Karen Rivers

what if you want to be a writer?

Karen Rivers

So listen, I am making up this course and one of the sections is ideas.  It all starts with ideas, this whole idea of teaching someone how to write something, anything.  Everything is an idea.  

To write a story, a book, a poem, a play, a movie, an essay, well, of course, you have to have an idea.  


It's where you start.




Without an idea, it's just you sitting in front of a screen, imagining what if you have to do a reading?  You'll have to wear something quirky, maybe the dress with the hot air balloons on it? (amusing without being too too) (high heels, of course) (red) (maybe a scarf).  

But public speaking!

What if you hate public speaking what if you fail what if you faint what if you die like that kid in the Red Violin? What if you trip on the stage and stammer what if no one can hear you what if no one comes?

Really there are a lot of what ifs in this whole idea that you had in the first place of writing a something.

And none of it matters because it's just you and a blank screen and... well, enough of the blank screen! Switch over to Facebook, someone has almost certainly posted a video of a cute baby animal doing something ... cute.  Which will save you from yourself.  

What if you actually HAD an idea?  Then you'd have to write a book.  Or at least a story.

And you might fail.

What if you fail?

Baby animals are cute.

What if Facebook didn't exist and what if you actually wrote something and had to talk about it and had to put yourself out there to be judged?

Then what?

Best to avoid ideas, in case of future panic.  

Go ahead and skip section one:  WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

It will only lead you astray.

I've quit Facebook, for now.

I happen to love public speaking, in case you're wondering.  I'm not talking about me here.  

I'm talking about you.  You can borrow the dress, which I have, just in case.

Just write the book already.  Write SOMETHING.

Sure, you start with an idea.  Where do I get my ideas?

Well, I just ...

I ...

Listen, sometimes I wish I could have fewer ideas.  Or at least they would come at a more regular rate and less all-at-once.

The better lesson might be in How To Not Get Ideas.

Here's the truth:  The best way to get an idea is to start writing something else.  Believe me, another idea will interrupt.  Try it.   Write ANYTHING.

Or try to.

Something will happen.

Ideas are like flies.  Once they see that you are opening your rotting, seething, festering brain up to them, they're going to come buzzing in.   Try and stop them!  Maggots of ideas galore.

I think I can't put that in the course.  It's a bit too dark.  The flies, the buzzing, the rotten brain.  Too Tim Burton for highschool Creative Writing.

Maggots are really the grossest thing I can think of.

Let's try again, shall we?

Here's the thing:  an idea is just a place to start.  

By the end, your story will be something different entirely, completely unrecognizable, or at least, not entirely the point of what you've written.  So best not to get too married to your original idea -- you in white, your idea in a tux, both of you too young to really be committing like this.

So what I mean is, don't wait for your idea to be the Tiffany diamond engagement ring of ideas, all hard edged and unchangeable and perfect and obviously incredibly valuable.  Just lazily hold hands with any one of your vague, pretty ideas.  Sure you'll outgrow it before you've even completely finished frolicking through the sun-soaked meadow over there, but that's OK.  You're supposed to.

Your idea is not meant to be forever and ever, til death do you part.  

Sometimes it is just a way of getting you to where you need to be to start the thing that will become bigger and better than all the other things that you've started in the past and, this time, actually make its way towards being an entire ...


Most ideas don't turn into books.  

The idea doesn't ...

Well, the fact is that it doesn't matter.

This blog post was going to be about hypochondria when I opened the page and began typing.

So there.

That's the truth.

You don't even really have to have an idea, just the vague hazy outline of a form of a something, an image or a person who nudges at your imagination and makes you start wondering, what if? And that starts with a  sentence, and it doesn't even really matter what the sentence is because eventually you will delete your first ten pages, so use this one:  "When he said the thing he said, I just assumed he was lying, and kept doing what I was doing, which was very slowly adjusting the sepia tint on the photo of the boy jumping from the bridge into the fog."  

Then go from there.

You can have that sentence.  I'm not going to use it.  You'll delete it later anyway.

Use it to start all your books.  I don't care.

Even if everyone in the world started with the very same sentence, they would all write completely different books.  

Actually, almost none of them would write books.

It turns out that writing books is pretty hard for a lot of people.  There are much fewer occasions for the balloon dress than you'd imagine, starting out.

The problem with being a writer, doing writing to the exclusion of anything else, professionally speaking, is that the "what if" starts to bleed over into your actual life and then before you know it, there you are what iffing everything.  

I don't know if there should be two f's in that.  Fs.  

Sometimes I realize I have no idea what is correct, grammatically.  That happens.  Then I think, what if I'm doing it all wrong?  What if I forget every rule of grammar I ever knew and can never write anything again?

What if?

I took one of those aptititude tests in highschool that was meant to tell you what your best possible career path would be.  Mine boiled down to two possibilities:  Ballerina or funeral director.   

I think it's too late for me to learn ballet. 

Once, a long time ago, I was at a movie.  (I know it was a long time ago because I haven't been to a movie in years, what with kids and being busy and mostly choosing to spend money differently, such as on dresses with hot air balloons on them in case of glamorous events.)  I was watching the movie and suddenly I thought, what if, while I'm watching this movie, I suddenly lose my ability to remember how to communicate?  What if, when I walk out of this film, I've forgotten even how to talk?  And I am never able to recall, exactly, how to get words from inside my brain to my mouth and out?  

For the entire movie, I fought the urge to blurt something out just to see if I could.

Which is why I think almost all writers are hypochondriacs who are prone to panic.  There is no fleeting thought that ever passes by without us grabbing on to it, applying a what if, and letting it grow unruly and wild like some kind of thorny, man-eating jungle plant in a horror film.

Consider that before you consider writing as a career.  

I won't put that in the course materials, it's just something to think about.  

If you don't naturally what if, then you probably shouldn't write.

If you do, then you must.  Because if you do, you won't ever ask anyone, "Where do you get your ideas?" because you yourself will be so full of ideas, having what iffed everything that ever crossed your path to the point that your ideas will be competing for space with your reality and you will have to start writing things down just to get them out of the way.

If you have no idea what I mean, then don't write.  Do something solid and logical and well-paid.  I recommend becoming an actuary.  Actuaries make a lot of money.  

Believe me, I occasionally wish that I was an actuary.

I don't know anything about the salaries of ballerinas or funeral directors, but they might also be viable choices to consider.

What if?