Writing, and How to Call the Storm

I keep reading it over and over, and I can’t quite believe the paragraph I wrote a few hours ago. It makes me shiver with excitement; it makes me shake with disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not here (Taniel! Why are you saying that?). Suddenly the story is blowing up here, in Chapter 4, in a way I never meant to happen. It’s scary, but it makes sense and it’s raw and it’s beautiful and it hurts, and it deals with that bit of mythology I just realized I’d neglected and  it adds more of that achey, real-life kind of pain just when I was worrying that the story didn’t have enough. In short, this was one of those magical writing moments. This was a crash of thunder, a spark of golden light, when my shaking hands were merely the vehicle for the story’s transferral to my screen. When a character had thoughts that deeply surprised me, thoughts I never meant for him to have. We all write for moments like these.

But I’m not here to brag.

Because this lightning strike? This flash of genius? I think I know how I got it, and I want to share. In fact, I think I’ve known this before, but it’s the sort of thing we forget, rather like the intro to a crazy dream. You’re gonna remember that bit right before you wake up, when you’re rallying the peasants with their pitchforks because you are the Queen of Jupiter and it’s time to take back the planet, but you’ve already forgotten how you got there, because it was so much less exciting. I mean, do you remember the last time you had to write an essay? How you hemmed and hawed and worked on your notecards and watched an entire season of How I Met Your Mother and did some research and thought about how cool your argument was, and didn’t really start writing the thing until 2 AM the night before it was due? How you’d been sitting there feeling uninspired and typing some occasional drivel for hours before that inspiration really struck? Well, here’s what I’m proposing, and I think it’s something we all know, despite how hard we try to forget: Those hours add up to something. Those hours of plugging away, of fixing a sentence here, a line there, when it feels like we’re barely working—these are what make the lighting possible. Today, for instance, I got a late start. I spent a really long time tightening a few paragraphs, I jumbled some things in that sort of worked but I knew I’d have to fix later, I grumbled at the inarticulateness of my notes and clumsily found some work-arounds for the sentences I’d been too lazy to fix before. I sat and grumbled and worked for one hour, for two hours, when it would have been easy to quit for the day, or to not even start in the first place. Yet I sat there, with my manuscript up on my computer and open on the table beside me. I put in my time. And then, right before dinner, when I should have been closing the computer and setting the table…

Lightning struck.

But only because I’d earned it.