Poets in Prose

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” ~ Charles Baudelaire

Category: Challenges

Ready? Set? . . . Set? . . . . Set? . . . . . . . . .

Last night I heard a good man urge several people to write.  To get their stories and their ideas out into the entire world.  Some of them were already writers, some battle-scarred veterans of life with treasures in their hearts.  And I felt inspired to write a little about the hardest part: starting.

And, dear readers, that paragraph was written–then saved as a draft–three years ago.

I’m wondering if it’s even necessary to add anything more to this post. The very facts surrounding its genesis speak for themselves, drawing a wry chuckle from deep in my chest. But how does one overcome this “starting palsy”, so aptly illustrated? The soul tremors, the blank mind, the feeling of pushing against an obstacle too massive to move, too expansive to capture with words, starkly contrasted with the ease of pushing it all to the back of your mind, busying yourself with other more pressing (and far more comfortable) matters? And yet, the burden is still there; the unborn thought curled deep in your mind, slowly but persistently developing and stretching and pushing against its confines until it finds its environs far too constricting and forces you to wrestle through the labor of bringing it into the light for all to see.

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

~ Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades

I would say truer words are rarely spoken.

But that question still remains: how to start? And then how to develop and complete what you began?

Here are some simple things that have helped me:

  1. Put in the time to put words on the screen. (No, seriously.) Sit down, and start typing. Keep typing. Or writing. Without stopping. Set a timer and don’t stop until it dings. No matter what comes out, just keep the words flowing–even if it’s stuff like “I don’t know what I’m supposed to write, but if I keep on blathering on about nothing, surely something in my subconscious will spring up in protest at the complete balderdash that I’m producing here and this stream will begin to look like something more interesting than me going on about me not knowing what to write…”
  2. Don’t be your own worst critic. Just write. the. damn. thing. already.
  3. Bleed, if you have to. Sometimes it’s tremendously painful, birthing what is pressing on your soul. I know it sometimes feels like I’ve bled out by the time I finish a piece. Regardless of whether it’s a blog post, facebook update, journal entry, or email to a trusted friend. Don’t be afraid of the pain. Cry your tears, scream into your pillow, go violently smash empty pickle jars somewhere easily cleaned up. The pain passes. And you’re left with glistening prose that changes someone’s life forever.

The White Rhino

I’ve heard the blank page called that.  It stares you down, daring you to try something . . . and makes your efforts laughable once scribed on its hide, now black stripes on white.  Maybe writing is like that–transforming something belligerent and intimidating into something different entirely.  Rhino to Zebra . . . impression to image.

I often wonder if the rule of thousands holds in writing, too.  An artist once told me you have to paint a thousand bad paintings before you get one good one, as she finished a little watercolor of the marina and breakwater across from the sandy strip where our children played.  If the rule does apply, I’m awfully glad my materials are infinitely reusable.

As for my friend’s work, I wanted to beg her for that little picture . . . good or not, I thought it beautiful.  Obviously, my standard of success with paintings varies widely from hers.

What do you do to tackle the rhino?

How do you subdue him?

How successful are you?

How often do you write?

How often do you feel successful?

What are your measures of success?

The Novel as Seer

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” ― G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

This, my friends . . . this is what scares the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of most authors.  This is what stopped me from writing stories long, long ago. I saw too much of my own inexperience staring back at me.

So, what you gonna do about it?