Not what you were expecting, is it? Steal what you need? Isn’t that wrong, in every way?
It depends on what you’re stealing, how and why.
There are three reasons stealing makes sense for a writer. And they’re entirely legal.
There’s not enough time in your day to write.
At least that’s what you declare to everyone who will listen. “I’d write more, but there’s not enough time after I’ve finished everything else I have to do.”
Well, what about the thing that your heart is telling you to do? What about your writing? So, you believe you HAVE to do all the items on your social calendar, the kids’ schedules, everything your boss piles on your desk. But you DON’T have to write.
Take a moment to think about what the message you’re giving yourself. You’re telling yourself and everyone around you that writing is something extra. It’s something outside your “real” world, and obviously not important to you. It’s just something you fit in if everything else goes well.
If after consideration, you believe that to live is to write, you’re going to have to become a thief. You’re going to have to deduce ways to steal ten minutes here, a half-hour there.
Does anyone really know how long it takes you to shower? The bathroom door locks. Where better to hide as you frantically pound out the pivotal scene of your suspense novel? If you want to save the environment, I suggest you tape the water running during your next shower. Then you can put it on repeat, playing over and over, while you create undisturbed. This works best if there is more than one bathroom in the house. Just in case.
If you’re really daring, you’ll steal a whole day on occasion. Perhaps you’ll lock yourself in your car at the grocery store, or hide behind a fern at the Coffee Shoppe, chortling over each treasured minute, as you fill page after page with the words that overflow your heart.
You need some good habits to build on.
You re-read your first four chapters and realize you’ve spent four pages on how and why your heroine chooses her dress and shoes, puts on her makeup, and does her hair… run, don’t walk, to find a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
If you take nothing else away from this book, steal King’s idea that too much detail about your characters takes away the reader’s ability to flesh out your characters with reference to their own experiences. Too many details, according to King, break the bond between writer and reader. He’s talking about the bond that allows the reader to think, “Yeah, I know a guy just like that. I know how he looks, dresses, walks and smells.”
Pretend you’re trying to find someone you barely know. Give your new, sparse character description to your friends and ask it reminds them of anyone they know. As each person shares about the person who comes to mind, you’ll understand how our life experiences skew the way we view the world, whether real or fictional. Sally’s mental picture of your fictional plumber will be wildly different from Charles’ image. And that’s great, because you as writer collaborate with the reader in bringing your stories to life.
Maybe getting your story written is not your sore point right now. Could it be that stack of rejection notices you’re collecting? The ones that make your head fuzzy every time you attempt to work on your current saga. Those impersonal “No’s” that make you doubt you have the ability to write something anyone would want to read. Never mind selling something, you just want someone to read your work.
If that’s where you’re sitting, steal a tip from James M. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel. In particular, when he tells you to shout away your fear of failure and your writer’s block. Yep. Shout it away.
Go out in the back yard and just holler it out. “Why can’t anyone appreciate all the hard work I put in on that hot keyboard? I’m not taking it anymore! From today on, I’m improving my skills every day and sending out twice as many stories as before. You can’t keep a good writer down. And I Am a Writer!”
Once all the neighbors come out to see what the commotion is all about, you’ll find a little commiseration heals those wounds fast. Have a glass of ice tea with your buddies, thank them for listening, then get back to work. You just promised to double your output, and they all heard you. Are you going back out there and tell them you changed your mind? Didn’t think so.
You’re trolling for new story ideas.
You’ve just seen a news story about a “Pillar of the Community” who bilked thousands of friends, and their friends, out of every cent they had.
Hmmm, you muse. (Writers muse quite frequently, mainly to themselves, because no one listens when they try to share their far-fetched plot ideas.) Anyway, there you are musing about how you think the situation will play out. Suddenly you realize you have a complete plot tangled up in your brain. You leap to your feet, dash off some notes about the dastardly PoC who gets conned by a more talented criminal, and ends up destitute, running from his former friends who have placed a price on his head.
Your husband shrugs. “That’s cool, honey.” He switches the channel to the WWF Super Live Extravaganza 72-Hour Special. As you turn to leave the room, a face in the rowdy, catcalling crowd on the screen catches your attention.
You walk to the nearest mirror to practice your Cheshire Cat grin. You’ve just decided to steal that face from the crowd, and the story that has to go with it. Laughing to yourself, you slip into your office and pick up your thief’s toolkit – pen, paper and computer. It’s time to write.
Okay, I know I don’t have to remind anyone that writers never, ever steal someone’s work. Plagiarism is not acceptable. And if you adopt someone else’s habit or writing tip and it works so well for you that everyone asks you to share – well, I know you will always credit the person you stole it from as the author of that successful habit.
What have you stolen lately that’s made a difference in your writing? Tell us in the comments… we’ll never snitch. Promise.