That's Life



Life is taking out the garbage, dropping the kids at daycare and cleaning up spills.

LIFE is signing the papers on your first home, the moment your child comes into the world and surveying the devastation of a flooded home. 

Life is going to the park, picking out new underwear and eating ice cream.

LIFE is walking in the rain forest you've only seen in pictures, seeing yourself in THE wedding dress for the first time in the mirror and having gelato on a hillside in Tuscany as the sun sets. 

We all know that moments are not created equal. Nor are days, weeks and years. There is normal, and there is extraordinary. There is happy, and there is elation. There is not fun, and there is horrific. That's life.

My favorite Sinatra song inspired this post. Life also inspired this post. 

Last week I had leaky ceilings, dental visits and car inspections. This week I had drinks with dear friends I see only every few years. I got to see my friend's son conquer his fear of water slides and subsequently have the time of his young life. And was able to spend too-rare hours just hanging out with my spouse.

As usual, I found a writing lesson in all of this.

When I write my first drafts, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about Life. Cups of coffee. Phone calls. Waking up. Falling asleep. And so on. It helps me figure out who the characters are. What they do. How they do it.

It's an essential part of my process, just as those cups of coffee, sleep and quick conversations with my brother are essential to my own life. Most of life is made up of Life. But it's only LIFE that counts in writing.

It isn't until I get to the second draft that I really figure out what constitutes as LIFE for my characters. 

A phone call from a friend is Life. A call from a grandparent they thought to be dead is LIFE. Coffee sipped over a friendly a chitchat is Life. Coffee thrown in a lover's face during a quarrel is LIFE. By my third time through I usually have a pretty good handle on it, but I still need to be cautious. 

Our stories should be filled with LIFE. Think of the story as a compendium of LIFE for our characters. Only include the dire, the exceptional, the exhilarating and the devastating. Everything else needs to support or facilitate that or get out of the way. 

As simple of a concept as it is, I've found it to be one of the hardest things to train myself to do. Probably because I can't imagine my own life in a Cliffs Notes version. It's exhausting to even think about! 

But there's good writing exercise in it ...

Try writing down your own life highlights. Maybe just from the past year. Now imagine building a story around just those things. Once you've done that you're onto something.

It hurts to cut the normal from the lives of our characters. Why? Because it would kill us to not have the normal in our own lives. The collection of "normal" is what makes up a childhood. Normal is the memory of your grandparents. Normal is the values your parents instilled in you that you're busy instilling in your own kids.

Take away the normal, and there just isn't much to life.

But no one likes to read about normal. We live normal. It's LIFE we want to read about.


Bleed It Out

What do you give to your stories? What part of YOU leaves to become part of the page? I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever pursued writing seriously understands what I'm asking.

Yeah here we go for the hundredth time 
Hand grenade pins in every line

There's a process. It can be painful. It must be repeated. While I've been aware of it, I'm not sure if I've really come to peace with it until the last few weeks. 

What we do, no matter the level of expertise or area of writing, is nothing less than soul mining. We dig, we scour and we cajole. Anything to conjure a few words, to articulate the things in our heads.

Dug the trench out laid down there 
With a shovel up out of reach somewhere 
Yeah, someone pour it in 
Make it a dirt dance floor again

Not going to lie, it has frustrated the hell out of me at times. Nothing is good enough for ME. Furthermore, there's almost zero extrinsic value in it. I can count the "Atta boys" I've gotten on both hands. 

And to be honest, even if Stephen King and J.K. Rowling co-authored a letter titled, "Why We Think E.J. is the Greatest Writer of All-Time" I still wouldn't buy it. This is my struggle. What do they know about it? 

I am Sisyphus, and that rock is never going to crown that damned hill so long as I'm pushing it.  

Truth is you can stop and stare 
Run myself out and no one cares

I realize this entire post is going to come off as the Angst-ridden Writer Guy venting, but I don't care. I don't care because I think I've needed to say it. And I think you might need to hear it. 

Writing is thankless. It's a battle with yourself that you'll never win. The entire point of it is to pour yourself--your words--out until it runs dry. To try and say something in way that only you can say it. Once it's done, you do it again.

And that's okay.

F#@! this hurts, I won't lie 
Doesn't matter how hard I try 
Half the words don't mean a thing 
And I know that I wont be satisfied

I'm not suggesting I don't write for the reader. I think you have to. Put the truth serum (i.e. Merlot) in me, and I'll tell you what I really want to do is entertain. If I can get the reader caught up in what I'm saying long enough to forget about their crying dog or barking child, I call it success. 

But ultimately it's more about stirring something in them, not just telling them a story. I also realize most of what I write isn't going to achieve that lofty aspiration.

I bleed it out digging deeper 
Just to throw it away

So that's what this is about. Embracing the process. Give it your all every last stinking time as if it is the last stinking time. Don't expect anything out of it but the process. Don't regret the suffering. Don't regret anything. 

Expect people to dance as you burn. Expect them to want more even when you've been bled out. It's called a challenge for a reason. 

I bleed it out digging deeper 
Just to throw it away

I've listened to the song BLEED IT OUT by LINKIN PARK (all of the big BLUE words in this post are theirs, as is the song below) a few hundred times over the last three years. Not joking. 

It's in my exercise mix and it gets me going. It has also put my b.i.c. (butt in chair) to write on many occasions when I'd just about given up. It's probably the closest thing I have to a "Rocky" theme song. 

If you're not ruffled by a little language, you should give it a listen.

Do you have a song? A quote? Anything that sums up what this writing thing is about?