“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
“… your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
That enlightening passage is from Stephen King’s “On Writing”. It was the advice passed on to him by a newspaper editor. And it’s the big lesson I walked away with. Take out what’s not the story. It helped me tremendously while writing my first novel BUKU.
It kinda applies to life too, doesn’t it?
In this unprecedented time, in the midst of a pandemic in which our commitments are canceled and we are forced to isolate, many of us have been given the chance to rethink the story. Our story. Maybe our lives need a little editing to get down to what our story really is. And should be. And can be.
Okay, hopefully we’re not hearing real voices. I’m talking about those subtle voices. The fearful, doubting, negative words, perhaps once spoken to us and about us, that we still carry around.
I had a conversation with a woman who had been divorced for over twenty years. She sat there crying, talking about the awful things her ex had once said to her. He had wounded her, and shame on him for that. But it occurred to me that he said those things two decades ago, and yet she still allowed them to have power over her. She was the one who repeated them, who let them echo in her head, dragging her down.
I had someone who meant a lot to me, who tended to be critical. She has since passed away, and I miss her greatly. However, I sometimes wonder if I would have written my novel if she was still around. I have to admit her negativity was a weight on me.
Here’s the thing though. I know that her critical nature was not because of who I am, but because of who she was. So allowing her words to stifle me… is on me. She wasn’t the one who held me back. I was. I was the one who let her voice – my perception of her voice – echo in my head. I was the one who anticipated her negativity… and adopted it. She may have planted the seed – quite unintentionally – but I gave it room to grow, watered it, nurtured it. Her words would have been buried long ago if I hadn’t given them fertile soil to blossom into something they were never intended to be. I did that. Not her.
Now I’m not beating myself up about this, and I don’t expect you to either. What I’m saying is we all need to examine those voices – the fears, the doubts, the criticism — and understand where they come from. And then choose to release them. Or bury them. Or whatever metaphor you want to use. Let’s silence them. In their place, let’s put our voice. Our true voice. The voice that has something to say and wondrous things to create.
Disprove the naysayer. Convince the doubter. Drown out the whispers. Shut down the shouter. Create what you love, no matter what’s said. Silence the critics who live in your head.
It took me a very long time to decide to fulfill my childhood dream of being an author. Part of that was because of life. Life needs tending to, always. But when I started attending a Creative Workshop headed up by my pastor at the time, Kyle Gott, I slowly came to realize that my real problem wasn’t about time, or lack of ability, or not knowing how to do what I wanted to do — all of my excuses. My real problem was fear.
I was fearful that I wasn’t really capable of accomplishing it. Fearful I wasn’t a good enough writer to write what I wanted to write. Fearful of putting something out into the world that was so very personal. Fearful of the response I would get and how I would react. Fearful that my childhood dream — that this dream I had held onto for so long — was not going to end well.
As I told a group of people during a talk at my church last night, once I faced my fears, I was able to study them. Understand them. And I decided that the only thing that made me more fearful than attempting to write a novel, was not writing one. I became more scared of not taking a stab at my dream than I did of doing it. Not writing a book would have been a regret. A deep one. And aside from a few cringe-worthy moments that still float around in my memories, I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. Not doing this would have been a monumental one.
So I wrote a book. And I’m writing another one. I haven’t sold a lot of copies. I can’t claim to be successful yet. But, this was never about becoming rich and world famous. This was about becoming a writer. A novelist. Just like I dreamed of when I was a kid. I did it. The world hasn’t changed. But my life has.
I encourage you – make room for your dreams and your passions. Make time for them. Become more fearful of not doing something you should do than you are of doing it. Give yourself nothing to regret.
I was fired from my first “career” job a year out of college. I was also fired from my third. I won’t tell you I didn’t spend some time feeling sorry for myself, because I did. But now, looking back years later, I’m thankful for it. What I learned taught me how to succeed. More importantly, I think, it taught me how to survive.
It’s why I’m an indie author. I have no intention of failing. But when I have setbacks, I know I’ll recover. I learned how a long time ago.
I was thinking about the story of Jesus… and Peter… walking on water. I looked at the reasons why Peter was able to walk on water, however short-lived the experience was. The obvious reasons are because he had faith… and Jesus was on hand to command him to do it. But beyond that… before that… he first imagined that he could do it… he dared to think that he should do it… and then he asked Jesus to allow him do it. I thought it was a good thing to think about as we look ahead at the things we want to accomplish in the new year. We always focus on the things we want to change about ourselves… to work on our faults. What would the year look like if we imagined something big… dared to think we should do it… turned to God for the approval and the assistance… and had the faith to do the seemingly impossible. That’s my resolution. Happy New Year, everyone.
“Do you quilt?” asked the electrician, as I moved piles of stuff around in my laundry/sewing/craft area so he could get to the breaker box.
“No,” I was forced to admit.
Nor do I use 95% of the fabric and various and sundry other things I have in bins and drawers and piles. Much of it was inherited from my late mother, who loved the idea of sewing much more than she did the actual activity.
But I can’t blame her for all of my stacks. And I think I owe her an apology for the eye rolls over the years. Mom, turns out I’m a lot like you. While I don’t generally buy fabric that I’ll never use (at least not nearly as often), I’m still hanging on to some of what you bought. And I’ve kept all of the buttons and lace and tools and notions.
I think, more than the actual fabric and trim and fringe, it’s about the possibilities. It’s about what they could be, were we to invest the time. What we could be, if we took the time to invest. That’s much harder to let go of, I think.
I have written a novel. I am proud of myself. I am proud of my writing. I am proud of my book.
And I am delighted that people seem to be enjoying it. It is affirmation of the work I did sitting alone in a room for three years.
But it’s a little weird. It took me a while to come to grips with the idea of signing my book. It felt… pretentious. (I have gotten over that and am happy to sign, by the way.)
I love hearing what people think and am thrilled when someone tells me they like BUKU. But I admit, I also feel a bit vulnerable. (It is my first book, after all.)
I have had friends joke that they “knew me when”. I’ve heard phrases like “now that you’re rich and famous.” Let me assure you. I’m still in the hole financially, and there are 349,846 authors who are more famous than me on Amazon right now. (That’s my sales rank across all books on Amazon at the moment!) I’ve had friends who I haven’t spoken to in thirty years say they’re proud of me. That’s humbling.
So do I have a point? I think I do. And it’s this. Writing and releasing a book has been one of the most fear-inducing yet pride-producing things I’ve ever done. And I think both of those things are good. When we steer away from what scares us, we deny ourselves little moments of glory.
What I have done is small… minuscule in the scheme of things. Kinda like winning a trophy in t-ball. And yet, in my little world, to me and my friends, it’s a big deal. And they’re the people I care most about anyway.
So let me encourage you to do something that scares you. Terrifies you. Makes you feel vulnerable. Sing a solo at church. Post your latest poem on Facebook. Paint a picture of your dog.
Maybe it will go unnoticed. Maybe it won’t be very good. But how else will we ever be all that our Creator created us to be? How else will we open ourselves up to a moment of glory, no matter how small it is?
Some friends were out of town, and I was over at their house walking their dog. Suddenly, their neighbor appears in his yard with his dog. Both dogs let out a yelp and strained at their leashes trying to get to each other, whining in frustration.
I wonder if we would be like that if we could easily spot fellow writers and other creatives. Would we have an instinctual urge to run up to them, check them out, size them up and shoot a hundred questions at them trying to figure out if they have a secret we don’t have? Just a thought.
Wanna read the start of the prologue to my novel Buku? http://jenniferandersonwriter.com/2018/04/10/buku-lock-stock-and-oil-barrel/
I head up a ministry in which we invite the at-risk students of an after-school program to our church once a week for classes in art, music, sewing, crafts, cooking — whatever I can find teachers for. It’s a lot of work, as you can imagine.
This semester, we are doing a music video. With the help of some of the kids a few years ago, I wrote a rap. (Yep, I wrote a rap.) A great guy in town who has a video company is going to shoot and edit it for us. What I planned to work on today with the kids was practicing the song.
Except they weren’t into it. Shyness, young teen “coolness”, the lack of a music leader — all of that resulted in a bunch of kids staring at me like I was asking them to eat rotten apples. I got frustrated and told them none of us had to be there. Their teacher stood up and read them the riot act. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next.
And then our star music student played a beat on the keyboard. Some of the kids started singing. The other kids joined in in loud boisterous voices. It certainly wasn’t pretty. It is still a long way from good. But all the sudden, we were having fun. And almost everyone was joining in. Even some of the girls who have been “too cool for the room” all year did the rap.
The lesson for me was, the kids weren’t at fault. I was. Because I was failing to make it fun. It wasn’t intentional. I always want them to have fun, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t accomplishing that. Once it became fun, they participated.
I think the same applies to ourselves. If we want to create, to be truly inspired in what we do, we have to include play. I’m not saying work won’t enter into it. Because it will. But first, it has to be fun.
In my quest to learn what I need to know about writing and publishing a book, I have subscribed to a dozen or more different blogs/email lists/Facebook pages/etc, all with instructions on how I should write, why I should write, what I should not do while I write. There seems to be a lot of advice and rules and suggestions and no-no’s. I find that some apply to me. Some I disagree with. Some are talking about the kind of writer I will never be. The only thing I know for sure… the one rule that I will state applies unequivocally to every writer, in every genre, for all time… all of my knowledge and wisdom summed up in one sentence is: If you don’t write, it won’t get written.
And by the way, I think this applies to all creatives. (And we are all creative.) What we have inside of us, the part that is unique to us… if we don’t express it in some way, we stop it from ever being revealed to the world. Or at least our world. Or maybe even, just to us.