If you know me from anywhere other than this website, it may be hard for you to believe that I would ever run out of words. In truth, the words are always there, but lately I haven’t known how to put them onto a page. This is not a victory shout from a writer who has found his way out of a slump; this is just “the next line” of prose that has found its way to the page.
When I was eight, or maybe ten, my father and I went out to shoot pictures in the local wildlife preserve. It was one of those perfect summer days where the sun is warm and the breeze is cool, with just enough cloud cover to make the lighting a challenge. Prime weather for a photography lesson. Dad and I walked through woods, valleys, you name it. Everything was set to be our subject and nature had new life through my viewfinder. Those were, “the old days” that everyone talks about; getting a life lesson from your photo hero and eating a sandwich at a picnic table.
I am told that part of the writer’s job is that they must always tell the truth. Some, for sure, take this too far, wanting to spill the beans or talk trash about their neighbors, former lovers, estranged family members…perhaps all of the above. One thing that Stephen King said about writing – I always love listening to that man discuss the craft; you don’t have to like him, just respect the amount of work he’s done and hear him out – was that you must take time to understand your approach to the blank page. How you approach the empty canvas will tell a lot about who you are, and perhaps spare your would-be readers a lot of their time, if you are too eager or too scared to tell the truth.
“Come to the page any way you like, except lightly.” — Stephen King
I think that’s sound advice, some that I don’t always want to think about when I know there are tough things to talk about. There will always be tough stuff to talk about, so it’s time to shape up or put the typewriter away.
Sometimes I think all unspoken words are contained in a glass box. That box isn’t hard to see through, but it does a good job of containing the
monsters words. Until that box is opened, most of us know what is in there, but it feels “Lost in Translation” until we take time to scare it into the open.
It’s easy to think that your box needs to be smashed open, unleashed onto the world, but most of us aren’t sure that would be a good thing for any of us. (Don’t you dare sing, “Say” by John Mayer; oh man, don’t get me started.) The “here and now” is what we tend to deal with when the future seems like fantasy; part of my goal is to write what I know, and on a good day perhaps a lot that I don’t, with endings that makes sense and support the bigger story in play. I’m no John the Baptist but I can’t stand to keep my hands away from these keys.
There’s no way to write an article like this without talking about the job, the mission, the dream. Those three things tend to make a lot of sense to me and I like to look at the long-term; sort of like watching a colony of ants through a pair of binoculars. You could remove the glasses and see the whole picture at any time, but to see what the ants really care about you need to get in there and be with them.
In my world, those details are always making up a bigger story that spans time and space, which is why I tend to be obsessed with both the telephoto and the wide-angle view of things. My dad taught me perspective, which is one of the greatest things I can say about anyone.
It’s been fun to watch the way things are constructed over time. I think everyone who feels like they have to put words on a page understands the rush of getting it all out before it goes away. For me, the words are stored away somewhere until they aren’t anymore, then they go away again. Part of writing is working to find those windows of time and be around to transcribe whatever happens to pass by.
One thing I don’t really appreciate is the idea that all prose is random. The thought of never engaging your mind, that somehow you should free yourself from any grasp on reality to really discover the truth about the world doesn’t make a lot of sense. There needs to be some bigger thing in play if we’re ever going to end up anywhere. I love looking into the small part of His-story I was thust into.
I used to say, “It’s not what you’re handed, but how you handle it.” This is pretty good, but takes away from the importance of what we are handed altogether. If there isn’t a reason for what happens in the world I’ll be the first to jettison reality and get lost in the nothingness. There is something bigger going on, however. There always is and always will be.
This is where I reference that part of the glass box that makes it all to hard to tell the truth. Why I moved to a new town about four years ago, why the Reclaimer‘s pull is so strong, why I get so mad when I see people wasting their lives, why I love to write at all.
I almost moved to California back in 2008. At the time, I was starting a story about a man lost in space, focusing on his arc away from those he loved. That story told me a lot about what I felt was most important and that California would be a big mistake. There were a lot of red flags when he had to take a mission that pulled him away from everything he knew; I chose to move in with some friends and ultimately reverse-thrust on every impulse to go anywhere but an over-churched college town in the middle of Missouri.
There are times when I wonder if Missouri is better than California, but those times don’t last long so joke’s on you, world. Sometimes you have to spend time to make it up later, that’s all. I’d take a day here over anything, well, anywhere. More on the four-hour sleep nights and pursuits of happiness later.
Every moment I spend writing feels like money ahead, a way into the future. Perhaps 1,000 words were never spoken because they were always bound up in that glass box, which is why I find it so helpful to break it open. All I know is that whomever took the time to read this deserves a medal in my book, as yet one more writer reunites with his pen. So long as each “block” is less frequent as the years roll on, I think things are moving forward. The words in that box, or the words passing by that window, deserve to be frozen in time on the page. That, my friends, is the truth.