“I’m going to write a story!” said Kiddo#2 to me as we sat down to breakfast.
My immediate urge was to exclaim, “No! Don’t do it — spare yourself!”
I didn’t. If she’s got the story bug, telling her not to write would leave her confused but it wouldn’t stop her from writing. She’d just do it in ways other than words to paper. She’d hide it. She’d feel shame in creating.
But I hungered to tell her, don’t do it. Don’t give your heart to people that no one else will ever meet. Don’t look into the depths of someone else’s soul and love them so hard it hurts, and then put them into untenable positions where they have to make impossible choices. Don’t forge an entire person only to take him apart and put him back together again, while you’re rooting for him the whole time.
Don’t listen to that voice when you say you know how to make a person better than he is. The heartbreak you give him is going to become your own, and when he struggles, a part of you is going to be in pain as well.
No one is going to understand. You’ll improve your craft because you’ll yearn for someone to know and love this person just as much as you do, but the best you’ll ever be able to give will be hints, no matter how excellently you do your job. You can’t tell your reader everything you know about that person, because you created him. You’re inside him. You love him. You’ll want us to love him to, and sometimes, other people won’t love him. They won’t understand him.
They won’t understand you, either.
When you’re standing at the bus stop, staring a thousand miles away, and someone asks you what’s wrong, you’ll fumble for a reason because you can’t say, “Jack isn’t sure how to get across the river, but his daughter needs him.” Instead you’ll say, “I’m tired,” and you’ll feel a little cheap.
That triumph when you finally get eight words to line up just right, or you find the one phrase that makes a chapter work — no one will understand. You won’t be able to share the brilliance of that key second when a character births himself in your head, or when the characters begin talking to you, or when you solve the problem that’s stumped you all (author and characters together.) When the answer to the end emerges organically from the beginning, and you walk around eight feet tall, you won’t have anyone to tell. Because you did your job right, and they’ll think you planned it from the start.
Even other craftsmen won’t always understand. They’ll come close, but writing is solitary.
It’s the best thing in the world. I just didn’t want my daughter to pay that high a price.
Yet there Kiddo#2 sat in front of me, beaming, and explained she wanted to write the story she and her friend had play-acted together on the playground — the same way I did with Amy when I was in third grade.
I said to her, “Do you need a notebook?”
She said, “I’m going to write it on looseleaf paper. A notebook won’t be big enough. I’ll need lots of pages.”
Lots of pages, lots of pens, and lots of heart. Good luck, Sweetie.