One sits in front of a blank computer screen and wishes the words would just magically appear on it. If one could only twitch a “Bestselling American Novel.” But alas, the only person who could twitch a novel into existence was Samantha from the TV show “Bewitched.”
In September 1964, a new show arrived on ABC television. “Bewitched” followed the misadventures of a female witch married to a mortal man. A half-hour comedy that put a variety of interesting spins on normal family and business life with a witch involved.
What piqued my interest in this show concerning writing is one specific visual trick that they often used on the show. Samantha twitching of her nose, and making miraculous things happen. House cleaned, animals and people appear or vanish, and that's just the small stuff the writers had her doing. While the effects worked perfectly in the overall story of the characters and their made-up world, in the long term, this introduced the audience to a concept of “Instant Gratification.” All they had to do was want something, and it would appear out of nowhere.
While anyone in their right minds knows we can’t just twitch our nose and get our work done, or clean our house, or any of the other things they did on the show. There is a broader concept or idea if you will. The idea that a vast majority of the things one wants or needs can almost magically appear.
A key example of this is Amazon. As anyone who has their Prime service knows barring weekends, and holidays or the like that if they order something on Monday morning, chances are very good the UPS truck will be at their door by Wednesday afternoon. This, in fact, a form of “Nose Twitching” One wants it, a couple of mouse clicks and the package on its way. Not much more energy expended than twitching one’s “Nose.”
Another great example of the “Bewitched Syndrome” is Pandora, or any online music or movie service. One wants to listen to some classic Sinatra, a couple of clicks on their mobile device of choice and it plays. One wants to watch a movie or series, a couple of clicks on the remote, and it’s playing on their preferred screen.
There was a day not that long ago when if one wanted to listen to Sinatra croon one had to do “The Work.”
Go to the record store, find and buy a Sinatra record, go home, remove the record from its jacket, place the vinyl record gently on the turntable to keep from scratching it and turn on the record player. The record spun, and mechanically, the arm with the needle moved over to the record and dropped, and the sounds of music came from the speakers. But wait, you weren’t done.
Once that side was over, in about 10 -15 minutes, you had to remove yourself from your favorite listening place and return to the turntable and turn the record over and repeat the process. These are but two of the many examples of the way people have unconsciously bought into the “Bewitched Syndrome.”
Years ago there was only ONE phone in a house. It usually hung on the kitchen wall, with a LONG cord to the receiver. If one wanted to call someone, they had to know the actual phone number, in years gone by, they didn't have 7 digit numbers like we do today, you had an exchange, such as the famous BR-549 from Hee Haw Fame. You called the operated and told her who you needed to call, and she’d connect you manually to her switchboard. See. More work.
And if you missed a call, You were out of luck, and probably never know it, unless they told you later they tried to call. Today? Instant access, the “Bewitched Syndrome.”
There are so many examples of “The Bewitched Syndrome” and how it is incredibly easy today to “Twitch” our way through life. To have a wide variety of things done or gotten for us almost magically.
But there are a lot of things there is NO shortcut for. Writing is one of them.
To create, one must sit down and actually do the work. Write the words, build the paragraphs and the chapters, and eventually one word at a time, build a book.
And you can be proud of it. Because you didn't make it appear out of thin air, you did the work, put in the time, and energy it takes to create.
Bewitched has inspired a generation to create new worlds and tell new tales in different ways. The Bewitched writers did the work to create a television program. Now you must do the work to make your stories come alive, as actress Elizabeth Montgomery did the work to make Samatha come alive on the screen.
Yes, I’ve wished many times over the years I could twitch my nose and have my stuff done.
But alas, I’m mortal like the rest of us.
And I have to do is“The Work.”
This last Sunday I went with my son back in time.
40 Years ago, this week. May 27, 1977.
I was still in high school.
The movie was "Smokey and the Bandit."
Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed, and Jackie Gleason as Buford T Justice.
The Epic car chase across three states that ended in a big beer party.
But that's not the real story.
The real story is the fact that I saw this movie when it first came out in 1977 while I was in High School. Since then, I have seen it probably more times than I can count. My son has grown up watching this film we have seen it numerous times together over the years. It's the first time we've seen it the way it was originally presented on the big screen.
The movie is just as silly and in some ways as stupid as it was 40 years ago.
The now “Classic” scene where Burt Reynolds and Sally Field jumped the bridge that was out is just as good as ever, even better on the big screen.
But why does anyone care about a chase movie made 40 years ago?
Afterward, in the car, my son and I discussed the film for about 10 minutes.
We picked a picked apart the plot or the “sort of plot” and the silliness of the whole thing.
The likelihood Sally Field’s character did not recognize Jackie Gleason's character on the CB radio it's pretty slim if she knew the family well enough to almost married the stupid son.
Then she would have recognized his voice over the CB; having probably heard it there many times before. All that aside, the movie still works pretty good.
But that's the reason the movie works is not the story; the story sucks. What works is the characters. The characters are memorable.
Burt Reynolds character the Bandit is likable he's Every Man's anti-hero he just doing the best he can and along the way he manages to do things that other people have not been able to do and mostly have fun doing it.
Jerry Reed is also excellent as the Snowman. Snowman is dragged into this crazy bet, he asked Bandit why we want to this silly thing; Bandit explains;
"For the good old American life: For the money, for the glory, and for the fun... mostly for the money. ” Burt Reynolds as Bandit in Smokey & the Bandit, 1977
You may wonder what this has to do with writing?
Theses characters resonate they speak to us, we can relate to them.
They’re doing something that we would like to do. Granted, the story needs work, but that's okay. In this case, it's not so much about the story. Face it, the actual story of “Smokey and The Bandit” is pretty thin.
There are holes in the plot we could drive both Bandit's Trans Am and Snowman's tractor through. But that's OK. This is Character driven.
We like Bandit, and “Frog” and Snowman, in spite of ourselves we like Sheriff Buford T. Justice. That's why the story works. It's not so much the grand adventure, or the danger.
It's watching them do stupid stuff and getting away with it. As a teenager, in 1977, I probably wanted to be Bandit so bad I couldn’t stand it. To drive a Bad-Ass car, get the girl, and generally, do whatever the hell I wanted. That's what these characters embody.
So must you write clones of Bandit, and Snowman, and Justice?
No. But your characters should be something either your readers can relate to directly, or in the case of Bandit, someone they can wish they were. Bigger than real life.
Characters that take over the story. They should ideally be relatable on some level, either age, sex, or occupation, or situation. But above all, they must be memorable.
Granted the movie has the added advantage of “Star Power” The actors bringing the characters to life. While we can’t have a young Burt Reynolds playing our hero, or probably not even the old Burt Reynolds, we must build our characters in ways that make them memorable, and for our readers to care what happens to them.
If we build good enough characters, then the audience will go along for the ride, silly as it may be.
Writers, by reputation, are supposed to be able to work anywhere. I suspect that for the most part, many of us are able to create content in any number of situations that would be impossible to do other types of creation. While doable, it’s not ideal. True creation needs room to breathe. A space of its own to live. This is why the painter has an art studio, the movie makers have a soundstage, and editing rooms, These are the spaces that allow them to create their best work.
Some art requires its own space by its nature, glass blowing, sculpture, especially large scale. Theses come to mind quickly. But there is a myriad of other art forms that require their own specialized space and place to be created properly.
But what about the lowly wordsmith? Do we rate our own space?
Recently I was able to acquire my own space. I call it my Office. The difference it has made to my peace of mind and work output has been enormous. Yes, there are days I come in and just “Play” on the computer, and no real writing get done. But on the other hand ; I hope more and better stuff will get done now. In a month or so I’ve had the office, I’ve finished a major Work In Progress, that involved going back and rewriting the POV, writing a couple of short stories, and some essays.
So I’m getting stuff done.
The other impact is peace of mind. Just having my own space to go to when I need to is essential for my peace of mind. My Office is not pretty, no fancy furniture, it's pretty basic, desk, chair, tower computer setup, and a tv and Roku , and an entry level turntable. I do have plans for the office, I know that getting the room exactly the way I want it will take time. But that's ok. I have my space. I have a place to write and relax.
The bigger picture is that we all need a place to do our art, be it writing, mixed media, or leathercrafts. Everyone needs a space of their own. Be it, to read a book, watch tv, listen to music, or just take a nap. If you're struggling to create in a less than ideal space, chances are your works isn’t the best it can be.
So, if you get a chance to have your own space, grab it with enthusiasm. If not a room, but a corner, a desk, or small table in a little-used room. Take what you can get and make the most of it. We can’t all have our own rooms, such as My Office or an Art Studio, but do the best you can to claim your own peace of mind.
Why are there writers?
What makes a writer write the genre that they do?
Do they choose the genre?
Or does the genre chose them?
As for me, I’m not sure why I write. I never thought about.
I do remember reading voraciously when I was a teenager.
For years after that, I read a lot.
What I read changed over the years. From Louis L’Amour Western, to Science Fiction and Mystery. The Grand Dame Of Mystery; Agatha Christie, to Sherlock Holmes. And many in the middle.
But that doesn't explain why I or any other writer writes the stories the do. Some deliberately choose what genre, and/or style or type of material they write. Some just write what feels right to them. They write the stories they can’t find.
Where my stories come from, I have no idea. Save that some come from a title that idea that clicks when I hear it said, usually in conservation, or on TV, or other media. Some from a general idea I have in the way-way back of my mind, It may or may not be fully formed, I will form it as I put the words on “paper”.
On rare occasions, I have a definite idea of exactly where I want a story to go, but most of the time not so much.
Many of the same questions come for writers at the end.
Do they choose the ending or does the ending choose itself?
Ask ten different writers, and you will probably get ten different answers. Although the themes of the answers will probably be similar.
What a writer will write on any given day is up to them,
Or at least, he thinks it is.
They did it again. This time they messed up the old laptop so bad it wouldn't even start.
To be fair, The old Dell, had long since seen better days. It was simply put, old and slow. it barely ran when it was running. It was running two operating systems behind. And had bare minimum of ram, and processor. But it did serve us well.
This time there were no more shenanigans that they could do to bring it back to life.
I came out to find it laying in the front yard. Dead. and I do mean dead. It seems my son had seen MASH too many times, One was put in mind of when Col. Potter shot the jeep that had just died and stranded him. My son did the same thing. Only, for real. Four bullet holes through the top, Real bullet holes, from a real gun. He got out his .357 Magnum, and put four rounds through it.
End result was a very dead laptop.
To be fair, there was a certain satisfaction in shooting a computer that was beyond repair and use. How many times over the years, does one wish they could just take out their current machine and put holes in it, or do something equally destructive to the machine thats giving your nightmares, or migraine headaches because it won't play nice.
Fortunately these days operating systems are evolved enough that they don't self-destruct for no apparent reasons too often any more.
But every once in awhile, One gets the chance to take out years of digital frustration, out on a helpless computer.
This is for all the writers and creators who at one time or another wanted to literally shoot their computer.
(Yes, this is a real laptop with 4 bullet holes in it.)
Staring at a blank page is daunting. Some days more intimidating than others. Sometimes the words come, like water flowing from Niagara Falls.
They come fast and easy. Faster than you can type them into the computer. When it's over. You breathe again. Then you go back over the sea of words you’ve just dispelled. But are they any good?
You spend the next several minutes reading them. Finding errors, both typos, and spelling etc. Once you get past the default editing You can read them for what they are. Is the story any good? After reading it several times, and trying to find a way to go from where you left off. You highlight it all. Hit delete. And you're instantly back where you started from. Staring at the blank screen.
A false start. There are a number of paths to consider at this point. Closing up shop for a while. It's definitely an option. But that’s not going to get you anywhere. So you start typing again. Two sentences in and you realize you onto something. This time, the story is finally coming together. The odd thing is you started the the first story exactly the same way. Using almost the exact same opening line. But something was different. This time the story was ready to be told.
Something was different. Did changing a couple of words reroute your brain to a different path? Did the mere act of just starting over reboot the story that was trying to come you subconscious?
One can never completely tell. We can guess. We can try to figure it out. But in the end it doesn't really matter. All that matter is that you started over.
False Starts are a part of writing, and in many many ways part of life.
We all start projects, and relationships with grand plans to finish in a “Blaze of Glory.”
But the truth of the matter is life's one big False Start after another. If we’re lucky we get more things right on the first try, then we get wrong. When its not working, we need to reboot and see what we can do to start over, or at least go forward .
So weather its on the computer screen, with your next big novel, or in everyday life, we all have false starts.
When we do it’s time to hit “Control, Alt, Delete,” and start over.
" Details, Details. It's was ALWAYS about the damned details." He thought to himself as he went over the short story one more time. Yes, he knew that spelling punctuation, and grammar were important. But this was getting ridiculous. He lost track of how many times he'd rewritten at least part of his story. It seemed like he'd rewrote the who damned thing at least twice. Picking up the original printout of his story, reading it over again, then the latest version. He hated to admit it, but the newest copy was much better. He had to admit all the rewriting had improved the story. It was much shorter tighter and seemed to flow much better. As much as he hated doing it, editing was a necessary evil, He normally didn't mind going back and fixing spelling and grammar errors, and the the like. But this time had been different. His editor had him got back and practically rewrite the whole story from start to finish. Dropping a couple of sections he thought were important, however after redoing and rewording a couple of sections before and after the dropped sections he'd had made the whole thing flow better. Thought the process he'd learned not to Quibble with is editor, and listen to him.
Editing had made a OK story with promise and almost no future a great story that he quickly sold and and helped him see the value of a good editor, and the whole editing process itself.
"Yes the devil is in the details" . He thought to himself.
Some days its easy, some days its like pulling teeth. The days when you sit at the computer and just start typing and the words come flowing out like a river, creating paragraphs, and stories, worlds of their own, on their own are a joy. Even when the worlds come freely you will still need to edit them but you know you have good material to work with, In the end, you've created something that's the best you can do.
But there are the days when the words won't come. The stories just aren't there. You start and very shortly you find you've run out of places to go. A dead end. The stories seem to be shiftless They have no central character, or theme or concrete story line. Theses are the stories that are hard to write, Making the dead end go somewhere, Anywhere. Sometimes its much easier to hit "delete: and start all over again, Some weeks are like that every time you sit to write and the words crash and burn on the screen. But oh when it's right, and you find the right story and everything comes together its worth it.
Such is the Writing Life
That's where I start. Rarely do I have a complete idea where I'm heading when I start writing. As we all know every story, article or written piece of any kind starts with the Opening Line. The Opening Line, has the most important job of the entire piece. It must draw the reader in, and make them want to see what the next line is, and the next, and so forth. Soon, they've read the whole story, and you've captured someone's attention and hopefully their imagination for a while. If we're really lucky they don't forget us or the story.
I usually think of some short sentence. and usually there is a natural progression from it. I rarely know what it is. It must come naturally. Like Ice Cream and kids, thunder and lighting, and many other things that just seem to fit together naturally. If one has to force the next line, they weren't met to be. Consider making the next line the opening line and see if you can build from that. If that don't work, then one must start all over with a whole new opening line.
After you write a paragraph , or better yet a page or two go back and read it, if possible wait a while before you read it, see if it still grabs you and makes you want to read the rest of you project, Hopefully if you still like the opening line, others will enough that their intrigued enough to read the rest, of the story.