Pondering the Writing Life

Pondering the Writing Life

I suppose if I had to pin it down, I would say I’ve been writing since the third grade. That was the year Steve Bowers, my across-the-street neighbor, and I came up with a Halloween story about a haunted house. I was inspired enough by writing it to enter a contest at school where I won a box of stationery for a short story about a girl and her dog. I would love to say, “… and thus a writer was born,” but it wasn’t quite that simple.

I wrote some really terrible poetry in grade school. Was the master of last-minute book reports and papers throughout junior high and high school. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that my native skills lay in nonfiction writing – so that was the degree I obtained, rather than actually challenging myself to improve my weaker fiction skills or develop my pretty much non-existent poetry abilities. I did write several fiction pieces for a few undergrad classes: one was a rather terrible story about a handicapped young woman who falls in love with a cop; another was based on the true story of a high school friend whose girlfriend was killed in a head-on collision, and his severe bout with depression that followed and included a couple of suicide attempts. The critique from my classmates was that my fictional version of the true story was too over-the-top to be believable. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

So I put aside fiction for a L-O-N-G time. Then I picked it up again with a very aspirational story about a guy who travels around the world with his dog. For my first novel. I’m still working on it. I began writing it as part of the 3-Day Novel Contest over Labor Day 2004. That’s not a typo – it’s been almost 14 years in the works. I have a bunch of other fiction ideas percolating, but I am determined to finish the first one first. I’ve committed to my mastermind group to have this novel out by July 4 of THIS year (2018). And I’m writing it here. Therefore, in the immortal words of Jean-Luc Picard, I will “make it so.”

This blog is a great distraction when I am looking for ways to procrastinate writing that last scene for the novel. Or the penultimate scene. Or the antepenultimate scene (that is a real word, by the way), as it were. The fact is that the blog is just easier to write because I don’t have to make it up. Sure, I have to write the words, but they are words describing real things, real people, real events, real memories. With fiction, the author is god, creating stories, scenes, characters – sometimes entire worlds and languages – out of whole cloth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, my novel is very much based in reality. Which means I had to do a lot of research, something I happen to be pretty good at, thanks to my dad. For instance, I had to go find out which present-day New York Yankees (as of 2011) had been on a Yankees Double A club in 1993. (Answer: Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.) All the real stuff aside, it is still up to me to decide what the main character does, where he goes, how he gets there, who he meets along the way, and what he learns from the experiences. That’s a lot of stuff to make up, especially for a character who’s traveling all the way around the world.

The reality of the blog topics just makes them easier to write.

I know writers – some of whom are paid very handsomely for their craft – who refer to writing as the most difficult job they’ve ever tackled. When I hear comments like that, I always wonder why – and how – they stick to it. I understand the desire to push yourself to improve, but if a particular line of work is as excruciating as some of them make it sound, I can’t help but think there might be easier, more rewarding ways for them to make a living. I’m no Steinbeck or Alice Walker, but neither have I ever found writing difficult.

Another thing you often hear writers mention is writers’ block: the fear – or reality – of that blank page staring up at them from the pad or laptop screen. Blessedly, this hasn’t really been a problem for me since high school, the last time I had a timed writing assignment and procrastinated the first 30 minutes of the writing hour, and then scribbled furiously to finish the piece by the end of class. I didn’t do that once or twice, but every single instance we were assigned to write a paper in class within a certain amount of time. Since then, though I might procrastinate, it’s never because I don’t know what to write.

Until this blog. And even then, it’s not writers’ block in what I consider the traditional sense. As I mentioned in my last post: “ [I]f I want to write a quality piece, I’ve got to be ‘in the mood’ to write, and lately, very few of the ideas in my idea bank have sparked the requisite creativity to come to life on the page.” Once I settle on a topic, I’m fine. However, the settling sometimes takes much longer than I think it should.

I was discussing this with my friend Justin the other day. Rather simultaneously, I was showing him a concept I came up with a couple of years ago, but have yet to implement. I borrowed the idea from the person who originated the 30-Day Ultimate Creativity Challenge – only mine is called the 52-Week Ultimate Writing Challenge. I made 3 columns: Theme, Subject, and Genre. These are the directions, as I’ve distilled them so far:

Choose one entry from each column. I recommend you use random.org to generate a random number from each column – then cross off each one as you use it, move the rest of the list up, and reduce the number of items each week.

Write one piece per week, using the theme, subject, and genre you randomly selected. There is no minimum or maximum word count – but you’ll do best if you compose a complete paragraph, story, or concept. Keep it short enough, however, to give yourself time to do other things and stay motivated to continue as the weeks turn to months, and the months stretch into a year.

Write away and share your weekly results with the group. We’ll vote on our favorites (feel free to invite your friends and connections to vote, too) and reprint the week’s “winner” on our group blog.

Here is a sample of ideas from each column:

1.      Learning Holidays Nautical
2.      Love Housing News article
3.      Memory Internet Obituary
4.      Motion Languages Op-ed
5.      Mourning Light Parallel universe
6.      Novelty Machines Paranormal
7.      Panic Mammals Personal ad

Justin immediately loved the idea – and suggested that I use it to generate ideas for this blog. My first three selections were: Bravery (theme), Caves (subject), and Song (genre). I reminded him that this was a FICTION challenge, whereas my blog is very specifically NONFICTION. “That’s OK,” he said. “Write something for the blog from this list anyway.”

So I thought about it for a moment and realized that while I won’t be combining all three items into one post, I do have an adoption topic related to bravery, and another one related to songs. The caves concept still stumps me, but I’ll ponder it a bit further and perhaps come up with something. In the meantime, be sure to check back in on April 3, 2018, when I share my thoughts on Bravery & Song.

Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

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