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February, 2017

One Phrase at a Time

by Webmaster

“I never thought I could write a book. Like quilt-making, I broke the story into blocks and then pieced them together.” — Ann Zemke

I started with a hook. Then I wrote a killer chorus. A year and a half later, while taking a shower, I came up with a phrase that expanded into what I thought might be a bridge. It turned out to be a verse, because a second verse came to me. By the time I dried off, dressed, and wrote down the two verses, I thought up a bridge.

The verses and bridge are not great. But they're worth working on. After years of wrestling with this song idea, I finally have a first draft. And I wrote it one piece at a time.

I have a friend who is trying to write a novel. She's busy. She writes articles, takes photographs, and travels for her job. But she can't write her book.

I think she's trying to write the whole book at once, from start to finish. Maybe she needs to just write a single block. She could start with some phrases that describe the setting. That would be a block. Then she could write some sentences that describe a character.

Maybe she's trying to invent the entire story before she starts to write. I've been told some people do that.

I find that part of a story will come to me. So I write it down. After that, I write to find out what's going to happen next. Once I get a clear picture of who my characters are, I let them tell me what they want their story to be. They talk to me, so I have to record their conversations.

I don't get writers block. Sometimes I don't have anything to say. Sometimes, I have an idea, a seed which might grow into a song or a novel. Sometimes seeds grow fast, but turn out to be weeds. Sometimes they need to be planted and allowed to grow roots deep underground before the first hint of green shows on the surface. Then, if they're trees, they can take years to emerge and become what they were destined to be. If they're flowers, they can take months to bloom.

"Sometimes you have to get out of the way and let the song become what it wants to be, not what you want it to be." — unknown

How long it takes to write the first draft has no bearing on how good the song will be or how good the songwriter is.

It occurs to me that if I wrote about cooking a meal or programming a computer the way I write about writing, people would think I'm insane. "I let the ingredients talk to me and tell me what they want to become." "The computer programs tell me what they want to do."

Writing is a perfectly acceptable way of being crazy. It is a form of insanity to escape the real world by creating people, places, and events that never happened. It's a form of insanity to read about people, places, and events and have someone else's fantasy become real to you.

Yes, we know it's not real. But a good book, a good song, a good movie, can make us laugh or cry. We think of the characters we like as our friends or family. If we identify strongly enough, their experiences become ours; we learn from their mistakes, and celebrate their successes.

And we forget that fantasy world was created one phrase, one sentence, one paragraph or stanza or verse at a time, by someone who went crazy in order to make sense of the real world.

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