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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fool's Gold, . . . or Not

  By CeCe Baker

Questions, questions, questions! What happens when a writer decides to pen what could possibly be his or her break-through novel?  Are previously-written works taken seriously?  What will be the impetus to write another one? Barbara Kingsolver said, “There is no perfect time to write. There’s only now.” Steve Martini said, “If the writer has a masterpiece within, he had better save it on paper. Otherwise, none of us will ever miss it.”

What single act or thing is it that begins our process as writers? My best ideas come to me when I’m near water. And while it can be something so subtle as a relaxing soak in a hot tub or as exotic as sitting behind a waterfall watching the sheen of its water dissolve as it hits the rocks below, still there’s something about moving water that gets my creative juices going.  Knowing what does it for me, I can’t help but wonder what it is for Barbara Kingsolver or Steve Martini.
The one quote that steers me most though is by E. L. Doctorow, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  With best sellers such as “Ragtime,” “Homer & Langley,” and “Billy Bathgate,” E. L. Doctorow’s continuous leaps of faith set an example for all of us to follow.  Every day I write and every day I struggle to see beyond the headlights.  
When I first started writing, I was sure there was a definitive process. Every how-to-write book implies that. Those of us that believed in those how-to-write books kept looking for our process  by skimming through every writing book we could find on the shelves of book stores and libraries. We learned about style and other techniques. We had many fits and false starts on stories we were convinced would be our break-through novel.  I remember one well-known author telling me that in order to find their process all new writers should put themselves among those who ”really write.”  She used adverbs sparingly, but wasn’t afraid to place her emphasis on the word “really.”  This little snippet was some of the best writing advice I ever received. 
You can do this in a number of ways; but, the easiest is to simply read other authors’ works that have already proven their word worth. The first rule of writing is “Read! Read! Read!”  We get that.  We read veraciously and, when we tire of reading, we study the construction and choreography of television programs, movies, and plays and try to translate their formulas for success to the body of our written works. 
We cultivate other writers as friends, go to conferences and carefully select our muses.  A few of mine are Jeannette Walls, Dorothy Allison, Pat Conroy, Terry Kay, and Nora Ephron – but, not necessarily in that order, and that’s certainly not all of them. We dance, drink and play word games that are mostly appreciated by other writers and truly surprise those that are non-writers.  We word-paint scenes that display our souls – perhaps even more intensely than singing, dancing, or using an artist’s brush and palate.
And when we learn nothing more than just the basics of writing, we become the harshest judges in the world of our own talents.  In doing all of these things we are learning what our “process” is.  We also learn that no two writers have the same process.  Buzz words for writers’ processes include words like “planner,” “pantser,” and “percolator.”  As you can tell, they’re pretty self-explanatory.  As for myself, I’ve learned that depending upon the plot or characters in a potential work,  I can be one or a combination of all three of these processes. I do know that I tend to mull over the essence of what I’m going to write longer than most writers.  When I do that, I’ve found that most of the time I’ve spent has been used on deciding whether or not I believe my words will be accepted by the reading world.
James Baldwin said,” Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.”  Every writer has to be doggedly determined to overcome this perceived conspiracy.  And, while we aren’t exactly sure that the odds for others’ realization of the value of our words are greater than those of finding fool’s gold, we are still dedicated enough to realize that our only true answer for this riddle is to put them down on paper. So, with a leap of faith, we do that - fool’s gold or not.   Having done this, there is one thing of which we can be assured.  Along with James Baldwin, other authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Steve Martini and E. L. Doctorow would be proud. 

1 comment:

WritingRainey said...

Well said, CeCe Baker! As a published author who still is mystified by the whole creative process, I have those special places which trigger a great idea. And as you said, no matter how great an idea you have, if you don't write it down, it will disappear.