No, we’re not all outsized naked mole-rats, smelling of unwashed hair and swigging Jack Daniels while we listen to Mahler for inspiration – Telling our friends we’re writing the Great American Novel on our antique typewriter, while really we’re spending all our time anonymously posting vitriolic online diatribes about Stephenie Meyer.
That’s simply not true. I prefer Maker’s Mark.
But really, now. Not one of my fine Scribblerati friends, nor I, fit that description. Well, to my knowledge. I don’t spy on them at home, after all. (Okay, now I just got an image of a tipsy Lisa cackling maniacally while typing EDWARD SUX in all caps on some tweener website, and the image is very funny.)
But I digress.
So, yes, some of the clichés are untrue, or untrue at least for my writer friends and me. I’m sure those people exist.
But how about the old trope that once you tell someone you’re a writer, one of two questions pops out of their mouth – 1) “Where do you get all your ideas?” and 2) “You’re not going to study me and put me in your book, are you?” – I used to think this was just the silly invention of screenwriters (Like the fact that people in movies and on TV almost never say goodbye on the telephone. Go ahead, check it out. They just hang up, knowing the conversation is done. People pretty much don’t do that in real life.) – but I’ve been asked both of these things quite a few times in the last several years.
To answer them, 1) I’ve always found this question very odd. I get my ideas from my brain. Like you do. (Click here for tonal context.) I, unlike some writers, have an excess of ideas. I am an idea factory. A good, sometimes great, idea factory, if I do say so myself. It doesn’t matter, of course, unless, until I actually finish something. People don’t want to read plot pitches and descriptions of futuristic societies; they want to read completed stories.
2) I will only study you and use elements of you to create a character if you are exceedingly bizarre and/or fascinating, and if you’re asking me that question, I’m sorry, but you’re probably not. (Wow, I sounded like Jon there.) Okay, that's a little unfair, and untrue. Of course writers draw on their interactions with other human beings to write believable characters, but I, in my admittedly limited experience - let's say I've created 50 characters in my lifetime thus far - have never based a character solely on one person. (Except, perhaps historical figures. But even then you're making a lot of it up, playing a part.)
But back to a cliché that I mentioned earlier… the idea that every writer aspires to write the Great American (or Irish, or Belgian, or whathaveyou) Novel. I don’t. I don’t need to be the next William Styron or James Joyce. Okay, maybe I’d take F. Scott Fitzgerald or Kurt Vonnegut Jr., but only because I adore their writing. But I’m not them, I know I’m not them, and not only that, I don’t have a burning desire to impress the world of academia with my writing efforts, nor to go down in the annals of time as one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Sure, I want stellar reviews, and I want to share my stories with millions of people and, naturally, make a lot of money doing what I love, but mostly, all I’ve ever wanted to do is entertain the nice people. (Click here for tonal context.)
And speaking of Mr. Vonnegut, I came across this quote today.
I then thought about what…was it Neil Gaiman? said was the best piece of writing advice he could give: “Finish something.”
The first quote is freeing, and the second is both frightening for those of us who haven’t finished a novel yet, and beautiful in its simplicity. Stop fretting over perfection, or failure. Finish it, finish it, finish it. Another cliché about aspiring novelists – we're forever working on that first novel, and never completing it.
For today, I’d like to combine those two ideas, and task myself to finish something creative that is NOT my novel. Finishing an artistic endeavor is immensely satisfying, and I think it fuels us creatively in all areas. A novel takes so long to write, that that satisfaction can only be taken in small doses (I finished this chapter! I finished this draft!), and as for the final word of the final page of the final draft? It takes years of mostly solitary effort. So, for today, I say finish a sewing project, a painting, a poem, a clay model, practice a monologue, do something, FINISH something artistic – no matter how good or how lousy it is, as Mr. Vonnegut would advise. Who's with me?
(As for me, I’m going to pounce on my Wonder Woman crop art. My progress thus far. Her skin, if you're wondering, is quinoa.)