When You Surprise Yourself as A Writer

“person using black and gray laptop computer while holding white ceramic mug with coffee in top view photography” by rawpixel on Unsplash

In the back of my mind, I had been thinking all day what I was going to write next.

Sometimes when I am reading on a train, sometimes listening to a podcast, occasionally bopping my head to music thumping through my headphones, sometimes when I am walking along minding my own business thinking about my errands or admiring my neighborhood — an idea disrupts me.

As someone who wants to harness daydreams so I might interpret them into words, I welcome these unforeseeable moments.

When these abrupt tiny episodes happen while in the act of writing I am more surprised. More so than I am at any other time when writing.

I never know when my imagination will visit me. Especially, as I go about my work or my daily routines. From when I first open my eyes through the dawn of morning I am focused on my scribbling letters with a varied amount of spaces and nothing else. It may be only an hour or two, but it’s all I have most of the time.

Throughout the day I must turn my attention toward my work. I must give my job my full attention. Else it would be a disservice to my employer and to myself.

Writing is not my sole source of employment. I may never realize the day where the majority of my income is derived from the pleasure of creative writing. But, I will not let that stop me from doing so because I need to write.

Often, I do not have the time or the will to go back to my writing after I have concluded my morning ritual. Once I have completed the task — my energy must concentrate on work. I must ensure I have finished my business assignment I need to get done that day to the best of my ability.

Each morning I open my notebook when I first sit at my office desk and write down a list of to-do’s, or everything I must have done before my workday ends. It’s the only way I can get my mind concentrated and organized. Sometimes the list expands throughout the day. And sometimes the list remains small.

One of my favorite rituals is when I draw a line across a completed task.

I was reading Graham Greene’s The Quiet American during my train commute to work when find myself interrupted by a thought on a story I am working on.

For a various amount of seconds, I can get lost in a conceptualized premise. I go through the plot points in my head — then storing them away to reference the following morning.

I don’t bother to write any of it down since I knew I wouldn’t forget. Sometimes I know when an idea is going to stay with me and when I need to write one down. I don’t know how I know, but I do.

The story I am writing is in no way related to the Graham Greene book I am reading, mind you. But, the scene I happened to be reading made me think of what I was planning on writing the next morning. For me, this is what makes writing so intoxicating: anticipating of what I am going to print next from an abstract idea in my head.

The pleasure of writing is when you surprise yourself. I believe it was Stephen King who once said he doesn’t write stories but lets his characters tell the story for him. I cannot remember if he does any outlining, but I find what he also says true for myself.

Outlining can be essential and helpful. While sometimes we can get lost in describing and plotting details. We can become restricted by our blueprints.

It took me a while to learn to treat my outlining as a skeleton and not the full biological specimen. Occasionally, I sit down in front of my computer. My hands hovering over the keyboard ready to type. I know exactly where I am supposed to go next, but then I stop.

For a moment something doesn’t feel right. So I type and see what comes out.

That is when characters leap through my fingers dictating to me where the story needs to go. Often I’ll write an entire chapter I had not expected to write. Whether I will keep that chapter doesn’t matter. What matters is I am getting to know my characters better so I might write a better story.

I do not know if this happens to every writer? But I find joy in this exercise. It’s one of the reasons I get up every morning to write. The muscle in my head I use to tell stories through the medium of words is one of my favorite adventures.

When our imagination is allowed to run wild, there are no limits to how far it can go. Left unchecked, and without boundaries, we are able to explore the inner depths of human invention.

How has your writing surprised you? Do you also find pleasure in the unknown? Or in the details of the outline and planning? Each writer is different.

What is helpful for one writer can be limiting for another. Each one of us will find our way as we embark on this journey of discovery.

A military veteran, writer of the novel ‘LIVING ON EMPTY’ Amazon [https://amzn.to/3i8Y4So] & iBooks [http://apple.co/1Nt6AWn].

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