Tag Archive | library

Writing should be an adventure

“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That's what you wanted to write about, about what you didn't know. So. What mysterious time and place don't we know?” — Ken Kesey

“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That’s what you wanted to write about, about what you didn’t know. So. What mysterious time and place don’t we know?” — Ken Kesey (click to embiggen)

Some of the best stories I’ve ever written (by which I mean that I don’t cringe much when I re-read them years later) began with me trying to figure something out. I didn’t sit down at the keyboard thinking, “I’m going to write a story about a detective who left the force looking for the one who got away, and X, Y, and Z are going to happen.” Instead, I had a question I didn’t know the answer to, or an image in my head of a character in a situation and I didn’t know how they got there, or a snippet of conversation I had imagined between two characters and I was trying to figure out what they were talking about (or even who they were, sometimes)! I didn’t know what the story was, and I was writing to find it out. I wasn’t writing what I knew!

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to plan out your plot or to chart your character arcs. I’m also not saying not to do research. What I am saying is that making art isn’t about re-hashing what you already know and assembling it into a perfectly constructed package. When I was a kid trying to write adventure stories I didn’t know what it was like to pilot a rocket ship to another planet. I didn’t know what it felt like to face a dragon armed with a shield and a magic sword. But I wanted to know what that felt like. So I imagined it and tried to write it. And I would go to the library with a list of things to look up in the card catalog. Yes, at ten years old I was tracking down books on piloting planes and about fighter pilots (because I knew most of our astronauts at the time had been military pilots), and bringing home books about sword-making and astronomy and geology and so on.

One of the reason I usually had at least two stories in progress back then was because when I hit a point where I didn’t know how something worked that I needed my characters to do next (that I couldn’t figure out from the set of encyclopedias we owned and would require a library trip), I could pull the page out of the typewriter, set it aside with the rest of story A, and pick up story B. It was really frustrating if I had a snag in both. I would usually wind up picking up one of my fictions books (or going to the bookcase in the living room and see if any of my parents’ current fiction choices looked interesting) and reading until I thought of something to do with one of stopped stories.

One of my favorite parts about moving back when I was 12 to the small town where I’d been born was that the library was close enough to our house that I could hop on my bicycle and ride to the library any time it was open. So I didn’t get stuck on those insurmountable snags nearly as often.

The only limit to your writing should be your imagination. Yes, you will need to do research from time to time. Research isn’t just about going to the library or browsing the internet. You will be amazed how many experts in things are willing to talk to you if you ask politely. I got a tour of the county morgue just by calling and saying I was trying to write a murder mystery and didn’t want to just copy things I’d seen on TV. And the most fascinating thing about that was a nice long talk I had with an investigator that wasn’t about the process of an autopsy, but rather about the steps they go through to locate next of kin and gather information at the scene. Particularly heartbreaking from this investigator: he had a bundle of file folders of John and Jane Doughs (several of them teen-agers) that he was determined to identify before he retired. They’d been buried in anonymous graves. As he said, “All of them had to have been loved by someone sometime. They deserve a name and to be properly mourned.” I went in thinking I was going to learn how to describe an actual autopsy accurately, and came out with much more.

Also, you want to be careful when you portray people and events from cultures other than your own (More research! Find more people willing to answer your questions!). But again, your imagination is the limit, not just your own lived experiences.

Don’t settle for what you know now: ask yourself what you want to know, and go write it!

Achievement unlocked: No Shuttling Weekend! (And we can haz library?)

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me...

Anatomy of a Bookworm. Click to embiggen. Some of these statements do describe me…

At some point a few weeks ago I made a promise to myself: “There will come a weekend where I don’t have to drive multiple times back and forth on that route from Ballard to Shoreline.” Back in April when I first checked the address on a map, I was delighted that it was so close to the home of good friends. I knew most of the route quite well! Driving up for the appointment to look at the place and decide whether to apply for it wasn’t just familiar, it was comfortable. Driving the route had usually meant we were on our way to spending time with good friends. It was merely 25 minutes each way! But after we signed the lease the route soon became something else. The first weekend we drove the route back and forth at least 9 times. And just about every work night the following week I made the trip at least once.

I’d come home from work, load up the car, drive to new place, unload the car, then possibly do a couple of small things before driving back. While I was out Michael would be packing more boxes. Once I got home I would usually start packing, too. Sometimes I would simply load up the car and drive up again. Then the next weekend it was multiple trips every day again. Until the day of the big move, and we started sleeping at the new place. Then my routine became come home from work, hop in the car and drive back to the old place to pack more little things and/or clean. And so on. Thus did the once familiar and happy-making route become a dreaded chore.

We managed to take at least one night off each week. One night where each of us came home from work and did virtually no packing and there was absolutely no driving back and forth. I didn’t always skip any and all moving activity on the night off. Just not having to spend that time—nearly on hour—in transit was quite a relief.

A couple of weekends ago, when I said to some friends how much I was looking forward to the weekend that I knew would arrive eventually when I didn’t have to drive that route again and again, one friend shuddered and said, “Oh! I know that feeling. Believe me!”

It isn’t fun… Read More…

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