A photo from my travels to send your imagination on a journey …
A very sweet video for writers – enjoy!
A line from this poem echoed in my head yesterday right as I was about to quit … Instead, I took a rest. Things already look better.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he’d stuck it out.
Don’t give up, though the pace seems slow –
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out –
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are –
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit –
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.
I was wandering through the floating markets in Thailand, soaking wet not because of an overturned longboat but because it was pouring rain. There’s a point you reach when you realise no umbrella will keep the rain out, so you resign yourself to the fact that you’re already wet and you’re going to stay wet for a while, so why bother trying to juggle umbrella, camera, and awe? I had reached that point – in fact, sitting in a paddle boat being taken down the canals and literally hooked into stalls (the stalls are actually boats along the side and the vendors have long wooden poles they use to actually hook the side of your boat and pull you in) while it’s pouring rain is an experience in itself, and my camera and awe were handfuls enough without having to add an umbrella to the mix.
By the time I disembarked, wallet lighter and bag heavier, I was wet. Very wet. Puddling through some of the outer stores, I was acutely aware that it was almost time to leave when my attention was caught by a little pot. Surrounded by pots in blues and pinks, this little green one stood out – not only for being unique but also because, let’s face it, green is my favourite colour and I do so love these little pots.
Of course, I don’t need another little pot. I don’t need yet another “thing” to transport when I leave Singapore.
And, of course, I picked it up. As I did, the familiar opening bars of a song I’ve recently made a “new favourite” crackled out of a nearby speaker.
Smile an everlasting smile …
I didn’t smile. I grinned. And I bought the pot.
Sitting on the bus (still wet and unlikely to dry before the day came to an end), I thought about all the things I could do with this pot. And then I thought of the song, of the meaning it has to me – not only to change my story but also to simply enjoy the pleasure of words.
It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.
I have returned home and filled my little pot with a thousand words. These are my favourite words, my favourite phrases; this is a celebration of words. Before I went away I had buried myself in a pile of tangled threads, dug a hole and covered myself with them. I had stopped writing.
Now, I have a little pot containing a thousand words.
A thousand words.
My writing wish for you is for you to find your words. Maybe you need to keep them close by in a little pot. Maybe you need to store them in a journal. Find your words; find the well from which you need to draw words in order to write.
This world has lost its glory,
Let’s start a brand new story.
– The Bee Gees (Words)
This song popped up on my playlist this morning and I froze for a moment as the words sank in. Some days I really do feel like the world has lost its glory. I feel like curling up in bed and never emerging, or running away and never being found. But that’s probably not the best way to go about it; rent needs to be paid (otherwise where will I put my bed?) and running away … well, that’s the backup plan, so I’m not going to scrap that option just yet. So what now? Start a brand new story.
This week I have been thinking about story structures. I have been thinking about the stories we build our lives around, the plot structure of our journey through this life (thank you, Joseph Campbell) and the complications that arise, the thresholds we cross, the tests and allies and enemies we encounter, the elixir some of us may never obtain.
In contemplating the plot of my life thus far (which has had some minor climaxes and quite a few chapters most readers would skip through), I’ve also been contemplating the plots of the stories I’ve written – and the plots I’m yet to write.
What books do you love? Do they have complicated plots and two-dimensional characters who are challenged by the world and who allow that challenging world to define them rather than challenge themselves to re-interpret the world? Do they have complex characters put in somewhat simple situations, situations made complicated by the various characters, their assumptions, and what can neatly be described as the human condition?
Often, the stories I write are complicated. And by complicated, I mean that sometimes I give up on them because I can’t keep track of where my characters have wandered off to, or what names I’ve given the various characters who pop in and out with a lot to say but not much to really contribute. You know the ones. The charlatans who appear and you think they’re going to be important but they aren’t. They take up chapters and chapters, but then they vanish and you realise those chapters are better off removed – the story is better without them.
Am I still talking about the stories I write or have I shifted to the stories of my life? Gosh, if only I could be certain …
Wherein lies the problem.
Plots are simple. Let’s face it, you start the story, you end the story, and stuff happens in between.
What makes the story interesting is how the characters deal with that “stuff”. The complications come from our characters whose beliefs are challenged, who are forced to do things of which they didn’t think themselves capable, who are influenced by other complicated characters who have their own motives and beliefs and “way of doing things”.
We are complicated. The world, however, is really very simple. In fact, if you stay in bed for a whole week, the world will keep turning (I have tested this theory several times).
Our stories are not supposed to be complicated; the world is always as it should be and the plot is fairly straightforward. Our characters are the complicated ones, the ones who throw in plot twists. The story comes from how they navigate their way through this world and interact with the other complicated characters they meet.
Campbell was on to something when he made the hero’s journey circular. We don’t tick off a list of things to do in this single story that is our life. We have a story that moves, and another story that builds onto that, and then another, and another, and … we keep going with our stories, around and around.
The world hasn’t lost its glory. The story has become over-complicated.
And what do you do if you don’t like the story?
You’re the writer.
My writing wish for you this week is for you to change your story. Maybe it’s the one you’re writing. Maybe it’s the one you’re living. Which one has lost its glory?