Writing: Give yourself permission…

PERMISSION-SLIP-LI-Size

…an odd piece of advice, to be sure. Why would you need permission to write? Because you won’t succeed unless you do.

At its very core, writing is a solitary function. Not so much once you’ve completed a novel; at that point you will be sharing your work with beta readers, editors, proofreaders, agents, and hopefully a publisher. It won’t be so solitary at that point. The project itself, however, is a relationship between only you and your keyboard or, for some, a notepad. The permission you need to give yourself is to take that time away from friends and family. It means saying okay to feeling guilty about doing something for yourself, and not to be so vigilant about doing laundry or vacuuming or getting the car washed. Be a little selfish about understanding that anyone can get the chores done because only you can do your writing. I’ll repeat that: only you can do your writing. The expression of art comes from within; it is unique to the individual. Often, it requires taking that permission one-step farther, and it’s one of the hardest. You must learn to say no: no to invitations, no to watching an extra episode of a TV show, and no to friends and family on occasion because you must be faithful to the process of getting words down on paper.

I have also encountered another form of permission I needed to give myself. Story ideas circle like mad in our minds. While they’re tucked away up there, they remain safe. You remain safe from people thinking you’re a little bit touched in the head (face it – we are). Writers become fearful about bleeding their stories onto the page, as it becomes the evidence of our madness. Give yourself permission to write them anyway. I had a dream when I was about ten years old. Two of the characters in my dream were girls from school, but in my imagination they had morphed into leprechaun-like creatures, hell, they were even dressed in green. They virtually kidnapped me and brought me into their world. I still wish I could remember what went on during that part of the dream, but I distinctly recall them bringing me back at dawn and leaving me in the sunlit hallway of my house. I was frantic they were going to go away, because I wanted to go back. I woke up angry about losing my grip on the dream. I tried desperately to go back to sleep, but it was no use. That dream has haunted me most of my life. While it didn’t provide a distinct story idea, it did give me a sense of wonderment of the paranormal. Forty-odd years later, I did have a story idea, one that involved fairies and elves, but I felt ridiculous wanting to write it. Many people either love or hate the Twilight series, but I owe particular thanks to Stephenie Meyer. While reading her series, I recognized it was okay to put paranormal-esqe ideas into a novel. I’ve not felt funny about writing or sharing any subject since, because I gave myself permission to allow my imagination to produce a completely new world.

There are a gazillion forces and reasons, which prevent writers from writing. Be true to your inner passion and give yourself the permission to do whatever it takes to answer that call. Not every writer is destined to have a book or a short story published, but that has nothing to do with what’s inside. If you truly have the passion, if you actually feel resentful or annoyed when you’re prevented from getting those words out of your head, then write a permission slip to yourself and get to it. It’s the empowerment you need.

permission

What if?

Submerged Selfie

Submerged Selfie

Nothing has ever been invented, ever discovered, or ever written that hasn’t been in answer to that question. I can’t speak for all writers, but when those two words cross my mind it usually means a trip through the worm hole or a peek through the key lock, and to quote Dr. Seuss: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

It’s true that I’ve had story ideas from the time I was a teenager, but they rarely went anywhere. Once, I had this great idea for a Civil War novel based on a ‘what if’, but that was before the internet, and I was living in a place devoid of libraries and books.

Red sands outside Riyadh

Red sands outside Riyadh

I’m fairly convinced that if the internet and the ability to do in-depth research at a keyboard had existed in the early 1980s, my writing career would have developed sooner.

In 1997, I was going through my underwater archaeology phase. I never lost the passion for it, but at this point it’s served only by reading articles about it. In March of that year, I was kneeling on a bed of sand, thirty feet below the surface of the Red Sea just off-shore a tiny uninhabited island called Black Assarca. In turn, this remote location was twenty-five miles off the coast of Eritrea in Africa. Under sixteen hundred years of sand and coral encrustation was a shipwreck of unknown origin, and we were painstakingly fanning layers and layers of sand away from the artifacts buried beneath from around the time that Rome was being sacked by the Visigoths. The Persians were fighting the Armenians, Attila was running around with the Huns, and the Vandals were beating up on Carthage – almost sounds like a normal day in the New York Times, today.

My Bedroom complete with spiders nearly the size of your fist

My Bedroom complete with spiders nearly the size of your fist

The Bathroom over an open hole to the sea. High tide was problematic

The Bathroom over an open hole to the sea. High tide was problematic

Anyway, on the first couple of days working in my assigned area, I uncovered three amphorae, sort of the ancient equivalent of Tupperware, only much bigger and heavier. I was excited; I was holding a vessel in my hands that had last been handled by some guy who thought of Rome the same way we think about the United States now.

Amphorae

Amphorae

Eager to continue, I went back the next day to my section and fanned away at the bottom, creating a swirl of sediment as thick as a nineteenth-century London Fog. What did I find? A stone block; even the fish are looking at it like: “Dude, you got a rock.”

My Block

My Block

The head archaeologist on-site scratched his head for a moment and told me not to worry, it was probably used for ballast. Undaunted, I went back to work. Then, out of nowhere – because that’s where it comes from, nowhere – WHAT IF? What if I uncovered something that just couldn’t be there, something unreservedly anachronistic? How would it have gotten there? Who would have put it there? Needless to say, I overstayed my bottom time and had to be brought back to reality by the dive tender banging a piece of rebar on the steel tub of the platform overhead.

Writers know that once the seed of an idea is planted, it germinates and gestates, twining its tendrils of imagination so firmly around the contours of your brain that if you don’t find a way of getting it out of your head, you’ll simply explode – yes, it’s an alien life-force. Three years later, however, the imagining of how that artifact got there became the opening scene in my first completed novel, Flashback. It’s ironic that what firmly planted my feet on the road to writing was writers block. Sorry, I had to go there. I dug up a block, get it? Never mind.

Flashback. One of these days it will be ready for release.

Flashback. One of these days it will be ready for release.

The point is, one must always allow the synapses of their brain to be open to any situation that begs the question: What if? Even if it doesn’t occur to you, just pick a few moments, look around and ask the question – you’ll never know what you’ll find.