “What are you thinking? Why aren’t we going the way you said we would? What do you mean by that? Why aren’t things working out the way we always planned? Do you still love me?”
Don’t enter into a joyless relationship just because all your friends are posting baby pictures, or getting publishing contracts. Don’t spend all your life waiting for the right idea to come along, enjoy the idea you have now and see where it takes you.
Stop visualizing the perfect lover. Cross out your checklists. Throw your wish boards into the trash. Talk to the story that’s in front of you. It’s not saying all the things that you’ve longed to hear, but it’s charming in it’s own right. It may not be the grand epic that you’ve always wanted to meet one day, but it just might surprise you.
Love is not rational. The more you have to think about it, the less it reassembles itself. Write the story, with one foot inside the house and the other foot out the door. Write the story, with a vacant ring finger. Write the story first and declare your feelings afterward.