There is a chair.
It sits on a line that runs north and south. It spins, but does not roll.
Turn and face east. You’ll see that you’re in a room. It isn’t a particularly well-lit room, despite the efforts you’ve made to keep it from looking like a dungeon. Let’s call it your office.
In front of you is a desk. No, make it a table you found at a garage sale. It’s okay that it doesn’t match the rest of the furniture in your office. It’s yours and that’s what matters. Besides, it’s not really an “office” office. It’s a corner of your living room. Or your unfinished basement.
Scattered across the table are papers and books and a red stapler and bendy metal things that used to have a name but you’ve forgotten what they’re called. That’s because you’re focused on the thing that occupies the center of the card table: your computer. I’m going to make it a desktop computer, but you can picture your laptop if you want. In one corner of the screen is your novel-in-progress, but most of the real estate is filled with your web browser. There are at least a half dozen tabs open right now. One goes to Nathan Bransford’s blog. Another to Chip MacGregor’s site. And still another to Rants & Ramblings. There’s the Pandora link, of course. And one for MSNBC.com. You’re slightly embarrassed to admit that one takes you to Thesaurus.com. And slightly less embarrassed to admit one leads to TheBloggess. (Jenny makes you laugh. That’s okay. She makes me laugh, too.)
Take a look at the stack of books next to your computer. Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Stephen King’s On Writing. And a few novels you’ve started reading but haven’t finished yet. (Yes, I see that like-new copy of War and Peace you bought five years ago. Makes a great bookend.)
Yes, that’s what the bendy metal things are called. You feel damn good about yourself for remembering that, don’t you. Go ahead. Embrace this moment of successful recollection. Celebrate it. The room needs a little more cheer. Especially after reading that blogpost on the state of publishing and those two “pass” letters.
Bow down to me, paperclips, for I am your master!
Okay, let’s not overdo it. See that empty notebook? Grab it and a couple of pencils. Or pens, I don’t care. (But good luck finding one that works in that pick-up-sticks mess-of-miscellaneous bin.)
Now spin 180 degrees. Face west.
You’re not in your office anymore.
You’re on a grassy hill, watching two lovers say goodbye under a weeping willow. You’re hiding in a bunker, deafened by the sounds of war and trying not to retch from the smell of death. You’re huddled in a damp corner of a tiny room with a girl who can’t be more than five, watching as she methodically pulls the stuffing out of her well-loved bear, listening as she mimics angry words that have painted bruises on her skin and in her heart.
This is the place where stories live.
Yours is here somewhere. Follow a path or a parade or a rabbit or a trail of crumbs until you find it. When you do, step right smack dab into the middle of it. Listen. Watch. Smell. Touch. Test your own voice to learn its echo.
Then get out your notebook and write. Keep writing until you can write no more. Until your notebook is full. Or your pencils are stubs. Or your pens run out of ink. (Told you.) Or maybe until you’re so saturated with the truth that holds the story together you can’t take any more.
Go back to your chair and sit down. Take a deep breath.
Set your notebook on the desk. Sigh if you must. (You must.) Your office isn’t as much fun as the place where stories live. Words like “query” and “agent” and “rejection” and “revision” reside here, hovering like dark clouds above your computer. Sometimes they yell so loud at you they wake your napping children.
It’s not the prettiest place in the world, but it’s your place. Your office. And it’s the place where you piece together your publishing dreams.
Why, yes, I do know what you want to do right now. You want to spin again. Of course you do. But hold on just a second, okay? Take another look around your office. Notice anything different?
It’s brighter, isn’t it. The clouds above your computer aren’t so gray. The stack of books doesn’t look so menacing. The red stapler is practically orange. I’ll bet you know exactly where the light is coming from.
Yep. Your notebook. Your story.
Maybe you can work on that proposal today after all. You might want to organize all those notes first. You could use a…
Yes, a paperclip.
You are brilliant.