The Writer’s Life

The novelist sat down at his computer desk and sipped his coffee. It was November 1. Time for his annual exercise with the National Novel Writing Month, better known  as nanowrimo. His past three excursions into nanowrimo-land had turned out successful. After much needed editing, each novel was published, sold well, and received quite a lot of positive criticism.

Usually he prepared for the exercise with several months of planning. Not this year. This year he had nary a clue of what story would go onto the blank page, staring back at him. This year he was going to wing it.

His cell rang. Instead of letting the caller leave a message, he answered. Twenty minutes later he hung up, then stared at the blank document before him. It stared back. What to write, what to write?

He reached over for his cup. It was empty. This was no way to start a novel. He needed more coffee. Off to the kitchen, he went and brewed himself a second cup. Looking over at the sink filled with dishes, he realized that he couldn’t write with dirty dishes in the sink.

Twenty minutes later, the dishes were washed and dried, and he was back at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Then it came to him. He did not have clothes for the meeting he was supposed to have with his publisher two days away. Can’t have that.

As he pushed a load of laundry into the washer, he realized he was not getting any writing done. The machine began its washing. He looked at his watch. Three hours had passed and he didn’t have a word on paper yet.

No wonder I can’t get anything started. I’m hungry.

Sitting at the kitchen table, he bit into the first of three toasted cheese sandwiches. He searched the newspaper before him for ideas. Nothing in here but murder, murder, murder. He took a sip from his soda. Gee, I’ve got to give up sugar. But it won’t be this month. That would be a distraction from the novel I have to write.

An hour later the laundry was finished and the sandwiches eaten and the dishes washed. Still no idea what his nanowrimo would be. He had heard of writer’s block before but this was ridiculous. He turned on the TV. There was a Tarzan movie on. It hit him. Finally an idea. Off went the TV.

He stared at the blank page on his computer. “The man,” he typed. No, that’s not right. Got to give him a name. What name? Oh, I’ve got it.

On the screen appeared the words, “Jack Peters raised his rifle and aimed at the charging rhino.

“Click. The gun misfired.

“The rhino closed in on him.”

“Hold on there,” Jack said to the writer. “What makes you think I am agreeing to this? Ain’t no way I want to be gored by a rhino.”

This had never happened before. A character talking to him. His characters always did what they were told.

“Shut up and do as you’re told,” the novelist said to his character.

“I am not going to be gored by a rhino. Just so you can get in some imaginary word count so’s you can brag to your girlfriend that you’re a big stud of a writer. Who do you think I am?”

“You’re a big game hunter. American, if I remember correctly. Yes, definitely American. Now get to work.”

“No. No. No. That is not how it works around here. You know, if that beast gores me in the right place, I could be dead. Or even worse, impotent. That may have been good enough for that Jake Barnes fellow but not for me. I’m having none of that.”

“You don’t have any choice.”

“And you want to know something else? If you don’t make your move with that woman of yours, I’ll take care of her for you. All she needs is a man. You ain’t him.”

“Leave her out of it.”

“Okay,” the character said. “But only if you do the right thing and let me take that rhino down. Otherwise she’s all mine.”

“Geez, I never had this kind of trouble with a character before.”

“That’s ’cause all your characters have sucked big time. I’m the first real character to appear in any of your novels. Since it’s my story, I get some input. And my input is that I am not gored by a rhino. You hear me?”

“Okay,” the novelist begrudgingly agreed.

“Well, let’s get to it.” The character returned to his place on the page.

The novelist typed. “Jack dropped to his knees. He threw his rifle aside. Grabbed the gun lying in the grass next to him. The rhino was three feet away and charging. Jack aimed and fired. The rhino dropped at his feet.”

The character stepped off the page again. “That’s better. Now keep it up.”

haiku for the day: the writer

It always the same. I get up in the morning and face that blank screen. “Feed me,” it keeps saying. And I keep feeding. Two hundred words one day. Five hundred another. I’ve even written two thousand words on a good nanowrimo day. It’s helpful not to have to start with a blank sheet. To at least have an idea where you’re going. 

Then the magic happens. The dragon gets a new hat. The castle has a new prince. The princess is given a new dress. And Cinderella is fitted with a new slipper. Or Jack chops down the beanstalk and the Jolly Green Giant is saved. Hansel and Gretel discover the hidden treasure. It’s in the oven. Or should I say in the microwave. After all, the witch is a very modern witch.

Amazing how the imagination works, isn’t it?

keys on a keyboard
one hundred and one ready
novels in waiting

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Frederick Buechner

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner (pronounced Beek-ner): 

Buechner on Prayer

Grace

Buechner on Life

In the seventies, eighties and nineties, I spent a lot of my reading with theologians. I can hear the groans out there. But I was seriously trying to figure out something a lot of people had down pat. What kind of spirituality did I want to embrace?

This search led me in a lot of directions that included Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Evangelicalism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Taoism. I looked at a variety of practices outside the mainstream including certain new age practices, such as the tarot and reiki. For a while, I attended Quaker Meetings. I even dipped my toe into Jungian psychology. But, I have to tell you. My shadow scared the bejeezus out of me.

Each of these spiritualities offered something I could embrace. But none was completely satisfying. I kept thinking why did I have to choose? So I made my choice. I chose the way that Robert Frost called “The Road Not Taken”. I finally arrived at a point that I was not about to choose.

And I came to one conclusion about God. I was not an atheist or an agnostic. For me, there was only one God to believe in. That is the God, I-Don’t-Know.

In my search, the writers that impressed me were the theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Buber, and Frederick Buechner as well as the novelists Graham Greene and Fyodor Dostoevsky. All of these showed me that the spiritual path is not an easy road.

So today I would like to honor Frederick Buechner and thank him for his insight. Both his essays and his novels have been enlightening. If you would like to know more about him, here’s a link to his website.