Would you like to write a story?

Would you like to knit a pair of mittens? I can tell you how to knit a pair of mittens. For child-size mittens use small needles and thin yarn. For Sasquatch-sized mittens use huge needles and heavy yarn. For in-between sizes, adjust needles and yarn accordingly. Cast on forty-four stitches. Knit in ribbing for at least three inches. (Recommended for all sizes.) Knit straight for one inch. (Adjusting for smaller or larger sizes.) Begin adding two stitches in the middle of the mitten every other row for the thumb gusset until there are sixty stitches. Work on the middle sixteen stitches for two and half inches (adjusting for size) then decrease for three rows and cast off. Work on the remaining stitches for three and half inches (adjusting for size) and decrease for the top of the mitten. Sew the seams. Repeat for second mitten. Voila – a pair of mittens.

Would you like to write a story?

Would you?

Uhhhh – sorry. I can’t help you.

No, really, I got nothing.

For a paper for a writing class I took, I tried to document my process for writing a story. From the first moment of seeing a character in my head to – well, not The End, not yet. But from the first inkling to at least to some concrete semblance of a story, I tried to faithfully record every little brain flutter of inspiration and progress. But though I have thirty pages or more of stream of consciousness written down, it occurred to me (at the departmental Christmas party of all places) that I really have no idea how I write a story.

What comes first? The story? The plot? The characters? The beginning? The end? Yes. Depending on the particular story, any one of these can be the first step in my writing odyssey.

Then what? What comes next?

Anything. Everything. Nothing. Do I know?

Not really.

If someone were to ask me, ‘How do I write a story?’ my illuminating answer would be, ‘get a pencil and some paper, think up a story and write it down.’

I know – contain your amazement.

Where do I get my ideas, my characters, my plots? Well, from looking around me, reading books, watching TV, listening in on conversations, watching people from the distance of assumed disinterest.

Everything goes into the Rolodex of my subconscious, tossed into the mix to be filed, sorted, used, distorted, or plunked down whole into a story. Like a surgeon who orders “Hemostat” and knows they’ll instantly appear in her hand, I tell my brain what I need and there it is. Sometimes it’s exactly what I want, usually I have to tweak it, but I’m never at a loss for possibilities.

One “rule of writing” I have is “A good marblecutter never loses his spit.” (the tag line for this blog) I got that from reading “The Agony & The Ecstasy” about Michelangelo. In the book (if I remember correctly, it’s been probably forty years since I read it) Michelangelo is trying to impress a girl with his carving talent. He comes to a rough spot on the piece of marble and puts some water on it. The next rough spot, he doesn’t have any water so he spits on it. The girl asks, “What happens when you run out of spit?” And he says (words to the effect at least) “a good marble cutter doesn’t run out of spit.”

All of which is a long way to go to say(however obliquely) that a writer should always be ready to write, always have paper & a pen to write down ideas, always be looking for or at the very least open to ideas, watching people, listening to the way they talk, training their Rolodex to be at work all day, every day, so that when they order “Hemostat” (or ‘dialogue’, ‘setting’, etc) it’ll be slapped down on their open palm just as soon as they ask for it.

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