56. more on writing

In his introduction to his first book in The Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote that he started this series because he wanted to see what would happen if he got the heavy machinery out and took on a story of epic size. If you’re familiar with King’s writing, you know he’s got some door-stopper books, so for him to say he wanted to take on something big…well that’s really saying something. He started the series in 1991 and the seventh and last book was published last September. Most of the books are about 400 – 500 pages long but some, including the last one are around 800.

(FYI…I think I read some of the first book, The Gunslinger, and I can’t remember if I finished it or not (guilty confession: I start a lot of books, I finish very few of them). But I never read any of the other books in the series.)

I can’t comprehend that kind of writing. I can barely comprehend that kind of reading. I guess I say that because all I write are these tiny little story things, most of which wouldn’t fill one page. Stephen King pulls out the big guns and ends up with an epic somewhere around 30,000 pages long.

I mention King partly out of insecurity – is there a place in the world for stories three, four, five paragraphs long? It’s not that I’m lazy (well, it’s partly that) or not disciplined (um…yeah, partly this too), it’s more the case that that’s all I have, that’s all that comes. I get an idea, sometimes just a line or a sentence, and finishing that sentence is like opening a door. Behind the door, I find a scene or an action or another character. Whatever it is, I write down what I see and then I walk through the next door and I write what I see there.

Sometimes after I’m done with a room I can’t find an exit – I don’t know where to go with the story. When this happens, sometimes I wait and a door appears later – the wife of a writer once said that one of the first things she learned about being married to a writer is that when he’s staring out the window, he’s actually working. But sometimes the next door never appears. Sometimes that means it’s a dead end and the story dies. Sometimes that means that I missed a door a few rooms back.

The ending…it’s hard to explain but I just know when the story ends. It’s not like running out of things to say, I just know there’s nothing more to be said. And so I stop.

Someone asked Jackson Pollock (the artist famous for throwing paint onto the canvas rather than applying it with a brush) how he knew when he was done with a painting. He replied, “how do you know when you’ve finished making love?” (Oh crap, I just had a thought…I hope writing super short stories doesn’t mean I’m going to be one of those guys who make love for five minutes and then they’re done.)

[insert segue]

It seems I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing lately (see blog 50 and 55). I suspect this has something to do with the downswing (blog 54). I don’t know if this is how everyone handles being down but I get all introspective and since I’ve been writing a lot lately, thats what I’m introspecting (holy crap, my spellchecker didn’t flag that word…I can’t believe it’s in the dictionary).

I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll find a story that doesn’t go down in two bites. Maybe I’m just warming up. Or maybe this is how I write and I’m actually fine with that. I never aspired to be a writer, it’s just something I like to do. That thing I wrote above about walking through doors, that’s a reasonably good way to describe how I write – I never know what to expect. One sentence leads me to the next and a lot of times, even as I’m writing it, I won’t know where that sentence will take me until I’ve put a period at the end of it. And that’s what I love about writing – the surprises.

And this doesn’t just happen when I’m writing stories. It’s the same with my “regular” blog entries (like this one). Even when I’m writing about myself, I’m usually trying to figure something out or trying to flesh out an idea that’s been running through my head and a lot of times, I find just as much surprise as I do when writing stories…which is why I continue to write both.

Thanks for reading…really.

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