I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I still have a yellow floppy disk (remember those?) on which is stored my first short story. It is about a monkey named Key Key who taunts some alligators and I wrote it when I was nine. I’m sure if I had a floppy disk reader, and could actually read the story now, I’d think it was pretty terrible. But nine-year-old me was damn proud of it.
I’m sure that little girl would be a little bit disappointed in me now. It’s been sixteen years, and the only things I’ve finished, or even come close to finishing, are assignments for school. Granted, that has included some creative writing as of late, but none of it has been something I felt I had to write. I have yet to discover a story that needs to be put on paper. I just haven’t found the one. Which, honestly, is no excuse.
Hell, success for me at this point would be two or three novels and a ton of rejection letters. Because that would mean I’m trying. Instead, I have a digital file of a bunch of half-finished chapters that have nothing to do with each other, and something that is about five chapters long that hit a dead end and I didn’t like enough to fix.
Today, I sat and stared at a blank computer screen for an hour. I wrote a paragraph. And then I deleted it. I re-wrote the same paragraph and deleted it again. And if the pattern follows most of my other attempts, I will keep that blank page open on my MacBook for a couple of days, and then delete it. Eventually I’ll open a new document and start all over. And I’d bet a lot of money that one will end up in the recycle bin, too.
I’ve read countless stories about how writers write. Stephen King writes ten pages a day, every day. Vladimir Nabokov had to write standing up, Truman Capote had to write lying down. Benjamin Franklin and Haruki Murakami swore/swear by a strict, repetitive schedule. Me? I stare at a blank screen until nothing comes out.
Obviously, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and I have come to two conclusions. First, I am just too afraid to write something bad. I am not good at the just get it out mentality. If I don’t love it, I scrap it. And maybe there are a few diamonds in the garbage heap. I need to learn to just keep going. Second, I am not good at shutting off my brain. That might sound like a good thing for a writer, but for me, it’s not. I end up staring at that blank page thinking Did I forget to send that email at work? and I should probably start the assignment that’s due Thursday and I really hope my Dad’s PET scan comes back clear this time.
Writing is hard. Even the greats know that. There is Neil Gaiman quote I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. He says:
This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.
I think that idea is so perfect! Writing is essentially very simple, but at the same time it is incredibly difficult. I just have to keep writing words.