Creating a story is a bit like flying a kite: everything is up in the air
Not long ago I met a young woman, perhaps 21, at a dinner party. She told me that she had decided to become a writer. Actually, her declaration went something like this: "I'm writing a book and it's so easy. I write all the time and I already have more than 100 pages. It's good. Really good. I can't tell you what it's about, because no story like this has ever been written before."
I think I can say without exaggeration that I was gobsmacked.
Not surprised that someone could write a hundred pages of a novel in practically one go. Not even surprised that she thought her idea was novel. No, what awed me was her complete belief in herself and her idea. She was not a lit or creative writing major at university. In fact, she wasn't even someone who reads books very often. She was a young woman trying to find herself who stumbled into writing and found it easy to do. She was having a blast delving into the story, creating her characters and her world.
It reminded me of that stage of writing we all love: daydreaming a story into existence. When ideas are formed out of a single word or an image. When characters spring to life. When anything and everything is possible. It is a very heady time, and don't we all think in these moments that we've hit upon something fantastic?
I watched a man flying a kite this morning. From my balcony, I could see his body twist and turn to the tune of the wind. It was like poetry and dance at the same time. Isn't that what first drafts are? The pull of language, the rhythm of scene. You launch a small object in the air and then try to control its destiny. Can you remember the excitement and nervous anxiety of flying your first kite?
As writers, we pour our hearts and creativity into those first drafts. Sometimes, they are never completed. Sometimes, we work on multiple drafts and still struggle to find the essence of the story. But sometimes they take on their own lives and we know we have created something strong, something true.
I can't remember exactly how I felt when I wrote my first story. I was twelve or thirteen on summer holidays and I wrote a novella largely based on The Outsiders. I'm sure I was elated and proud and as pleased with the results as the young woman I met at the dinner party. But I was a shy teenager who would have never had the guts to proclaim to the world, or even a near stranger, that I was a writer and I was good at it. But I do believe that somewhere deep inside, I felt that way. Because I've never doubted that I would be a writer. I just had no idea what being a writer really meant, what it would entail or how many years of writing lay ahead before I ever felt as pleased again by something I'd written.
A month or so later, I ran into that young woman at another party. She had a new job, a new boyfriend and a million reasons to put off writing her book. Yes, I remembered that stage, too. The kite gets stored away in favour of more grown up things. But notice how you feel when you see someone else flying a kite. Don't you really want to be the person holding the string?
A writer's journey