The sun hits my face. The rude nudge wakes me. I wonder why I slept late into the morning as the sun comes through an upper window of the front door. And why did I fall asleep on the sofa? Wait. It’s not morning. It’s afternoon. I took a nap. My mind adjusts to the mayhem of time. The original waking thought of morning and coffee tumbles into late afternoon. I need to start dinner.
Writing is like that. A sharp awakening with ideas barely focused but a need for sentences to take shape. Then a realization it’s not what I thought. It’s suddenly something different. Don’t think about putting coffee on, because it’s dinner time.
Actually it’s more complicated than that. When you go to a doctor’s appointment with the flu, you’re asked the ridiculously basic question, how do you feel? You have no idea where to start. The list is too long. Of course there’s an idea of what the story is about or the arch of that essay. There is that first sentence, which needs to be spot on. The specific words, the pacing, the rhythm – you want readers to catch everything. Is the tone exactly right or does it sound so pathetic it conveys the writing of a fourth grader?
Is there an incantation that works with writing? Some spell uttered before putting that first word down? Or an image to hold clearly in mind that will manifest on the page? Or is it simply the advice given when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.
Readers naively assume words adhere to the page. Each word neatly placed in an orderly fashion remains fixed forever. Words build into sentences and sentences into paragraphs exactly like a child’s Lego set. Sharp corners, straight edges. Writers know this isn’t so. Words slip and slide between lines, sneak into another sentence. And it’s not just words that are difficult to cement correctly. There is punctuation, tricky commas and the godawful challenge of semicolons. You finally go to bed thinking you have every letter and possible dot where it needs to be, only to find under dark of night that everything shifts into a mess that needs to be tackled. Again. And again.
Corralling words is just the beginning. Even if you manage to string them into a readable structure, it’s not enough. As though you managed to put a skeleton together but still need muscles, tendons, organs, nerves, and skin. And don’t forget toenails. Eyebrow. Anyone can read a list of words but you want readers to leave with ideas they didn’t have before that first sentence. You want the flow of words to get under and lift them into unimaginable realms of towering clouds and swirling galaxies. Or pull them through a whale’s baleen to be carried into the darkest sea.
How to transform words, letter strings to draw emotions? You endeavor to use writing magic to twist hearts, release tears. You want your story to be a whisper in every reader’s dreams. Because the story came from every reader’s dream. It is a piece of the genetic code everyone had from birth, yet may not realize it is part of their life until they read your story. An important part of life across times and place, captured by a hand print in a cave, submerged with Atlantis, seen from the Apollo. The reader’s breath changes with the words, the heartbeat quickens. You want readers to sigh heavily as they turn the final page. You want the publisher to suggest having a packet of tissues in the back of each book.