Writing Wednesdays #1

Okay, so only a few of my friends actually know this, but I’ve been working on a book. It’s a middle grade fantasy novel about a girl and her best friend, a unicorn. Non-fiction, obviously. Here is a photo I took: 

I think I came up with this story idea in 2004 or 2005. My files only go back as far as 2009, though. Anyway, the point is that writing is a quick and easy endeavor. Seriously, though, I started writing this for real in July of 2017 and then for some reason on December 13th, started writing it for real.

I have tried to talk myself into some sort of regular writing schedule before, but the writing was a chore, something that I did because I was trying to reach a word count, trying desperately to prove to myself that I was a “real” writer. Over the past four years, I’ve gotten in touch with my voice, who I am, and what I have to say. I’m also mildly convinced that I have a tumor and have like two weeks left to live. I’ve felt that way for a while.

I deal with depression, too (see last post if you don’t believe me), so although I want to die, like multiple times a day, I don’t want to die without having written at least one book. It’s been my only real dream since before I could read. I always knew that I was a writer, and the only part of dying that makes me sad is the idea that I’ll never get to tell the stories that I’ve been trying to tell for a decade. I know I’m supposed to say I’ll miss my family and friends, but I’ll be dead. I won’t be able to miss anyone. I also won’t be around to care if they miss me, so that part doesn’t really affect me much. I just don’t want to be murdered and I don’t want to die of suicide.

But I digress. The point is, thinking that I’m going to die in two weeks (from today, always from today) combined with my new ability to express myself have given me the push I needed to start writing again. I always wanted being a writer to be like it was in movies — I’d sit down at a typewriter and instantly be transported to another world. It’d be like reading, but better because I’d be controlling the story. Over the years, I’d have moments of that, but so few that I grew frustrated. I got angry at myself for not being able to make the writing experience like that. I got angry at movie writers who would lie to would-be writers and make us think that writing was that easy.

And it’s not. Even though the writing is smoother now, and I get lost in it more, there are still hiccups, still doubts that crowd my mind, especially right before I start writing for the day. But there is a magic to it, and I think that the last four years of working at a comedy club has taught me that magic. The magic comes from being in the moment with my words. I’ve watched, honestly, countless shows, countless comedians do countless jokes.

Comedians often get embarrassed when they do a joke they think I’ve heard before. This makes me laugh for two reasons: one, because I have face blindness and if I have no idea who you are, sometimes hearing a joke you’ve done before helps me remember who you are. And two, because I LIKE watching people do the same jokes over and over (unless I hate that joke). A good joke lives in the moment, never to be told the same way again. They say that you can never cross the same river twice, and I feel the same way about telling jokes. The comedian grows and changes, the audience changes, the joke gets tighter, more tags get added, etc.

If you could Groundhog Day a joke and have the comedian tell the same joke to the same audience a split second later, and then another split second later, and then another split second later, the joke would never be the same, any of those times. The differences would be subtle, but even the amount of time the audience has been sitting in the room affects the reaction. Where the servers are in the room, who gets up to go to the bathroom are factors, too. As soon as one audience member checks out, thinking about the bathroom instead of the joke, the air in the room changes. Stand-up is a very fiddly artform.

My host tonight told me that he made 37 mistakes during the show that he’s going to obsess over and get perfectly next time. I hope he’s joking because, really, imperfection is where the poignancy and beauty of stand-up live. Vulnerability is the absence of structure, and it is the key to not just good comedy, but good art. That’s why people talk about “being in the moment” all the time with stand-up because there is no great stand-up who has ever lived who has performed their bits, completely or even minutely detached from what they’re saying. Urgency is the key to amazing stand-up, not saying your “lines” perfectly.

Similarly, when I’m writing now, I don’t worry about getting the words and sentences perfect. I’m less concerned with writing impressively. I understand poetry, to some degree. I understand the rules for writing well. But I don’t care anymore because I’ve spent four years watching people mess up their own jokes and still manage to connect to the audience perfectly.

So when I’m writing, I keep in mind that even though the words are for someone else later, they’re also for me, now. And when I remember that, the experience of writing takes me from this world to another one, and it feels like how I always thought writing should.