Writing is like speech written down. Most people like to read. Reading is like "talking" to another person. I've always felt that books were minds. When I went to the library, there sat hundreds of minds. I could pick who I wanted to talk to.
[quoteright]Writing a story is pretty easy. Create a conflict and resolve it. That's all there is to it. A problem (boy meets girl, boy loses girl), and a solution (boy gets girl). Or, as Shakespeare resolved the problem, they commit suicide. It's the writer who gets to choose what happens. That is the most fun.
The writer can make his characters say anything he wants. They can say, "The sky is upside down," or "The chickens are telling each other secrets." You can probably think of better examples. The writer can make the characters do anything he wants them to. Think of the possibilities in that sentence! The "characters" can also be bridges or parrots or outer space aliens or toenails. THERE ARE NO LIMITS IN WRITING. As a writer, you make up a world and have the inhabitants do and say anything you want. Doesn't that sound like fun?
People say, "I don't know what to write about." Try to think of something interesting. Maybe it happened to your cousin. Lots of odd things happen to cousins. Maybe you had a scary dream, or a happy one. Do you know the feeling you get when you smell leaves burning? That's a real feeling. It takes some real thinking to describe it.
One of the best things about writing is finding out how you feel. Whenever you write about how someone feels, you must first decide how you feel. Sometimes we are surprised. When a person is lonely, it helps to write things down. Sometimes it seems "no one understands." It helps to write it down. Can you describe what it is that no one understands? Describing things lets us know how we see things. It helps us pay closer attention to life.
I used to fish in a farmer's pond in Mississippi. Whenever I sat down to fish, a red-winged blackbird came to a bush nearby and chirped at me. After a while, we became friends. I'm glad I did not fail to notice him. He had a lot to say.
Now I notice more things, like the slots that take your money at the laundromat. They all have the same patent number. That kind of observation is the kind of thing that people in prisons do. They look around them carefully. Sometimes they find a way to get out. All prisons aren't stone and steel. Some are attitudes. Some are feelings. Sometimes we can get out of dilemmas by changing the position of the light. We see things a different way. The Buddhists say, "Happiness is another point of view."
I guess writers play "what if" more than other people, except scientists. The difference is that writers make up lies and write them down. Fiction is just a pack of lies. Yet it takes knowledge of the truth before you can tell a lie. Let's hope scientists are a little more cautious.
There are other things to write about besides stories. A good start is to write your mother, right now. Business reports should simply state first how much something will cost. It will save you a lot of writing. Song writing is extremely hard to do well, although it looks easy — like golf. Did I leave anything out? Yes, poetry. But poetry is not writing. Poetry is life.
© 1987 James C. Holaday
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