Monday Motivation: Oh what stories you could tell
Were you anticipating 2018 with any relish? We usually do look forward to the new year with some degree of excited anticipation. The world conspires to encourage us to do so. It’s the beginning of a year. Beginnings are always exhilarating. We can cast aside the slight overindulgent decadence of the holidays, and look forward to a new and leaner year.
Human beings are surely the only creatures on earth that can anticipate things in the future. It’s true that our cats, Spronkie and Lamington, will be sitting on the steps to greet us when we arrive home – but they’ve cheated: they’ve heard the garage door opening. Dogs, dog-lovers will insist, can anticipate over longer periods than this – but I think we’d all agree that only humans can anticipate anything in a more distant future.
Anticipation is a bridge into the future. I can anticipate our new voyage on our narrowboat Patience, which will take place over many months later this year. In fact, a considerable degree of my enjoyment will be derived from that anticipation.
Anticipation, after all, means that we can live something twice… or as often as we like.
Which brings me at last to writing…
Anticipation is what keeps readers glued to the page. It’s what makes them active and engaged with the story. It’s what provokes them into thinking of a series of explanations for the behavior of the characters the author has created. It’s what makes them imagine what turn the story’s going to take long before they get to the next intersection.
Take the simplest of all beginnings:
Call me Ishmael.
When Herman Melville wrote that line, he could not himself have imagined the effects his story would have on millions of readers around the world, not just in his lifetime, but centuries into the future. And I hazard that those three words had a great deal to do with it. Because they immediately generate a series of questions. Who is this person who so peremptorily introduces himself to us? What gives him the right to this intimacy? Where is he from? What does he want of me?
The questions build… you guessed it: anticipation.
So here’s the thing. You’ve been mulling a story for some time. You’ve mentioned the character that you’ve invented to your buddies, or your spouse. They’ve loved her cheekiness, her insouciance, her élan. Write the story, they’ve urged, people will love it.
So you swim your lengths every morning and slowly that germ of a story starts taking shape in your mind. You anticipate writing it. You anticipate publishing the finished manuscript. You anticipate a deluge of sales… and reviews. (You don’t even mind if they’re not all positive.)
You’re doing what I do every year when I’m anticipating a long, leisurely cruise down the Thames, or along the waterways of Cambridgeshire.
Now, most people leave it at that. They never somehow find the time to nurture their little idea so that it becomes more than an amusing topic of conversation at the dinner table. They realize that writing a novel can be a nerve-wracking experience. Eighty thousand words! My god!
The trick is to anticipate not just the fabulous rewards of having published a best seller – but the equally extraordinary rewards of writing over a sustained period.
Writers will tell you that there are few pleasures deeper than rummaging about in your imagination, pulling out rabbit after rabbit and putting them down on the page… Few pleasures keener than crafting a scene in which all the elements conspire to take the reader through a range of emotions… Few pleasures more sustaining than engaging your reader’s imagination to the degree that they loosen their grasp on the real world, and join you in your fictive one.
Writers deftly craft stories that have readers anticipating what’s to come. What I’m urging you to do is use that same power of anticipation to turn your writing dreams into the sort of reality you’ll find between the covers of a book.
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