March 20, 2013

Writing the Illusive Story

Posted in writing at 10:00 pm by jimazing

timid-dog-biteMy stories run up and bite me on the leg – I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.
–Ray Bradbury

Sometimes the dog brings me a finished thought that comes easy. Other times, he is more like the timid little dog in this photo that does not know what he wants.

I am struggling with a topic now. I started writing it the end of February and I am no closer to a finished product than I was then. Like so often happens, I began with a thought. It did not work, so I set it aside. I came back to it a few times, scrapped some thoughts, rewrote others. Thinking I knew what I wanted to say, I started over, but that did not work either. <sigh> Sometimes it works. Often it does not. I guess if I were doing this 25 years ago, I would have a waste basket overflowing with wads of paper.

I decided tonight to write about the writing process. I have a few mind pictures that I use when I talk about it that I wanted to share. They say we should write what we know… this I know.

When a story comes easily, it is like I am sitting in the middle of a huge ball. The ball is a complete story that already exists. I know it completely and intimately. It just needs to be slowly squeezed out through my brain, one word at a time. If I am persistent, it will happen. After it is out, I can polish it up a bit and pretty soon, I am hitting the “Publish” button on my blog. That is not always the case though.

Every story begins as an idea. I login to the blog and begin writing, like I am doing now. I know what I want to say and it just comes out a word at a time. Keeping the whole thought in my mind long enough to squeeze it out can be difficult. I not only have to remember the whole finished idea, I need to remember how much of the story I have already told and what comes next. From his quote (above), I would say that Ray Bradbury’s ideas were more persistent than mine frequently are. His stuck around long enough to ensure they were acknowledged. In contrast, my ideas are shy, impatient and easily bored. If I am not attentive enough to them, they will walk away sulking that I did not care enough to write them down in time.

I read in a biography of Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the lion’s share of the Federalist Papers, that he would take very long walks to think about what to write. Then he would go to bed and sleep, no matter the time of day or night. He would sleep for a number of hours (I forget the details). When he awoke, he began writing and would stay at it for hours until he was done. When he was done, he was done… (at least that is the way I remember it).

It seems to me that his ideas were lumps of dough that needed to rise before being thrown into the oven to be cooked into writings. I have thrown many ideas into the oven too soon.  Every entry that I begin has just as much potential to end up published as it does to be added to the ever growing list of unpublished posts.

I find myself wondering what will happen to this post… will anyone else ever see these words?

Usually one of the last things I will do is find, or create images to go with the posts. I find that visual images add interest to the presentation. Maybe it is the little boy in me that prefers picture books to books with just words. Speaking of which, the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball is a terrific book about managing to work in corporate life without losing your humanity. The reason I thought of it is that it is full of doodles by the author. Some of them illustrate his topics and some are just doodles.


One more illustration about what writing is like for me. Imagine a huge apple that represents the whole of what happened. As the storyteller, I want you to know what happened, but if I really describe the whole apple, I will have written a text book on apples rather than tell a story. My job is to describe the apple well enough while also telling an interesting story. The thing that actually happened and the story about what happened both have weight. It is no good to bore you with a long, drawn-out story that is perfectly complete and accurate. Likewise focusing solely on the story while ignoring the truth of the thing that happened is to miss the point of telling the story altogether.  The end result feels a bit like I am a worm eating the apple and describing the trip as I go through. There are innumerable ways to get through the apple and be true to it, but I only get to choose one. I leave a lot out, but when I do it well, we are satisfied and we know what an apple tastes like.

I hope this trip through the apple worm hole of this writer’s mind has been enjoyable.  I don’t know if this helped me get any closer to writing the post that is fighting against me, but it was worth a try.


  1. John said,

    Way to go with the writing process, Jim. Thanks for writing the stories that bite you. Your story, your stories are Great!

  2. Carey said,

    That’s quite a story you’ve got there; I was getting a good, relatable bite of every metaphor you presented. As for the visual that you dropped in there–no worm could ever take a bite that big. . . except maybe stuxnet or something.
    Anyway, this is a musing that a writer like me could really get a hold of. Nice little well-documented travel journal of the creative writing process.
    Concerning Mr. Hamilton, I can relate to the sleep component, accompanied by your rising dough analogy. Whenever, I get stuck with so-called writer’s block, I just chuck it all, take a nap and then it all works out, although it may be an hour, a day, or a week later.
    Patience is important. Don’t buy into this “you’ve got to writing thusandsuch # of pages every day. Go for quality, not quantity, substance rather than fluff, imagination rather imitation.
    Keep up the good work, and as Garrison Keillor says, “Keep in touch.”
    Y’all come back now, y’heah?

  3. MLou Pavick said,

    I learn something from everything you write. I have never felt that I could express my feelings and thoughts – thus I haven’t tried often. I think I am better at listening and trying to understand other people’s thoughts and feelings. I learn from the things you write. I love to learn from you.

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