Last April, at the Houston Writers’ Guild Spring Workshop, I had the pleasure of hearing an uplifting speech by Nikki Loftin. Nikki is a delightful young writer who spoke about offsetting the disappointments—and there are many, believe it or not—of a writing life by celebrating the victories, large or small.
We all know about the large victories. The big one, when you get that first email that somebody actually wants to publish a book you wrote. And there are others. Or I hear there are; I’m just not thinking of any right now. Ah ha. When you get your first 6-figure royalty check. Sorry, temporarily slipped my mind.
Smaller victories are more common, fortunately. You get a 5-star review from somebody you don’t know—I opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the first time that happened. Your Aunt Myrtle, who hasn’t read anything deeper than Soap Opera Digest since high school, brings your novel to Thanksgiving dinner for you to autograph and then discusses the nuances of the ending. Stella chooses you for an interview. Celebrate every single one of those, my friends. Savor them all.
But I want to talk about a different sort of victory in today’s blog. One that takes place, not in the business world or in the publishing world, but in the writing process itself. Because for me, those are why I write. The magical moments that keep me coming back to the page.
WARNING: the opinions expressed below are strictly mine. Writing is an intensely personal and individualized process, and I wouldn’t be totally astonished if there are a dozen comments that are variants of, “What the hell are you talking about? Are you serious? Writing isn’t like that.”
Writing at its best is a right-brained process, not a logical plan. Images burble up from the deep, dark swamp of your subconscious, coalesce, and dance together around a bonfire in some deep oak grove. Only then does your logic, your writing skills that you’ve worked so hard to hone during countless workshops, your hard-earned knowledge about deep point of view and telling-not-showing get to work to shape those images into clean, tight prose. But it’s the subconscious magic that makes it special.
I love it when I sit down to write, having a pretty good idea where I’m going in this chapter, and an hour later I stop and ask, “What just happened?”
I love it when my characters don’t behave. When I put them in a situation and they do something totally unexpected. Ha. And you thought you were in charge.
Here’s one favorite example of mine. In Return from Avalon (and Points West), the hero Arnie Penders touches a ghost on a Civil War battlefield and sets it free. When I wrote that scene, I had no idea how he did it or what part it would play in the novel. He was moved by the anguish on the face of the young soldier, so I guess I was as well.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t read Return from Avalon (and Points West)—and why haven’t you, I want to know?—this is going to reveal a really dramatic piece of the book.
35,000 words later, Arnie is in a misty valley in North Wales, experiencing a vision about the death of King Arthur (“vision” seems like a totally inadequate word; Arnie’s visions are uber intense). When the vision ends, as he is walking toward the spot where Arthur was mortally wounded, he sees a ghost. The implications totally blow him away. Has he really gone through all of this to set the spirit of King Arthur free from 1500 years of being trapped on the spot of his death?
But it’s not the ghost of King Arthur. It’s Mordred.
I can still clearly remember the day I wrote that, although it was more than five years ago. I was still working as an engineer, writing over lunch every day. When lunch hour was supposed to be over, I was still just sitting there, stunned by something I had just created. Didn’t get squat done the rest of the day.
A mystical, magical moment. One of many.
That’s why I write.