Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Grateful Writer - 5 things to be thankful for

It's hard to write something fresh and authentic about gratitude and the writer. The mind veers from the obvious (imagination, readers, insights) to cliched attempts to turn negatives (rejections, blocks) into positives (determination, freedom).

I suspect the heart may be a better guide to gratitude than the brain. Here are ten things my heart tells me I should be grateful for as a writer.
  1. Good words. Simply coming up with the right word as I write or in a rewrite can unlock whole chapters for me. In fact, I routinely collect words and short phrases that resonate with me even when they don't have stories to go with them. Many of my favorite works came from these scribbled notes, sometimes years later.
  2. Starting points. The true beginnings of my stories are often one, two, or three chapters into a manuscript. Sometimes I can spot this, but, more often, they are discovered by other writers reading my drafts. Once I have those beginnings, it becomes clear which scenes can be dropped and where the major holes are. I can hear the music of the story come through.
  3. OMG moments. I don't know how to create the best of these, and I often reject them. They bubble up from my subconscious while I am doing something mindless, and it always feels like I've something found disturbing, like a lump under my skin. (Perhaps they represent examples of one of Ray Bradbury's rules, "Don't be afraid to explore the attic.") Most of these are horrible turns of events for my characters. Some are ideas that, if I used them, would trash big chunks of my manuscripts. All of them take me into areas and feelings I'd rather stay away from. But when I have the courage to say yes, I always learn something. And some of my best stories include these. 
  4. Secret doors. I tend to find these when I'm revising a manuscript. I'll run across a comment from a character or a bit of description that doesn't fit. I wonder why I wrote it in the first place. Then, before I can wipe it away, my mind reframes it or adds a new element, and I'm off. Before I know what's happening, I've written a big block of text, and it's magical. Usually, this has to be put elsewhere in the manuscript. Sometimes it has to be broken up and sprinkled among the other scenes. Occasionally, it gets cut and used in a different story. But I always find something wonderful and useful when I spot those secret doors and open them up.
  5. The perfect model. When I was a kid playing baseball, I used to watch how the professionals did things like swing a bat or catch a ball, and I'd practice doing it their way. Usually, it didn't work for me, but all my best plays came from finding a move that felt good and adapting it to my body. Today, this happens with writing. I can purposely observe how a great writer does something and do an exercise that changes my process. More often, as I'm revising a manuscript, I suddenly realize it has similar intentions to a book or movie. I rush to review that work, and the best approaches to solving story problems become obvious.
I'm happy with this list, and writing it improved my mood. (Thanks, heart.) Apparently, gratitude is one path to happiness, and making a weekly list of things to be thankful for increases life satisfaction. Since writers are often a depressed bunch, this might be worth trying. What do you think? And what are you thankful for?

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