I forgot how it feels. And I have to say it feels like a swim in a cool pool on a 106 degree day, a frosted Margarita with crunchy salt, a deep tissue massage in the shade of a bongo tree. UH, well, I’ve been working with words too long today. I can’t think of anything better. But I feel good. Writing. Lots of words on paper. Nothing better. And I owe it to Ron Carlson.
I read Ron Carlson’s book Ron Carlson Writes a Story recently and he reminded me that the most important thing a writer can do is “stay in the chair.” He nailed me on the hopping-up to pee, eat, catch something on TIVO, paint a picture, nap. I do it all, I confess. Today was different.
Actually it was amazing. I probably have six or seven stories at various stages of development, plus, of course, that dang novel hanging around my neck like a flamingo. So my plan was to pick something (one story in particular has been making good progress this week) and stay in the chair. But after I finished the Sudoku–Tuesday’s is easy–and was cleaning up the kitchen, I got a surprise. A title popped unbidden (?) into my mind.
Now title-popping happens to me all the time and though I jot them down with a vague idea of what the story idea could be, they evaporate more easily than that Margarita up there on a 106 degree day. Today was different.
With the title, Dani-Girl’s Rules for Getting Everything Right, also came the story, one I’d fooled around with about ten years ago. To my conscious mind, the two, title and story, didn’t seem to belong together, but the miraculous unconscious was looking out for me. I marched upstairs, grabbed my Ron Carlson book as a guide, and sat down in the chair.
In his book, Carlson takes the reader through one of his own stories from beginning to end, almost sentence by sentence. He wrote it in one day by staying in the room, and reconstructs just how that story evolved. By doing this, he becomes a coach, explaining his thought process just as he’d coached himself years ago when he wrote it.
He starts by telling how he started by writing a good telling opening sentence.
So I did.
The minute the nose of my Honda Civic points north on the 5, my hands begin to sweat, my breath goes shallow, and somewhere down in my lower intestinal tract, I feel a rumbling very similar to distant thunder, only not as pleasant. “Don’t Go Home” is the first cardinal rule in Dani-Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right and after a lifetime in a tract house in Lomita with my German-Irish father, Rule 1 is easy to follow. After all, he’s the reason I designed the guide.
That worked to keep me in the chair. I went back to Carlson.
He tells me to write another one. And I do. And another and I didn’t get up even though my butt got sore and I had to pee, I wrote until I had 1400 words, beginning, middle, and end. It needs revision, it needs readers to help me see the flaws, but hey, I have a story!
Sounds so simple. I wonder that I don’t remember this simple trick–the staying in the chair trick. I know I won’t be able to do it every day, but I will try not to forget that I can do more than I do every day. Thank you Mr. Carlson. I hope writers everywhere pick up your little tome and take a seat.