Sunday, April 4, 2010

Live in the moment; write the same way

Live in the moment - how many times have you heard that phrase? A lot, I'd wager. And it makes sense. Why waste time dwelling on the past or anticipating the future when you have the present right here, right now, right in front of you?

The phrase pertains to writing as well, and it took me quite awhile to learn that. I'm an overthinker - maybe some of you are, too. You can't just write a story or a chapter or a freelance piece. You anticipate who's reading it, and when. You think about who it might offend, or who it might please. You think about where it will go after you write it, and what will happen to it then.

In small doses, those thoughts are great. It's important to know your audience, and to anticipate their likes and dislikes. And you certainly aren't going to be a successful freelancer if you're a writer who is consistently offensive. That just makes sense. But too much? That's just paralyzing.

In Anne Lamott's witty, wonderful book, Bird by Bird, she tells about trying to describe to a class of novice writers the process of writing - about the sometimes miraculous process of writing - about how a blank page becomes a line and a line becomes a paragraph and a paragraph becomes dialogue in a story that actually starts to flow. And how before you know it, the page is filled, and you've done it - you've written something.

And then, she says, her students will raise their hands and ask, "How do you get an agent?" Because they're not concerned about the process. They're interested in the profits. They're not in the present; they're way in the future.

When I was writing "Death on Deadline," I created a character named Wayne Grubbs, and I made him up simply for comic relief. I knew I wanted him to be a bane for my protagonist. I wanted him to be an awful journalist. I wanted him to be stupid, but not so dumb he was a caricature. I liked what he added to the tale. But then, I lost my focus. I stopped thinking of the story. I kept rewriting him over and over - afraid of who he would offend, afraid his remarks might rub someone the wrong way.

I wasn't writing in the moment. I had became a marketer, not an author. And it wasn't good. Because it wasn't the right time.

Pretty soon he wasn't even funny. I took him out. And then I missed him. So one night, I put him back in, and just wrote what I felt. I created him the way I thought a major corporation would - as a semi-trained "para" journalist that they wouldn't have to pay as much. I made him funny - well, my version of funny, at least. And then I left him alone. I think we were both happier.

We live our lives a moment at a time. Let's write the same way.

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