I’m sitting at a cafe with Jim Sallis. We’re eating oatmeal, drinking coffee, talking about writing. We’re both working hard to finish our current novels. He’s had 12 novels published and won a bunch of awards and had lots of movie options; so he’s pretty familiar with how this writing thing works. I’m working on my second novel, (*cough*) having sent the first into permanent exile.
(Well, not permanent, but when I get around to reworking that story, it’s going to take on a very different shape. More on that in future posts.)
Anyway, Jim and I are chatting and people watching (because everything is material) and we realize we’re both facing the same conundrum in our current projects. We both know how our stories end, we just aren’t sure how to get there. Neither of us is stuck. We’re just…searching.
We commiserate and consume our sundries. And then I ask him, “When does this get easier?”
“When does what get easier?”
After he stops laughing, he says in his wise and guru-like manner, “I’ve been doing this a lot of years, Amy, and the only thing I know is I have to keep learning it over and over again.”
There it is. The awful (and wonderful) truth.
Awful, knowing writing will always be work. If it continues to be work for a seasoned pro like Jim, it will continue to be work for me. And you.
Wonderful, though, isn’t it? Knowing this will be a lifelong journey of learning and discovery? If Jim Sallis is still learning, then when I get to where he is now, I will still be learning and discovering, too. At least I hope I am.
But beyond that, here’s what I think he meant.
Every time you start a new project, it’s a brand new thing. In the history of the universe, it never existed before the muse feathered your head with sparkly dust and gave you the idea. Once you put words on the page, you’re setting off on an unknown journey. How can it possibly be like any journey you’ve been on before?
Sure, you know some, if not all, of the mechanics of this gig. Tone and diction and POV and verb tense and passive voice and all that. But unless you’re plagiarizing or writing a very close copy of a previously-published book, your character and your story are brand-spanking new. And their journey, unique.
Of course you’re going to learn it new. Every time. Over and over again.
This is what I love about writing. This is what I love about living a creative life. It’s always new. I’m always learning.
I hope you’re always learning, too.