How do you write a story?
It’s a strange question, really, like asking how to fall out of a tree, or walk across the street, or how to properly skin a cat (not that I’ve ever done that or endorse doing so, though I wonder who considered it first and, more importantly, why).
The answer, I’m afraid, is simpler than you might want it to be, and one I suspect you already know: You simply have to do it. You write by writing.
But before this first weekend of NaNoWriMo, let me offer some encouragement beyond the obvious—encouragement that a writer far more accomplished than I gave me recently.
First, take your writing seriously…
We all write stories by putting down one unsatisfactory word at a time, then more words, and still other words until the thing is finally done. There’s no quick fix because the blue-collar nature of writing sinks bone deep. No way around it.
You will never get much done in life, whether writing a book or mastering long division, unless you take the work itself seriously. Even a blind squirrel will occasionally stumble upon a nut, but only an industrious beaver can build dam after dam. And trust me, beavers take their craft seriously.
I realize the analogy is a stretch, but go with it. All will become clear about halfway through your manuscript.
Second, don’t take yourself too seriously.
There are a good many curmudgeonly writers in the world. They don’t have friends, or cats, for good reason, and quite a few smell funny despite their best efforts. Don’t be one of those people.
Approach your story with a light heart. What you’re doing isn’t rocket science. After all, you’re just making stuff up, right? Take the discipline of your craft seriously, but leave the harsh judgments about yourself (especially yourself), the work, and others’ opinions about it on the curb.
Those things don’t matter, not really. Always remember: we’re just making stuff up.
Most of all… enjoy the process.
Some people say that they enjoy “having written” more than writing and that they’re unable to find joy in the creative process itself. Those people would make terrible musicians; who wants to see a band that doesn’t want to be on stage? And who would want to eat a meal by a chef who only looks forward to “having cooked”?
Don’t wish your life away or try to live in the future as someone hoping to look back on the past. It’ll only rip the space-time continuum. I’ve done the math.
Enjoy the moment and invest yourself in every single word of your story. Every moment. Your story, like your life, only happens in the Now. All the best stuff exists between “Once upon a time…” and “The End.” So, don’t rush it. Enjoy the road along the way because that’s all you really have.
Kevin Kaiser is the author of @WriMo: A 30-Day Survival Guide for Writers. 100% of the profits from the sale of the book are donated to support NaNoWriMo. He’s also the co-author of an upcoming young adult series set to publish in January 2013.
Top photo by Flickr user cjdc.