From “Once Upon a Time” to “The End”

I have nine unfinished novels on my hard drive. The longest runs almost a hundred pages; the shortest about two paragraphs. I have several folders full of research, character sketches and plot outlines. I have poured untold hours and progressively larger pieces of my soul into these projects and not one of them has panned out.

I don’t know why I struggle so much when it comes to finishing what I start. I don’t know if I’m so paralyzed by perfectionism that I can’t continue for fear of ruining the story or if I’m just easily distracted by the thousands of other things I could be doing on my computer instead of writing. All I know is that sooner or later, I hit a block. Is it the result of perfectionism? Laziness? Poor planning? Cheating on my beloved novel with a new idea?

Maybe my problem more basic than creative infidelity. Maybe what I’m really missing is structure. In a newsroom, things get done because everyone is working under an immovable deadline and everyone is held accountable for getting their contribution finished. I think my novel writing process needs to work more like a newsroom. Accountability and deadlines are a writer’s best friend. When you’re working under pressure, all kinds of magical things happen. Your right brain goes into overdrive, solving problems as they arrive instead of languishing on them for weeks or months (or years) and your inner editor doesn’t have time to convince you to go back and rewrite. There will be time to rewrite when this draft is finished, your right brain tells you.

Deadlines can be an incredible tool for a writer. So, as I gear up to embark on yet another excursion into novel land, I’m going to try to give myself some structure. With any luck, it will keep me focused all the way from “once upon a time” to “the end.”

Tenth time’s a charm, right?

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Why Write?

I am a born storyteller. I penned my first book at the age of 4 (by dictating to my mom, because I couldn’t write yet). I won my first short story contest in second grade. In eighth grade, I successfully convinced my English teacher to let me write a novel during our daily silent sustained reading time. I wrote my first screenplay during my freshman year of high school and my first one-act play during my senior year. I tell stories. It’s what I’ve always done and it is everything that I feel I am called to do with my life.

Words are powerful. In many cultures, to name something is to become the master of that thing. In the Bible, Adam’s first task in subduing the creatures of the Earth is to give them names. In linguistics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis argues that language creates our reality. Those with the ability to craft stories — to piece together letters into words and sentences — can literally change the world.

Writers have always been among humanity’s greatest thinkers. Writers can record history, criticize society and topple governments. The pen (or, in the 21st century, the keyboard) truly is mightier than the sword.

That’s what I love so much about writing — the ability to create lasting change. What better use can a person have for their brief time here than to leave the world a little more beautiful than it was before?

So, why do I spend so much time writing? The answer is simple: Because it comes as naturally to me as breathing. You could no more stop breathing than I could stop writing. As Walter Wellesley once said, “There’s nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

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