I’m participating in Write 30 Minutes in May to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
There’s nothing like a writing challenge to teach you something you should already know. Or to remind you of something did know but forgot or stopped believing.
For several months before the fundraiser began, I went through a slump. The I-hate-writing/Everything-I-write-is-worthless/The-book-I’ve-been-working-on-forever-is-trite-trivial-stupid-flawed-doomed/I-can’t-make-the-plot-work-anyway/I-should-scrap-all-40,000-words-and-binge-watch-Law-and-Order-and-play-Candy-Crush slump.
It happens periodically. But this was a particularly long and depressed dry spell.
And when you get out of the habit of writing, it’s difficult to start again. I dreaded the arrival of May 1. It arrived anyway.
To ease back in, I got out the journal I bought in January. I had resolved to write in it every day. That resolution, of course, wandered away with the others. But better late than never.
I’ve always enjoyed writing longhand, so the journal seemed just the thing. Sort of.
The first few days were modified torture. I stopped every few minutes to check the clock: 25 more minutes; 18 more minutes;12 more minutes; 11 more minutes . . .
It was like writing a 500-word essay in high school, when I stopped every few lines to count the words I’d written.
That went on for eight days.
On May 9, sitting in the infusion room at Texas Oncology, I opened the journal, uncapped my pen, and prepared for misery. After two lines in which I expressed frustration at having gotten myself into this mess, a shift occurred. I was suddenly rewriting part of a scene for the novel—brief, but pivotal to the plot. Then I drafted a new scene.
While I was working, the volunteer who’d provided me with a blanket and a cup of hot tea approached. “May I ask a question?”
“Are you writing a journal?”
I said I was.
“The reason I ask,” she said. “My daughter gave me a journal, but I don’t know what to write in it.”
“Anything,” I said. “Everything. Start by writing, ‘I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write.’ And suddenly you’ll be writing about something.”
She smiled. “That’s very encouraging.”
After she left, I thought, “Well, d’oh.” How many times had I read that same advice in how-to-journal books: Start writing about nothing and your topic will appear.
How many times had I told my students to do that? How many times had I forgotten to take my own advice?
And what had I just done? I’d started writing about nothing—I am so frustrated with having to write and not being able to think of anything to say—and worked my way into something. The very something I’d needed—and wanted—to write.
Three days later, we left on a road trip. I wrote in the car. From Little Rock to Knoxville to Lake Charles to Houston to Austin. On smooth roads (Arkansas and Tennessee) and rough (Louisiana). Through road construction (Texas).
I worked on that-trite-trivial-stupid-flawed-doomed book. I wrote new scenes and revised old ones. I wrote notes about scenes I need to shift around, characters I need to flesh out, darlings I need to kill.* I wrote blog posts. I continued to write that night at the hotel.
I didn’t stop at 30 minutes. I kept going for two or three hours.
Since we got home last week, I’ve continued to write. I’ll write to the end of the fundraiser.
And on June 1, I’ll still be writing.
Thanks to the American Cancer Society for all it does to find a cure for cancer and to make life better for those affected by it.
Thanks for giving me back the desire to write.
Kill Your Darlings–I’ll let MasterClass explain:
“The phrase “kill your darlings” has been attributed to many writers over the years. Writers as varied as Oscar Wilde, G. K. Chesterton, and William Faulkner have been credited with coming up with the phrase. But many scholars point to British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing: “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”
Since then, variations of Quiller-Couch’s phrase has been used by many writers and scholars. Stephen King had this to say on the art of writing in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”