It’s Friday again, which means a Friday writing post. I am taking a break from the usual hard-headed practical advice in order to get A Bit Metaphysical Here. Hardheaded practicality will return next Friday.
While I do think that the majority of writing “advice” is impractical and a bit airy-fairy (which is why my own advice is weighted so heavily toward discipline and Getting The Damn Work Done), every once in a while one has to sit back and think about why and how we’re doing this thing. Why are we using the telepathy of language to pull imaginary things out of the air and show them to other people? What possible purpose can it serve? What, in God’s name, are we up to?
Actually, this meditation was sparked by Joe Hill, who said:
Can’t say why I feel like the time my boys spend w/DR WHO is as key to their education as anything they get in school. Just do.
My reply? Of course it’s just as key. It teaches them to dream, to question, to stretch the bounds of imagined reality. Every advance in science or quality of life has come about because someone first imagined or questioned. The art that teaches us to question and leads us to imagine is the art that shows us a different way to live. It is a key, and behind the door it opens can be wonder or horror.
Either is equally instructive, if not necessarily equally pleasant.
There comes a point in every piece–book, short story, poem, whatever–where I make the compact to just show up and let the work do what it will. (Magic, do as you will, the great Schmendrick says.) I trust that the net will always be there to catch me when I launch myself out into space. Creating something, no matter how well or ill we execute our creation, is the ultimate act of faith. It transforms the world, whether or not it turns out lumpy and misshapen.
It is the act that matters.
I’ve written before about the state of focused wonder that is just as integral to writing as the knowledge of grammar and punctuation. They’re the engine and the chassis, if you will. The wonder is the engine that drives the story, and the grammar and punctuation is the chassis that carries it to the reader clearly and without too much damage.
This is why dreaming is important. This is why my first and last piece of advice to young writers, new writers, or old writers is do not stop. Do not ever doubt that you have a story to tell. Do not ever hesitate to dream. It is in the dreaming that you will find new stories.
Writers (indeed, any artists) are in the business of keymaking. We are the musicmakers and the dreamers of dreams, as Gene Wilder so memorably said.
If you want to view Paradise
Simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to, do it…
Wanta change the world?
to it… (Willy Wonka)
We craft the keys that open doors. We go digging for keys on every shore. We climb mountains looking for them, and bring them back from the bellies of beasts. Stories hide in every kitchen drawer, in every car on the freeway, behind every tree and under every rock. The problem is not the lack of stories, it’s the bewildering array of stories you can find everywhere.
All you need to create a story are two little words.
If dreaming is the key, what if is the precondition for a key to exist. What if a wounded fairy hid in my front yard? What if the man in front of me in the grocery store checkout line was really the prince of a hidden land? What if the produce aisle held a portal to a parallel universe? What if dinosaurs had survived, or were recreated? What if there was only one unicorn left, and she went to find the others? What if a young man helped a convict tear his chains off? What if a priest committed an act of kindness toward a sin-hardened felon? What if a demon fell in love with a human woman, or a human man? What if vampires were real? What if the silver serving spoon in my drawer was really an ancient weapon?
Everything that exists can give you an infinite number of what ifs. Each one can be a story. Whatever one you pick has the ability to become. It takes your work, your hands, your breath, your vision, your words to help craft the story–to carry the water to thirsty readers.
Don’t ever forget, day after day, that you are making the keys that open up whole new worlds. Whether your art is knitting, writing, painting, singing, raising children, sweeping streets, studying quasars, or whatever you do that makes your soul sing and makes the world change shape and color for you, you are a keymaker, just by virtue of being human. You can’t escape it, whoever or whatever you are. The shape of your keys is up to you.
This is why it’s important to dream, and to watch other people’s dreams in the art they make. I believe that if there is hope for humanity it lies in our ability to transform the world through the art we make–the art that can teach us that there is never a single story to anything.
I do not intend to ever stop hoping. Or dreaming.
And, my dearest one, whoever you are, wherever you are while you’re reading this, I hope you never do either.
Over and out.