Kage Baker always told me – to be a writer, you must write. Just that – sit down and write something. Anything. Gibberish, if that’s all that comes to mind – it worked for James Joyce, she would always point out – and sense and a plot will eventually coalesce out of the murk.
But they for certain sure will not, if you don’t just shut up, sit down and write.
This simple advice (though not as simple as it sounds; no, not at all) can lead you to frustrated insanity. But, hey – so can trying to get the child-proof cap off the aspirin. Persevering still works, though, whether you’re a born story-teller like Kage, or a late-come amateur like me. Nothing else will, either. Inspiration will never, ever alight on your hand like a bird in a fairy-tale; it’ll flash by on burning wings, enticing you, and never land at all. Unless you sit down and write. You’ll know you saw it, you’ll know it’s real and out there and you can cherish the glimpse in your memory – but it won’t come build its nest in your soul.
Unless you sit down and write.
I knew this instinctively when I was a child. Like Kage, I wrote all the time, then; some stories, but mostly poetry – scribbled out on anything at all, then carefully copied out clean in a series of 8 x 11 narrow-ruled notebooks. We all all have our distinctive rituals of completion … They are all somewhere in storage now, in a box; my poetry from age 7 to 57. The stories were converted to oral tradition, and used in the bonfires of brain-storming with Kage.
Somewhere in that process, I stopped writing things down. Even the poetry came less and less often, although as late as my 40’s it continued in a flood of frightening quantity and highly variable quality … I didn’t get tired of it. I didn’t forget how. I didn’t come to the mature realization that such things were not Real Life – I can claim with utter truth that I’ve never come to that realization about anything. No, I just succumbed to the temptation of living inside Kage’s mind.
We all do it, Dear Readers, with our favourite writers. Heck, even with frankly bad writers, if said writer can pull off the trick of carrying us away. Who does not harbour lasting affection for some piece of shlock because it drew us into another world when we really needed it? Now imagine you’ve fallen into the work of a writer you love, and you don’t have to wait for the next book to come out. No, not ever. Because you’re living in their mind, and they talk to you.
There must be writers who never converse with their families or agents or editors; who have no writing circle, no trusted critic, no Dear Readers. I mean, statistically, there have to be. I bet they’re rare, though. Most writers have sounding boards. Beta readers. Debate partners. I was Kage’s, and let me tell you – that was one E-ticket ride. For me, it was a case of sit down and talk – and I spent decades in an alternate universe that never failed to delight me.
His mother was a vot’ress of my order, says Titantia in Midsummer Night’s Dream, explaining why her changeling child is dear to her. I was a votaress of whatever order Kage was in, dedicated to the service of her Muse. Though it ended up me that was left with the changeling child. He clings to my hand and looks at me with his mother’s eyes, and it’s my work now to see him to man’s estate.
Anyway, that’s why Kage believed I could write; that, and all those ragged notebooks. Most of all, though, I think it was her firm conviction that there was more to say; if she couldn’t say it, I would have to take over. And – the other side of the coin – I was never going to say anything for myself unless she left me under a geas to do so.
Sisters are sneaky that way.