“They’re just words…”
As a writer, you’re entire life is made up of words. Millions upon millions of words. A vast vocabulary that spans the very history of language. You’re able to shake those words from the tip of a pen like a spell from a magic wand, painting vivid pictures in your reader’s minds. But sometimes, even the greatest literary mind gets hung up on the most simple of things.
It’s never been hard for me, writing that is. I published my first short story when I was thirteen. In school, my English teachers would always return my projects, wide-eyed, in amazement at what I was able to accomplish with so little effort. Friends would surround my desk, waiting to snatch up the latest piece I wrote so they could pass it around, reading it instead of studying. I knew from the very beginning that I would do this for a living.
Funny how the things you do “for a living” can keep you from being truly alive.
“…you should have seen the look on his face! Ah, man. Marty, remember the… Marty? Oh, come on man. Again? Hey… Marty! Earth to Shakespeare, are you listening to me? Guess he’s lost in thought again…”
I’ve run out of napkins, and now I’ve moved on to covering the margins of a wine menu. The ideas pouring out of me like a broken spigot. This could be my Pultzer. This could be my…
“Marty! Honestly, can’t you put the damn pen down for five minutes and join your friends in the real world?”
“What? Oh, sorry… didn’t want to let this idea slip away.”
“Of course. What is it this time? A murder mystery? A fantasy epic? Or perhaps a love story?”
“Why can’t it be all three?”
Why can’t it be all three…
Flipping the wine menu over, I begin writing the words “Epic fantasy murder mystery love story” next to the pinot grigio. Etching character ideas next to the merlot. My future reduced to near-incomprehensible scribbles next to a chardonnay. Probably the same kind they’ll pop open at the next release party, spraying droplets of over-priced grape juice on the large cardboard cutout of the cover. People patting me on the back as…
“…and he’s gone again. Look, Marty, I brought you out here so you could have a good time, not slave over your creations. The night is young, and look, Alexa is here…”
…they’ll tell me I’m a genius. One by one people will line up… to… wait, Alexa…
“Oh? I um… well, maybe I should say hi?”
“Sure, why not. She adores you, you anti-social nitwit. That’s what you literary folk call ‘sarcasm’, heh. I can’t believe someone as good with words as you has such a hard time wooing a beautiful young lady such as her. You can go and stumble over your precious words and talk to her if you’d like, but that particular story is gonna get classified as a ‘tragedy’ again and you know it.”
“You know, it’s your supportive nature that makes you such a dear, dear friend. Is that a good example of ‘sarcasm’?”
Of course, the great writers have no trouble finding the words when they’re necessary. I eventually won the heart of my dearest Alexa, and we were engaged to be wed shortly after that night. She had read everything I’d written, even the old short stories I’d thought no one had read.
We’d met at a book signing at a local college, and we spent all night discussing great literary works. We shared a common hate for the cheesy romance novels and corny murder mysteries that lacked any real heart. We both bounded over epic poetry, sprawling sci-fi adventures, and the occasional essay collection book. She was an avid reader, and I was her quill carrying prince.
But every narrative is driven by sudden change. And as much as writers hate to use old clichés, this one seems appropriate: All good things must end.
“That’s… that’s a lot of money…”
“Exactly, Marty, and all you have to do is create a new character, one that’ll carry you through this ten book deal. This publisher is offering to pay for your retirement three times over for this. You can’t pass it up.”
“Sounds too good to be true…”
“Hey, if anything… this deal is too true to be this good!”
Now, I’ve never been one to believe in latent psychic abilities or anything of that sort, but perhaps skepticism is a way for your brain to forewarn you of bad things to come. It was this “too good to be true” deal that inevitably destroyed my life.
Two weeks after putting pen to paper for the first book in this series, Alexa fell ill. Cancer, and it was moving fast. She only had a few months to live. The hospital bills were piling up and the publisher was more set on a release date than we’d initially believed. I had to have the first book out in six weeks, or the deal was already off. And knowing that I needed every dime I could pull together, I had to force myself to write. Even with my wife dying in the next room.
Alexa begged me to stop, to forget the book and spend the time with her. I tried to explain the need to finish this deal, to get the money so we could try experimental treatments, things like that. But she said it wasn’t important, that I should focus on the time we did have instead of the time we could have. I should have listened.
But when you spend your life writing fiction, you can sometimes have a hard time separating yourself from the thought of a storybook happy ending…
“They’re just words…”
For the first time in ages, a piece of paper lies blank in front of me. For some reason, the words I’m looking for cannot come. No matter what I do, no matter what thoughts come across my mind, this piece just won’t be written.
Every once and awhile, I have to ball up a page and throw it into the ever-filling trash bin by my desk. Tears dripping down on the pages, rendering them useless. Why did I insist on using paper this time?
Why can’t I treat this like a story, type it up in a word processor and be done with it. Is handwriting more personal? Or is my subconscious trying to torment me with this blank sheet of paper. It’s pale grey-white surface matching her skin as she slowly slipped away…
“They’re just words…”
But they were the most important words of my life. No story I’d ever written was more important than this. And yet…
I couldn’t get myself to write it. Years of being buried in worlds I made up inside my own head, did I find it impossible to write what is real? The one thing that means more to me than anything, and I can’t write it. The one person who means more to me than every character I’ve ever invented, and yet I cannot seem to put that feeling, that personality to written word.
“They’re just words…”
I think I finally understand. I think I realize why I’m unable to project this onto paper. It has no need to be tangible, to be physical. These words are inside me, and it’s there that they must be developed. I finally understand how I can tell this one last story…
“They’re just words. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet it was these words that brought Alexa into my world. My entire life was buried in the things that were not there. Fiction. The only thing that was truly real… was her.”
There they were. The words that had eluded me for the last few days. Perhaps the greatest piece I will ever write, and it wasn’t written at all. A eulogy to my lost love. Words I had to find deep down, past the regret, past the mistakes. The smiles, the laughs, the discussions. These scenes playing out inside me, as if I was my own open book.
My eyes, the ones that had spent the majority of my life staring at fake people, were now moving back and forth from one real person to the next. Alexa’s parents, her friends, everyone here to hear my words. The great storyteller spinning his most important tale.
No amount of planning. Notes and diagrams. None of it could help me. I had to open up and let these words flow.
“Alexa was a lot of things to me. But perhaps the most important thing… the most important thing was a fan. Not of me, as a writer, but of me as a person. Everyone else saw a socially awkward nerd, unable to communicate feelings or emotions. But Alexa, she had a way of reaching deep down and surfacing the real you. Her eyes wrote tales I could only dream of writing. Her voice crafted landscapes every writer dreams of birthing. Her very presence… it was the greatest story I have ever been a part of…”
Closing my eyes against the tears, I could see her face. Every feeling, every emotion, not even the greatest of authors can weave this story. My whole life, I was able to dictate what was necessary to convey the ideas, the messages, thoughts inside my head. I was known for my ability to describe everything and anything I set my mind to. But now? Those are only words. And words just won’t do anymore. Not for this. For this…
For this, I can only smile.