Writing: No How

One of the biggest hurdles to writing, for this author, is asking myself questions that begin with the word, “how”? How am I going to start this? How am I going to finish it? How am I going to figure out what happens next? How am I going to write anything at all?

Recently, I wrote my very first short story. But I almost didn’t because I kept asking myself how?

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of how is: in what way or manner; for what reason, with what meaning. With that definition in mind, “how” equates to a stumbling block.

We don’t want stumbling blocks in our lives, if we can help it. Especially not the kind we create ourselves. Stumbling over our own two feet or hands or even mentally is no fun. Neither is getting stuck on how to do something. We need to look around for stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks. For instance, rather than asking, “How am I going to do write anything?”, ask, “where can I look for ideas on what to write?”

I was clueless as to the topic to write about in my short story. But I did know where my setting would be: Boston. So I scanned Boston news headlines seeking breadcrumbs that would lead to a solid story idea. It worked. I discovered that Boston police headquarters has a diverse group of officers and a talented pool of cadets. That’s all I needed to create the characters to populate my story. Then I read about drug busts. Hmmm. I’d never written about drugs, so I decided now was the time. Once again, instead of asking “how” anything, I pushed on and read more news headlines. They were stepping stones that led to another idea. Soon I had the seeds of a story circling around in my head. I sat down and glued myself in the chair behind my laptop. Every time the word, “how” popped into my head, I shoved it away. After a lot of shoving and pushing aside, I’d written nearly 5000 words. All because I’d gone on a “how” fast. It felt wonderful!

How to be Photogenic

The other day someone remarked that I was quite photogenic (after seeing one of my photos on Facebook). I thanked her and explained that, in fact, I am not photogenic. Decades passed before I managed to look decent in pictures. How did it finally happen? Because I found something I loved to do: writing.

Audrey Hepburn once said:

When I finally (after a loooooong, long time) published a novel, I was ecstatic. I was so very grateful. I’d found my happiness. I couldn’t look unhappy if I tried. Before that, I always avoided being photographed because my pictures turned out terrible. No matter how big or small I smiled, angled myself, did my makeup and hair, or wore snazzy clothes, I was highly unphotogenic. The few that turned out okay were because they were taken when I was in the midst of feeling happy: with my family, on trips…and that’s about it.

The camera was not my friend.

So am I now suddenly a photogenic person? No. What I am is a person who doesn’t care how she looks in front of the camera. Or whether the picture turns out okay. But I do care how I feel inside. And how I make those around me feel. I really enjoy creating a ripple effect that makes all I come in contact with feel good. If I’m enjoying what I’m doing when the photo is shot, whether I’m at a bookstore, behind my desk writing, at a writer’s conference, in the library, making dinner, with my dogs…you get my drift…chances are that’s going to translate in numerous, positive ways. Including, maybe, in a photo. I’ve learned that no matter what I am doing, it’s of vital importance to find a way to make myself feel happy and enthusiastic about it. Don’t we get a lot more accomplished when we’re feeling great?

Clunky Writing

Sometimes, especially when beginning a story, my fingers weigh about forty pounds. Each.

Sweat trickles down my forehead and I’m suddenly famished, even though I just ate a bag of chips ten minutes ago. Then there are the thoughts that pour through my head:

“This is terrible.”
“Where are you going with this?” – I get this even after planning the plot beforehand.
“Can’t you do any better?”

And writing feels terrible. My words are dull, plain, lacking pizazz. I get up from my seat behind the computer and, sometimes, I don’t come back. But I’ve come to realize the way I feel when I don’t return makes me feel more terrible than writing clunky. So I plod on, heavy fingered and creativity-free. Then a few things happen. I start to ask myself different questions. Better ones. Would the heroine say, “Let’s go”? And walk away? Or would she say, “Chop, chop.” And clap her hands to show she means business before marching down the sidewalk? Forcing myself to continue squeezes the snoozing creative buttons inside of me into operation. Not always as quickly as I’d like, but it does happen.

How to overcome the clunkiness? By pressing onward and pushing negative thoughts away. Far away. If we don’t move forward…oh, I can’t even contemplate that possibility. So I continue and switch direction. I consider what the character is wearing, smelling, feeling. What does she see on her right? Does her head hurt? Are her shoes too tight? I distract myself, for a moment or so, and then return my fingers to the keyboard. As I continue typing, I notice the fat dripping away. It’s like my own personal finger treadmill. We don’t expect to lose fat overnight, do we? (Well, maybe we do).

To get the juices flowing, we have to keep on. Soon, I type a little faster. My characters speak a little louder. And…progress happens. Isn’t that what we all want?