Thursday, June 11, 2009

Never trust a cautionary tale

I read a short story when I was in high school that I can only describe as a cautionary tale for writers. It was the story of a woman (set in the pioneer days, oddly enough, as I remember), who is so busy raising her kids and taking care of the farm and whatnot that she never has time for writing. Instead, she lays pretty paper away in a drawer for someday when she has time. When her children have grown up and moved on, and she finally has free time, she brings out the paper, sharpens her pencil...

She can't think of a thing to write. Her writing gift has slipped away throughout years of neglect.

As a writer, I was alternately unsettled and outraged by this story. We all procrastinate -- that's the one sure thing about every writer (after all, we wouldn't write fiction if we didn't spend plenty of time daydreaming!). I hated the idea that, just because we were too busy for a week (month/year/decade), we might be able to lose the craft. Lose a little dexterity with dialogue or scene, perhaps; forget a thread that ran through a story, maybe. But not lose the idea of story itself.

I still think this is true. I think we should write now not because we'll lose our very ability otherwise; the only reason to write now is that you'll only tell this story, this once. Now when a memory is fresh or an emotion raw, now when there's a particular news story you're mulling over that will play out in your prose; now when you've just overhead a funny snippet of dialogue in the grocery that you'll find a place for. Write now so that you won't lose today's little details, the strange directions that today's thoughts can take you towards.

But if you don't manage to write today? If there's a big work deadline or a friend needs you or you have the stomach flu?

Well, then, there will be a whole different set of little details, a whole new story to tell, tomorrow.

**Bonus points for any reader can tell me the author or title for the story described above -- I've been wracking my brains and googling, but I am at a loss.**


Lazy Writer said...

I have no idea about the title or author of the story, but it does provide a powerful message. I haven't written in over a week, and now, I draw a blank every time I sit down to work on my novel. I've tried to busy myself with writing exercises and blogger writing contests. I am hoping it will keep me in touch with my inner writer until my attention can be focused back on my novel. Thanks for sharing the story. Let me know if you ever find the title and author. I'd like to read it.

Warren Baldwin said...

I linked here from Lazy Writer. This is a great story you told in this post. I appreciate the emphasis you have in several of your posts about procrastination. I have procrastinated and lost my idea. Now, I try to run to the computer and write out my idea. In my word processor I have a file called "Ideas." Anything that comes to me I type it out, give it a title, and save it. Ocassionally I go back when I have a little time and am motivated to write, take one of the ideas, and run with it.

Some good, practical suggestions here. Thanks.