Getting a feel for the characters, plus an insight, AND your input
Some of you may relate to the insight in some way, so let’s start with that.
I have made part or all of my living with writing for over 50 years. Writing has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.
So it was really painful for me when the well mostly dried up 10 or so years ago.
I thought it a symptom of exhaustion, perhaps, or simply never having enough time to sit down and concentrate for any useful period. Sometimes brief spurts of writing would surface—a blog or a newsletter or an academic project. And then the well would go dry again.
About a year ago, a counselor told me I was severely depressed. Specifically, I was dealing with anhedonia.
I understood intellectually the concept of fun. I just couldn’t think of anything that seemed to fit the experience. Nothing seemed fun, or even worth the effort, though I kept slogging the way you might push through ankle-deep molasses.
We tend to think feeling must precede action. (Let’s be clear: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or anything else that would qualify me to diagnose mental health issues or offer serious advice. Consult your own counselor if you deal with depression or any other problematic mental state. Really. Don’t wait. Certainly don’t depend on me.) Professional counselors know that if you make myself get up and walk a little bit despite not feeling like it, you will soon feel like it.
I made myself start writing again with a concept that sparked my interest a little bit, mainly because I’ve had three keynote gigs (with two more coming up) focused on a particular topic that appealed to me (and, apparently, other people). I thought that if I were going to speak about this topic, I should have a book on the topic.
Suddenly, it’s like I’m coming back to life.
I think I got my cause/effect relationship backward. I thought I quit writing because I was depressed. Actually, I think I became depressed because I quit writing.
Here’s what made me think this: since I started working on this book, I mean really working on it rather than just thinking about it, I have found my heart singing more than at any time in the last six months.
Maybe this is just a mood swing. Mine tend to come in fairly long arcs. But I really think this whole writing thing feeds my soul, and I neglect it to my peril.
Maybe it’s also writing or otherwise creating for you. Since we’re connected here, it’s almost certain we have talked about writing or speaking in the past. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what makes your heart sing. But it’s not just self-indulgent when you figure it out and honor it.
It may be cliché, but it’s true what they say about airplanes and oxygen masks. Put on your own mask first. It’s not selfish. In fact, it’s the best way to serve others. I’m very much aware that if I drop, it will negatively affect a bunch of other people. I have to take care of myself to continue taking care of those who matter to me.
So here’s where we are right now with the book development.
Getting a feel for the characters
The working title (which could ultimately become the publication title—I’ll be involving you in that final process) is Way of the Three-Year-Old Why. I’ve had the basic characters in mind for awhile. I’m drawing partly on my own situation, but the book is not going to be autobiographical. For instance, Dan Roberts (the focal character) has a severely disabled daughter and a partially disabled wife. Some of the scenes will be set in a favorite coffee shop I frequent. The “mentor” figure is based on three or four different people I know. Dan has some of the challenges I have had.
But there are two seemingly conflicting bits of advice commonly given to writers.
Write what you know.
Don’t write what you know. Write what you want to learn.
A paradox is a truth, the opposite of which is also true. This is a useful paradox for a writer.
Any good story has challenges and conflicts, and so I will bring in complications and conflicts that aren’t mine. That will be an interesting exploration. The guidelines we’ll share in the parable come from that signature speech I have developed over the last year or so. I don’t have just one wise mentor in my life, although I have benefitted from the guidance of many over the years. None of them ever told me these guidelines, though. They are my distillation, but they didn’t come from Yoda or something like that.
I’ve written the opening sequence where we meet the two main characters who will interact throughout the book, i.e., Dan and the mentor. It will be fun getting to know them. I can’t remember if this came from Stephen King’s book On Writing or somewhere else, but it was an astute observation about the nature of writing fiction. You might plan for your character to walk down to the corner and turn right, but he then actually gets in the car, drives a mile in the other direction, and turns left. Very often the characters do what they want to do. So I will simply be learning about them before I introduce them to you.
I’m still trying to decide something about the nature of the mentor, actually. In The Go-Giver, Pindar is depicted as a very much real person who has lived in the town for many years and is well-known there. In The Legend of Bagger Vance, the mentor is a mysterious figure who comes into town at just the right moment that everybody but the focal character takes for granted. Though he is mysterious, he is not hidden. In Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the mentor works in a service station. If I remember correctly (I haven’t read the book in several years) the focal character goes looking for the mentor at the end of the book, only to be told that no one by that name or description has ever worked there.
I don’t want to say which way I’m leaning because I don’t know how much you want to know. (See the next item and let me know.) But for that reason I’m slightly less familiar with the mentor than I am with Dan at the moment.
You can shape this newsletter some if you would like. I appreciate you coming on this journey with me, and so I’m interested in what and how much you would like to know. For instance, I’ve told you a little bit about the characters as they stand right now. The plot will change as I develop it. Sometimes people like to know about what might have been. Others don’t want to know anything about plot changes—they just want to read the finished book. (Does it matter to you that J.K. Rowling considered having Hermione and Harry wind up together instead of Hermione and Ron?)
So, please, give me a little feedback. Abstentions count in the sense that people who don’t respond signal they are OK with any outcome, but I will pay attention to the input you give me here. And keep an eye on the newsletter. I’m not turning over responsibility to you for the writing, but your thoughts will shape the content if you respond to future polls.
Just in case you’re not seeing the link in the above paragraph, here it is in more plain text: https://forms.gle/HYq39WjDKJ1t26YQA
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