I just finished a project that I had been working on for almost a year, and the post-coital anxiety set in immediately—you know, when the sadness of letting go and saying goodbye leaves you empty, alone, hopeless…
I tried looking it over, even caressing it with kisses, but the manuscript could see through me; when I’m done, I’m done. I went to the local bar, threw back a few, hit on some new ideas, but none were as good as the one I had just left. And then it hit me: It was time to take a break, learn how to be alone again—maybe learn a new language, take up a hobby, even rejoin the human race.
Linear storytelling, since Aristotle defined it, works best in three acts—beginning, middle, and end; true for novels, movies, and commercials. It’s even true for jokes—often called The Rule of Three or the Comic Triple—where something is repeated, with minor variations, and the third time releases a twist. When done well, we are engaged and entertained; when done very well, we digest metaphors that reflect our lives, process our problems, and are profoundly affected.
The writing process also works best in three distinct phases. First, is the set up, when the writer thinks about a world, the characters, the general tone of the story—often walking around in a daze, his loved ones worrying he’s entered some state of dementia. Phase two is the actual writing, or purging—the inspired rant—his loved ones believing he’s left the country. Some people end there, but we all know that’s a mistake. Enter act three: rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting—ripping it apart, exploring every option, then letting it go.
But letting go is an art unto itself. A lot of people talk about writer’s block and there’s not enough discussion about how to stop writing after “The End.” We so often hear about people who hate writing, but love to have written; we rarely hear much about their counterparts—people who love writing and just can’t stop. I’m not suggesting there should be a twelve-step program, just that they should also be addressed, and occasionally reminded: Writers write from experiences; they must take the time to live, love, and laugh. Otherwise they might miss the point of writing in the first place.
So I’ll leave you with this:
A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
He decided to check out each place first. When he descended into the fiery pits, he saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes. “Oh my,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”
When he ascended into heaven, he saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.
“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”
“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”
I hope you laughed. Now go take a break and live a little. I have to get back to work.