Bibbidi bobbidi bum glue
April 26, 2017 § 5 Comments
There’s a question I’m asked almost every time someone hears I’m a writer. “Where do you get your inspiration?” they ask, their faces beaming up at me, waiting to hear about this magical thing I do. And then I have to be the one to burst their bubble, rain on their parade and, as we say in South Africa, piss on their battery. Because the sad and sorry truth is that there is no magic.
Oh, how I wish that there were some magic potion I could sprinkle on my fingers moments before they hit the keyboard each day. I wish that somehow whole paragraphs could leap to life, fully formed on the page before me.
The truth, however, is far less glamorous. The truth is that writing is work – like any other work. The inspiration is the easy part, usually. The perspiration is another thing entirely.
Because you don’t just sit down and magically write something. You can’t write well if you can’t think well, or if you haven’t ruminated on what it is you’re going to write. So before you put a single word on the page, you have to have some kind of shape of what you’re about to write in your head – a road map of sorts. You need to know what you’re going to be covering, in some sort of rough order; how you plan to start and finish, and then you can start.
No matter how how good you are, you still have to write the way we all write: one word at a time, brick by brick, till you build your house. But when you’ve done that, you still only have the most basic structure – the outer walls and the roof. Now you begin the process of refining – moving the internal walls to improve the flow of the building, choosing finishes to create a certain aesthetic.
It takes time and effort and craft. It often requires that you research various topics as you go along, that you hunt for exactly the right word here or there. That you learn to be detached from the work itself, but remain very attached to the outcome you wish to achieve.
You have to walk in the reader’s shoes – experience the piece as they might – and ensure they will understand exactly what it is you are trying to say, feel what you want them to feel, leave with the right message ringing in their ears.
Sometimes you move a word here or there, or delete it completely, because somehow the rhythm isn’t quite right. You join two paragraphs here, divide that one there, or change a punctuation mark to create a bigger or smaller pause. Good writing ebbs and flows – it moves and shifts and doubles back on itself, pulling the reader by the hand along an unfamiliar path, requiring complete faith that the destination will be worth the journey.
And then once the house is more or less built, you go to the garden and weed. You take out anything extraneous, anything that distracts, detracts, diffracts. You want that house to stand out clearly against the sky, to be appreciated for its beauty, its function, its form. You want the reader to see the welcome mat, the open door, the warm fire and the mugs of hot cocoa inside.
And if there is in any magic to this process, it’s in that mythical stuff – bum glue – which must be religiously applied to your seat before you sit in it each day. Some days you’ll need more, some you’ll need less. Because if anything will turn you from “I want to be a writer” into “I am a writer”, it’s bum glue: sitting in that seat day in and day out.
Writing requires that you show up at the page – regularly, religiously, relentlessly – till the words are finally there, and the damn thing is written. Trust me. I’m a writer.