Shiny! I wonder if my dome is as blinding?
The winter break is almost over.
This morning, I am sitting in my favorite coffee shop. The world is just beginning to filter in: old men drinking coffee, reading newspapers in isolation; a couple enjoying breakfast; the staff getting jumpy because it ought to be busier. Outside, the air has the crisp dry look of 10 degree day.
By this time tomorrow, I’ll be well on my way across the country, in the mountains where it’s colder still and the snow is falling. In between listening to stories, I’ll be telling myself new ones.
When I was a kid, I’d spend the majority of my winter break reading and when I wasn’t reading I’d be playing video games or wandering around in the cold telling stories to myself.
Obviously, nothing much has changed.
When I’m good and distracted by the task of driving and listening to someone tell me their tale, my subconscious goes to work on creating new stories. Eventually, an idea will bubble up and I’ll turn off the book I’m listening to and focus on the story that’s come to mind.
Sometimes, it’s triggered by something I’ve seen on the side of the road. For instance, in Ohio about 50 miles from the West Virginia border on 1-70, there’s a school bus that’s been converted into an RV. It hasn’t been used for a very long time. It’s just rusting by the side of the road. Yet, every time I drive by it, I imagine it the way it might have been years ago and where it might have traveled and with whom.
There’s another place, in the deep valleys of northern Maryland, a house tucked into the side of a hill with what must be an incredible view of sunsets and snowstorms coming out of the west.
I think of these moments as a visual artist might think of their sketches. They are exercises. Perhaps I might become enamored enough of the vision to put the work into creating an actual story from these raw materials, but more often than not these little bits become part of the Unwritten.
Every writer has their own personal Unwritten. They are the stories and characters, the places and scenes, the bits of dialogue, that form the mass of things that will never be done.
The Unwritten are vengeful and dangerous. Vicious. They creep around the margins of stories you’re really trying to write, begging you spend some of your precious energy on them. No rhetoric will save you from the Unwritten’s delicious trap once you begin. Believe me, I’ve catalogued my Unwritten many times.
I have pages in my journals, tens of thousands of words really, going over lost stories in painful detail. I achieved nothing from the effort except a recounting of things I almost did. This is worse than doing nothing. It is meta nothing. It is worse than giving energy to failure. It’s like putting up a huge ROAD CLOSED sign in the way of your work.
As writers, I think we are tempted to believe that the interesting bits of life are found in the little detours, the roads less traveled and all that, and sometimes this is true. However, as you learn more about your own writing, you’ll discover that the detour is usually nothing more than an annoying reminder that you were on the right road to begin with and it’s just taking you longer to get where you want to go.
The sun has finally broken over the rooftops of the houses across the street. The light streams into the cafe and falls over the keyboard. It warms my arms and my back. I feel myself smiling at the image of myself sitting here writing and thinking of tomorrow’s stories. The Unwritten seem far away, but I know better.
I know that they are lurking just around the next corner.
I’ll be keeping the pedal down in 2010. How about you?