Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome to The Word Place: Author Donna Patton

If You're Going to Be a Writer . . .
By Donna Alice Patton

       If you're going to be a writer, you have to start with a blank piece of paper. Then, because it looks so bare, so white, so empty - you'll have to fill it with doodles.

      The scribbles will remind you that your pencil feels dull. Who can write a best selling book with a dull pencil? Not you. So, you decide to sharpen it. It's not wasting precious writing time. Not really. Everyone knows you need a precision point on a pencil to make your writing flow. Sharp pencil, sharp mind, sharp ideas. Catchy. It might be something to write down. After you sharpen the pencil.

      So you'll spend twenty minutes searching for the pencil sharpener you know you saw - somewhere. You find the pair of scissors you lost, an expired gift card from Macy's and ah, ha! the pencil sharpener buried on your desk.
After you sharpen your pencil, it reminds you that you'll be writing so much the first pencil will wear down in no time. Better have plenty of extras.

      So, you gather up all the pencils you can find and sharpen them. Now it's time to write. Or, no - not yet. Who can write with all those pencils rolling around on the desk? You'll have to find something to put them in. An empty juice can does nicely. There, all arranged. Or are they?

      Imagining how the author's picture on the back of your best selling book will look, you figure you better find a more distinctive container than a rusting Florida Sun can.

      You look around for something better. Alumni mug? No. Hello Kitty glass? Um, not quite. Ceramic frog? Too middle schoolish. After half an hour's search, you finally find that souvenir vase a friend sent from Paris. Just the thing. Artsy. Memorable. No one will guess the closest you've ever been to Paris is Kentucky.

       Now to write. You sit down and face the doodled sheet of paper. Start with another blank sheet.
Suddenly, your mind is as empty as the paper. What was that stellar idea? Those brilliant words? And why are you staring at a sheet of paper when you have a perfectly good word processing program on your computer?
Sure, that's what's wrong. You're trying to write the old fashioned way. Paper and pencil? Why not reinvent the wheel while you're at it?

       The world of technology is at your fingertips and you're trying to create the Great American novel by chipping hieroglyphics in stone. No wonder you can't write. Who was it, who said a writer, is as only good as his tools?

      Fifteen minutes after the search through a thesaurus, dictionary and a book of quotes, the author still alludes you. Never mind, it's probably true even if you can't give credit to the writer. Tools make the man - woman - or writer.
You open Word; sure this is going to be IT! The motivation to write. The words will fly off your fingers, edit themselves and print out in page ready prose. Magazines will call in the middle of the night, desperate for your articles. Your books will stay on the best seller lists so long they'll grow cobwebs. People will chase you down in Wal-Mart and wave in recognition as you drive by on the freeway.

      Yes, this is it. You make a commitment to sit down until you get 1000 words written.
So you stare at the computer screen. Funny how it still looks like a blank, white, empty space to fill. You can't even doodle to occupy your mind.

      After staring at it a while, your mind starts to drift. You think about email, solitaire, surfing the net. Before you quite know how it happens, you've logged on and another hour is gone.

      Writing time wasted? No, you've accomplished something. You read ten blogs about writing, played a new game called Synonym Swap and written a couple of emails. All grist for the mill. Ideas are flashing like lightning in your mind.But, by then the morning's gone and everyone knows a person works better after lunch. So you eat.
After lunch, you're so tired, you decide to take a nap. Maybe your brain will work better after some rest. You'll come back to the job refreshed, ready to write. An idea might come to you in a dream. Sure, didn't a lot of writers say their most famous works started with a dream . . . .zzzzzzzzz...

      Once you wake up, you figure most of the afternoon is already gone. Just so you'll have something to show for a whole day's work, you toss in a load of laundry, sort the magazines for the recycle bin into chronological order, and unthaw the hamburger for supper. Feeling smug and efficient, you sit back down to the computer. A thousand words? Piece of cake. No, that's a cliche. Piece of pie? Maybe just a small slice to get those creative juices flowing . . .

      The writer's blogs you read command - just start. Write anything. Get the words down. Go back and edit later.
Taking a deep breath, you start writing. Your name. Your address. A grocery list. The Gettysburg Address . . . No, no, no.

      You wrestle your mind back to this cool idea you had for a story last week. A snippet of dialogue blossoms into a scene. Two people argue. A setting emerges. Hey, this is fun. Your fingers fly, the words appear. Now you're in a flow. The words add up. You check the counter. Woo hoo! More than two thousand. If it's any good, you've done two days work in one. Maybe you can take tomorrow off. You stop.

      Because you're sure it's going to be the best scene you've ever written, you read it over.
From the heights of the best seller list, you drop to the depth of a hack writer. No good. Junk. You've seen spam email and grocery ads that sounded better. It's over. Done. You'll never be a writer.

      But wait! That sentence doesn't sound too awful. If you take that bit of dialogue and switch it from Character A to Character B it makes more sense. Or does it? Maybe you need to go back and start again. Get back to basics.
And say, wasn't there an article about how writing longhand did something scientific to your brain - made a connection between hand and mind? Sure, it's somewhere. So you spend twenty minutes looking for the nonexistent article you remember from an obscure magazine you've forgotten the name of years ago. It had a yellow cover with a rip in the corner. You're certain of that part. Or was it blue with a missing address label? Anyway, you're certain of the facts about writing. Probably. But after a fruitless search you decide a fact in the mind is worth two in a magazine.

      So then you come back to your desk and you know the truth.
If you're going to be a writer, you have to sit down and start with a blank sheet of paper. There is no other way.



Donna Alice said...

Wow, I look good in print! Thanks, Judy for the plug!

P.L. Parker said...

I find the first few pages the hardest - once I get past those, the story begins to develop.

K9friend said...

Funny and oh, so true!

darkangelauthor said...

Lovely play on a very familiar story, Donna -- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was one of our very favorites...and every word you wrote here was oh, so true! Very creative and very well done!


nlindabrit said...

LOL! A very shrewd analysis of the writing process, Donna!

Lisa Lickel said...

Sweet, Donna! Thanks for sharing.
Nice process play.

Anne Marie Novark said...

LOL, Donna.

Been there, done that!!! Sad, but true.

What we writers go through . . .

Jana Richards said...

I once cleaned the oven to avoid writing, and I detest cleaning the oven (I mean the old fashioned way with stinky cleaners). But then I sat down and made myself write. That's what writers do.

Thanks for the chuckle.