I'm a big fan of pen and paper. Pencil and paper. Crayons and paper. It harkens back to my youth when I literally carried a full pencil case around with me, with 10 -12 sharpened pencils in it. Accompanying this must have case of untapped imagination and creativity waiting to be exposed, was a notebook. A notebook of writings - fiction. I started writing fiction at a young age and had to have a clean, sharpened pencil (not pen) to use for each page. Color me superstitious, if you must.
Over the years I've discovered that some people are born writers - the way some people are born athletes, able to run faster and farther, or shoot better baskets, or hit the ball harder and farther, with what seems like little effort. The born athletes put far more time in practicing their craft than meets the eye. In writing, folks who create new worlds of imagery, and pen detailed prose that takes readers out of the world they actually live in (dispels the 'disbelief'... makes the content so real, it becomes part of the reader's world), are few and far between. Yes, there are talented folk who do it easiy, with what seems like little effort, but... in truth, even these people edit, edit, edit.
And then there are the rest of us. We who struggle to put pen to paper day after day, attempting to bring our dreams to life, to share a message, aimed at someone in particular, know the challenges of using the wrong word, making the sentence too long or complicated, and... worse yet, the despair when you allow someone to read what you've written only to be met with a, "Nice." ( oh, the term pen to paper is a phrase borrowed from my early days of writing, it merely means 'to write', however that happens for you).
Nice? The very word is an insult. Nice? A polite way to say, "Don't like it much." ? As a writer, it's far better to hear, "This is crap. I don't get it. You need to revise." Because there is feeling there. Because the writing upset the reader enough to actually admit...it isn't working.
Nice...just tells me the writing is... beyond boring. Oh the pain of it!
All writers learn their craft by reading and by practicing, even the talented ones. Born storytellers have an inate understanding of the need to study the complicated world of writing. One does not come to the table, or desk, pen in hand, fingers to keyboard, without some trepidation. As if the blank sheet of paper or empty document mocks us - "So you have a story to tell. Tell it. If you dare... one word after the other... if you dare... without reserve... if you dare."
Mockery notwithstanding, the empty page hides the story we wish to tell. In a tiny corner of our brain, the words we need to share, the prhases we need to string together, the phrases that must grow into paragraphs, and paragraphs into pages, are there whispering... like small children moving their lips behind fat fingers, eyes ever alert to an invading parent.
We know the story. At some level, we ARE the story. It's a story that begins and ends among the pages of all the books we have ever read, and loved. That empty, white, pristine page, sitting there challenging us to put our mark upon it, while we hesitate in terror, pen gripped in white knuckled fingers, waits with infinite patience, because...after all, where would it go?
And then, we do it. We put that first word on it. We mar its perfectness with our desire. We put the next word and the next and we have a sentence, a paragraph, a beginning.
I went many years in the solitary pursuit of the best story I could write. In the desire to be published. In the ache of longing the surrounds every writer who merely wants to be recognized as such. It wasn't until I began taking classes, studying the classics, reading for the purpose of learning as well as for entertainment, that I came upon my "Aha!" moment of lucidity. The moment I finally understood what "show, don't tell" really meant. This was after many reviews from family and friends, "Nice, you tell a good story," said with a false smile, as if I couldn't see through their fake praise.
Am I done now? Faced with a blank page, can I whip out a story without so much as a breath of hesitation?
As in any craft, the craft of writing is on on-going learning process. There is so much to learn, no one person can do it in just one lifetime. There is so much that remains a mystery - show, don't tell is just one little part of the process that still eludes even me, at times. I have such clear memory of sitting at my electric typewriter, cradling my latest rejection in my hand, reading the editor's words, "Practice show don't tell. Send something else for me to see"... elated at the offer to send something else, deflated at the advice. What, I remember thinking, does she mean? It's all show, don't tell!
And, of course, it wasn't.
After a time, I realized that I had to stop comparing myself to the other writers in my creative writing class. I had to be me, write what I needed to write, and work at it until it became the stuff of respect.
"Did you write that story about the woman losing her baby?" the girl in my journalism class asked me. She sat behind me. I didn't know her name. The tap on my shoulder was so slight I barely felt it. But, I did feel it and I turned to hear what she wanted to say.
"Oh, yes," I said, describing the story in a bit more detail for clarification. "Why?"
"Professor Judith shared it in class. She said it's the best story of the semester." She smiled at me, proud to deliver this wondrous news.
The room disappeared. The deep shadows and coolness of the air, disappeared. I did not feel the smallness of the chair or the desk, I sat at. I was infused with... awe. In myself.
"Thanks," I said, turning forward to hide the grin the stretched clear round my head! One of my professors, someone I assumed did not even know I existed, though I turned in assignments weekly, had praised something I wrote.
Show, don't tell... that story had it in spades. Am I finally achieving success with this beautiful craft? I thought to myself. Is this the first step to publication?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
There was still much to learn.
There is still much to learn.
The craft of writing has no beginning and no end.