The Struggle To Tell A Story
I’ve asked a number of writers to explain it to me and they have trouble coming up with an answer that doesn’t go in circles, ending up with a shrug.
I’m not saying that writing is easy. It’s not, but the hard part, for me anyway, is finding the right word, not the next one. I do this blog six days each week. With a goal of 500 – 700 words per day that is a tidy three thousand to forty-two hundred words a week. If that was going into a novel it wouldn’t take all that long to have a first draft in hand. Some people work faster than me, but I find that a comfortable pace.
I’ve been writing since I was a little kid and collaborated with my best friend to write “Cowboy and Indian” sagas that had most everybody shot dead by the last paragraph. In high school I was on the school paper for two years and learned how to write to a specific word count request. A few years later, when I was working as a Stand-up and Improv performer, I signed up for a class in joke writing. THAT was where I really learned to write to tell a story.
Lesson Number One was the most valuable and has protected me from Writer’s Block ever since. That first lesson was two words long:
If you can truly trust yourself and your talents you KNOW that you will come up with something good. You have to trust yourself when you get an assignment to write 15 jokes about a lamp in 30 minutes. I’m not saying all the jokes were great, but they were all valid. They made sense and some of them were real knee-slappers.
The best joke about that lamp was, “The lamp was so bright that the coffee table confessed.” Personally, I think that joke borders on brilliant. I just wish that I was the person who wrote it.
Writing jokes forces you to be relentless in looking for the right word. You don’t have 300 pages to tell your story. You may be lucky to have more than one line. You have to find your words, find the rhythm of the joke, and put your words in just the right place for maximum effect. You are telling a story in ten words, like in the lamp joke.
There is an apocryphal story about Ernest Hemingway being challenged by some other writers to write a complete story in six words. Whether this originated with Papa or not is unimportant, but it is an astounding example of effective story telling. The six word story is this.
“For sale – Baby shoes.”
The first time I read that I gasped. My imagination wrote an entire volume around those six words. This past weekend I was discussing effective writing with someone and I told her that I knew a six word long story that would shake her. She laughed and said that she doubted it. When I told her the Hemingway story she gasped, put her hand to her mouth and became teary. Her imagination took her as far as she was comfortable, and then one step further.
When someone tells me that they are experiencing Writer’s Block I think that they are really just lost in doubt about their talent, and about the imagination of their reader.
The greatest writer in the world is lost without the reader’s imagination.
Back in the day – when I was part of a Comedy Improv Group working in comedy clubs, and anyplace else that would pay us, we had an intro to the audience that included a caveat. “If you laugh – it’s Comedy. If you don’t – it’s Art.”
Improv was nothing more than story telling on the fly – throwing out scenes, one after the other. We just said the words, but it was up to the audience members to make it into Comedy. In most cases, if they didn’t “get” the joke, they thought it was their fault. But by then another gag was flying their way.
I’ve just noticed that I’ve gone over my word limit for today.
See? No Writer’s Block here. I trust myself.