2:00pm– Been sitting at my desk for the past hour, trying to write the first page of my debut novel. I haven’t a clue where to start. So, naturally, I write about what is most familiar: my feelings. This is what I churned out.
I don’t know what to write. I’ll admit that much, and I suppose that’ll get me kick-started. I don’t know what to write, so here I am, typing out the one thought permeating my brain. What to write, what to do? I haven’t a clue!
How do writers do it? How do they create such compelling, ingenious work filled with intricate plot twists and beautiful, captivating language that draws readers in to the very worlds they depict? I suppose I have much to learn in the realm of creative writing. Scratch that—LOADS to learn. A LIFETIME of learning ahead of me.
This morning has been at once inspiring and humbling. I spent the greater part of today watching interviews of famous writers like Margaret Atwood and James Patterson. The one common piece of advice they impart is: JUST START WRITING. Write… anything. Just set a specific goal for yourself, whether it’s writing 1,000 words a day, or a single chapter, or one full page. Doesn’t matter. Just make it a habit of writing consistently, even on the days you aren’t feeling creative (like today, for instance). Outlines are overrated. A lot of great writers don’t even use outlines and kind of let the plot unfold itself. I believe I fall into this camp. Try to get me to make an outline, and I’ll stop frozen in my tracks. My mind will go blank, and I could easily sit for hours at my computer, writing down half-baked, nebulous ideas that my uninspired brain cranks out, only to delete it all in a single moment of frustration.
My best writing comes from what I feel. When I feel something deeply—and because of my bipolar, I feel a wide spectrum of emotions, all the freaking time—I write it down out of sheer necessity. For me, writing is a must. It’s something I need to do to survive. It’s like oxygen. Without it, both my body and soul will wither. I truly believe that writing and living go hand-in-hand. I write about my experiences. About my thoughts, sentiments, worldviews. About everything that’s happening around me and to me. I write about what it is to be human. And that’s what I have going for me. Not that I’m particularly poetic with my language (though, I believe that can be trained with copious amounts of reading and writing). Not that I have the divine creativity to create high-concept fantasy, like Harry Potter. But rather, that I am real and genuine, and what I experience, others can relate to. How do I know this? Because I have had people literally come up to me and tell me that they resonated with my experiences and were impressed that I could articulate it into words. “Base affirmation on fact”, is one key advice I learned from a professional writer. Well, as of right now, that is the only affirmation I can say about my own writing. That it’s relatable.
Question for both seasoned and neophyte writers: do you ever read an incredible piece of work, whether it’s a specific scene, dialogue exchange, short essay or novel, and are at once inspired and demoralized at how profound it is, and how your own writing pales in comparison? Because that’s what I felt when I read the prologue of Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir, “An Unquiet Mind”. The language she uses to depict an opening scene was vivid and captivating. I was there with her as she sprinted in circles around an empty parking lot in the middle of the night, manic and out of her mind. And her choice of scene too—out of anything she could have talked about to introduce her bipolar disorder, this one stood out. And it’s not like running around parking lots is, in-and-of itself, particularly interesting. It’s the way she described it that made it fascinating. As I was reading it, I was like… oh man, this is what I’m up against? Because I was thinking of doing something similar, where I write about my own experience with bipolar disorder.
Well first of all, I’m making a grossly unfair comparison between my writing and hers. She has decades’ more experience than I do, not just in writing, but in life as a whole. Secondly, this is a NY Times bestseller. Why am I, a 22-year-old fledgling writer-wannabe, comparing myself to the best of the best? Another thing– no memoir is the same. Just because she wrote an amazing memoir about her bipolar doesn’t mean I cannot. Dr. Jamison has a very unique perspective of being both a bipolar patient and bipolar professor. As for me… well, I was a high-level athlete whose bipolar manifested while I was still competing in gymnastics. I was formally diagnosed only years after I had left the sport. And as I progressed through college, my bipolar got worse and worse and was severely under-treated. How did my bipolar hinder (and help) my performance as an athlete? What’s the culture clash between mental illness and competitive sports like? How did I cope with bipolar whilst being a full-time student at UCLA? What are some hallmark behaviors I exhibited while on these manic “highs”? I think those are all great questions that I can springboard off of. Good starting point. Yes, I think I know where to begin, now. Since I only recently graduated from college, my college memories are the freshest in my brain, so I’ll probably start from there. Okay. Here we go. This is the part where I jump. I’m scared, but I’m ready. So… ready, set, JUMP!