On Writing

At some point, every writer sits down to tell the story of what it means to be a writer. We are naturally storytellers so it’s inevitable that during a period of reflection we begin to pass along the wisdom we’ve gleaned to those who stumble after us.

Of course, none of us have any real wisdom to pass along because the formula for writing is pretty simple. Sit down; Write more.

Still, we can’t help ourselves. We stretch those two sentences and four words into long essays. My favorite, On Writing, was written by a very mediocre write but an amazing storyteller: Stephen King. I think of him oftentimes while I’m doling out my thoughts to young, eager minds who think I can help them. He is a mid-level writer who tapped into the horror zeitgeist and has become part of our cultural landscape.

He is a happy accident, one who capitalized on The Moment because he followed those two simple sentences.

***

This weekend, the Invictus Vol. 2 writers gathered along Muncie’s old train tracks for our group photograph. Afterwards, we met at Starbucks to discuss the final 5 weeks of the project.

These kids have been far more timid than my first group, far less willing to take ownership of their project. They still look towards me for answers. They wait, they sit quietly, and they are still.

I spent two hours discussing their writing with them, helping them think about the problems that writers have and pointing them towards hallways that will lead them out of the darkness.

Afterwards, they filed out. Politely.

As I reached my car, a woman from inside the shop came running out.

“Hey, are you a professor,” she hollered.

“Yes.”

“You teach journalism?”

“I teach writing and storytelling. But I’m a journalism professor.”

“There’s a class on Harry Potter at Miami University, and I’d really — it would be great if you and the professor there could debate about writing. I think that would be great.”

We proceeded to talk for another 30 minutes about my analysis of writing, the application of that framework on Harry Potter, and the reason why people who want to write should never read that book for enjoyment because it illustrates too many things wrong with writing. (Although, I must say, it’s great storytelling.)

My writers were all driving home as this happened.

***

I’m weeks behind on nearly every writing project I have, and there are more looming in the future. There is never enough time. On top of that, I haven’t run in a week, which means my heart is sore and achy in the way that my doctor said it will be in the moments before I die.

This is more comforting than it sounds. I have a built in reminder that life is short, one that I really must remember when others tell me how busy they are or how I don’t understand how much pressure they face.

Everyone’s pressure is important because it is their own. And not everyone has a timer to help remind them of what is important.

I am content to know that even if I finish just a small portion of the projects I’m working on, I’ll be okay with it.

***

Sit down; Write more.

I keep telling myself to do that. Every time I do, I open up my working folders and see tens of thousands of words that need to be edited, honed, crafted, carved, and assembled.

They are not my words. They are the words of my writers. The ones who won’t sit down to write. The ones who sit quietly. The ones who are polite as they leave.The ones who do not burst forth from coffee shops, chasing down strangers who have said things that stirred emotions within them to the point where they can no longer stay keep still.

These Invictus words are not yet stories because my writers haven’t found their voices yet. They are still stumbling around in the dark. They haven’t found the beast within them that compels them to Sit Down; Write More.

They still worry about the shape of stories to come and frameworks of tales not yet told. They haven’t yet grasped how to rip their guts apart and lay them on the page. They worry too much about what the world thinks, and too little about what they want to say.

They have not yet reached the point where the idea of failure is scarier than the idea of never trying.

When they do, they will sit down and they will write more.

This is the story of writers.