“Don’t write for others. Don’t write for yourself. Write to fill the page.”
– David McKee, Story (one of many great finds on Scribd).
This is a continuation of the idea of getting out of your own way. It technically applies to all writing, though there’s a different kind of alchemy when you’re applying it to writing for a living (hint: it’s kind of like how classical musicians all play exactly the same notes for a piece, yet can sound completely different).
During NaNoWriMo, though, you don’t have to worry about that. “Quantity, not Quality!” is your battle cry, and so you can, in fact, just write to fill the page. In fact, if there is a day when you really don’t know what or how to write, go ahead and just fill the page. Doesn’t matter what words are there, or if you’re telling the most boring story there is. Just don’t stop writing.
Believe it or not, there’s a magic to something as simple as:
Blaise wanted coffee.
“Georgia,” he said, “Bring me coffee, please.”
Georgia got up and went to the kitchen.
She came back. “Here’s your coffee,” she said.
“Thank you,” Blaise said. He drank the coffee.
What did Blaise say next?
You know, don’t you? When I asked you the question, you had an answer – likely a variation on “It’s hot!” – but you could hear it in your brain.
Here’s the thing: if you are crazy enough to want to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, you do not suffer from a lack of imagination. What you may have is the occasional blockage – Resistance as Steven Pressfield would call it – to letting that imagination work.
So instead, torture it.
The Parable of the Coffee
Once upon a time there was a young woman named Laura, and she was very much in love with Kate. Unfortunately, Laura lived and worked in New York City while Kate lived and worked in Ohio. In spite of the distance Laura and Kate saw each other every chance they got. They also took advantage of phone calls, letters, emails, and the occasional picture, but both of them were very busy and so there were times that days would go by without as much contact as the two of them would have liked.
Laura was getting frustrated, and she asked Kate if she could think of a way that they could easily have contact. Kate got a sly look on her face, and asked for one simple thing. “Every morning,” she said, “it would be really sweet if you could bring me coffee.”
Laura was puzzled, because she lived in New York City, and that was a long way from Ohio (where in Ohio, you ask? To someone from New York City, it really doesn’t matter. Ohio is just one part of that amorphous blob of nowhere known as “the flyover states”). But she shrugged and said “OK,” and after the usual number of affectionate farewells they hung up their phones. Well, actually they shut off the connection, but we still say “hung up” like we still say “dial their number” even though we really don’t.
Anyway, the next morning when Laura woke up she was faced with a conundrum. How could she bring Kate coffee? After a moment she shrugged, pulled out her phone, and sent a text.
Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
A moment later Laura’s phone chimed. Thank you! It’s delicious.
Laura was a little puzzled – it wasn’t like Kate had real coffee. But she seemed happy, and so Laura went on about her busy New York City day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone again, and typed Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee.
Again the phone chimed, but this time it said Ah! Thanks, dear. It’s a little too hot, but I’ll drink it soon.
Laura looked sideways at her phone. Too hot? It was a text! She put it down to some strange Midwestern ritual and went about her day.
The next morning she pulled out her phone and typed again. Good morning, Kate. Here’s your coffee. She paused a moment before she hit “send”, though, and then added I let it cool down a bit this morning before sending it.
Her phone chirped happily. Oh, so thoughtful! You’re so sweet. I love you.
Like anyone who reads those words from their darling, Laura grinned a goofy grin that she was glad none of her fellow New Yorkers could see, and kept it bright inside her heart for the rest of the day.
From then on there was no stopping her:
I put some cinnamon in your coffee this morning, because the Fall air is crisp.
Today I got you coffee from the corner bodega where the guy has a moustache that makes him look like Teddy Roosevelt.
This coffee is in a mug that my Grandfather used to drink out of when he’d read me the funny papers on Sunday morning.
…and so on. Every morning the coffee ritual became a way that Laura (who was a writer) could create something beautiful out of a few letters and an idea to send to her love, Kate (who knew that Laura was a writer who would never have been able to stick to just Here’s your coffee).
And they lived happily in New York City and Ohio amidst the coffee texts of love.
You are human; you’re wired to tell stories. If you are having trouble writing a lot – write a little. Write the bare minimum, until you can’t stand it anymore. I promise you: the words will come.
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