The Storm Strips Away The Unnecessary
It was a dark Thursday morning, early in September, that I locked the door of my house and drove away from it all. I had my car, my wife, our kids, some clothes, some technology, and that was it.
I was leaving the rest to the storm, and it was the most frightening and the most liberating thing in the world.
Begin The Journey, Run For Your Life
For the next 22 hours we drove north, toward family, friends and safety in Lexington, Kentucky. Toward the unknown.
The hours fell into a familiar rhythm; conversation, then quiet. Food, break, then gas. Fear, then excitement. Our past, our future. Mourning, then dreaming. During all this, Hurricane Irma headed toward all that we had left behind, pacing and stalking us like a predator in the veldt. It continued following us, growing, weakening, but most of all, destroying.
Destroying everything in its path.
When you are running for your life, you must travel light. Whatever you can fit into a suitcase, a trunk, a purse, a bag, your hands. The amount varies, depending on what you started with, and what you deem necessary to end with.
Think about your life right now. Look at your surroundings, your things, your possessions, and then give yourself one hour to stuff everything important into a suitcase or the trunk of your car.
After that hour, or after you’ve filled up every square inch of your car, turn out the lights, the water, lock the door and say goodbye to it all.
You will never see it again.
The Storm Demands Simplicity
As a writer, the tools of my craft are few: something to write with, and something to write on. That’s it. Beyond that, everything could be considered non-essential. I’d been working on the first book in my new series for months, and had built up a considerable amount of notes, research, photos, index cards, binders full of stuff.
I left it all behind.
I left all that work behind, in the top corner of my office closet. Maybe it would be there when I returned, maybe the roof would be torn off by the Category 5 winds, and my scribbles would be cast into the very winds that destroyed them.
It would all be gone.
I was okay with that; I had to be okay with that.
Could you do that?
Could you box up everything, make it snug and comfortable in a box, and then leave it to the storm? Or, would you make room for it in your escape vehicle?
What’s more important to you: your book or your children?
Your notes or some extra clothes?
Your creative work, or something to keep you warm in the shelter?
Your Art Or Your Life, Or, Perhaps Both
At some point, you must stop researching, stop plotting, stop taking notes and you must begin to write.
You must write “Chapter One” at the top of a blank page and you must begin to create.
You can have reams of notes, but once your character opens their mouth for the first time and speaks, all those notes become inconsequential. Their voice is all that matters, your story is all that matters, and you have taken the first step on your journey away from the storm and toward a new book.
Just as the storm came to town and forced me to focus, to strip away everything that was unnecessary for our survival, so, too, must you begin to strip away all that is unimportant from your story.
Forget the research.
Forget the notes.
Forget the worksheets, the spreadsheets, the hours upon hours of work that lie behind you in boxes, at the top of your office closet.
You don’t need them.
Come Through The Other Side Of The Storm, Stronger and Leaner
They are within you now.
Each minute, each hour of research and notes and world building, they were nourishment for your soul, and your soul is forever changed from the ambrosia. All that work is you, and all you need is within you now.
Your tasks were not in vain.
They were necessary, but you need not clutch them like some precious gems, fearful of losing them. Let them go.
Write “Chapter One” at the top of the page and begin.
Do not fear the storm within you, the fear within you, the paralysis that stops you from beginning. The storm has, and will strip away the non-essential, and you will be left with what is important, what is essential, with what is yours.
Pack the car, turn the key, and drive.
It’s dark, but you only need to see as far as the headlights.
They will light your way.
Originally published at William Mize.