I’m a lucky guy. No, really I am. I get to do what I almost love, every day.
I already write for a living; as a freelance commercial copywriter and reporter (I don’t do much of the latter, these days) I get to knock out a couple of thousand words daily. But, you may have noticed that I said “almost” love — let me explain.
Since I was a kid I’ve been driven to write. I’ve had short stories published, I’ve had articles published, I was working as a freelance reporter for a sports magazine when I was in my late teens. I was almost always the one singled out in my English class to read their work aloud.I love to write. It runs dark and thick through my veins.
But deep inside, I’ve always wanted – needed, really – to write fiction … to be an author. I need to entertain, and to share the weird, and often frightening worlds that inhabit the inside of my skull. I already know that I can write, people pay me to do that on a daily basis, but to write a work of fiction you have to be something more than just a writer: you have to be a storyteller. I think that fact gets by a lot of would-be authors these days, they are so concerned with their writing skills (which, of course, they should be, to an extent) that they forget they also need to be able to weave a good yarn, that their ability to put a bunch of words down on paper is just a tool for their inner storyteller being able to arrange those words in the right order, to create the myth we all want to read.
Phillip Pullman, the author of the wonderful “His Dark Materials” sums up for me the essence of story: “‘Thou shalt not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts forever.”
Once upon a time … those four words are the first step for every good fiction writer, whether they know it or not. They may have their own version of that sentence, of course, but in the end it always comes back to “once upon a time …” Any writer who doesn’t start out with that initial “what if …” is going about his craft all wrong. Why? Because they are forgetting that it’s their job to entertain the reader; to take them on a journey, truthful or imagined, and to help them see all the sights along the way. And when the journey is over, the reader needs to feel like they received something more precious than the couple of dollars that they paid out for your story. Forget that and you are doomed to forever be your only fan.
I strive to be a good writer, I know I am a decent one. The nagging question for me is, Am I a good storyteller? I believe I am.
So, why the “almost love” statement? Because the only time that I feel that I am achieving my true potential, that I am firmly in the groove my life was created to run in, is when I am writing fiction. When I can let my thoughts wander to the deepest most colorful places in my mind, the places where strange folk and stranger encounters wait for this explorer to find them and show them to the world, sharing them with my readers. That is the only time that I truly love to write. To do that on a daily basis AND be paid for it, now that would be true love.
I’ve come to realize that, in the end,there is writing and then, there is writing.