In a quest to find out how other people’s purposes help uplift their life, I posed a simple question in the writing group AllWrite?: How has writing made your life better? Author Tony Bowman answers with his insights, his creative process, and what it means to listen when the intangibles in life call out to you.
Not other people’s books – my books. Books I haven’t written yet.
This is something I’ve done most of my life, although I really didn’t sit down and start writing them out until about three years ago. I’m an engineer by trade, and before that, I was a student. I was convinced my future would lie in science and engineering. If you had told me a few decades ago I would be up to five novels with about thirty-seven more planned out at the age of fifty-two, I would have laughed at the notion.
Engineers like tangible things and known quantities. Cell phones, slot machines, cruise missiles – those are all tangible things. They have weight and inherent value.
Books, especially e-books, are intangible. They aren’t known quantities. They aren’t objective, they’re subjective. Some people are going to like them, some people are going to hate them. What is the inherent value of a book? It depends on a delicate dance between the writer and the reader that makes the engineer in me cringe.
So, why do we do it? Why do we embrace the intangible when the tangible is so much more comfortable?
I read a story a few years ago about someone who was faced with a personal dilemma: they wanted to write, but they wondered if they should. This was about fifty years ago, and they just so happened to be at a party where Truman Capote made an appearance.
The neophyte approached Capote and asked, “Mr. Capote, should I write a book?”
Capote looked at them through his thick lenses and asked, “Are you educated?”
“Well, you have no choice but to write.”
And, I believe this is true. All people are, to a certain extent, creative. For some, it’s music. For others, art.
If you’re reading this, writing is most likely your creative outlet, or you want it to be.
For writers, that creative voice doesn’t shut off, no matter how much the logical side of our brain tries to silence it. In my case, I was able to confine the muse to forty-five minutes, twice a day while traveling to and from work.
One day while driving, I had an image of a man who spoke with Truman Capote’s voice having a conversation with a little girl beside a pond. The man was a killer – a werewolf actually, only standing beside that pond he was just an odd looking bald man wearing a safari outfit and perspiring under the hot Virginia sun. They were talking about the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” while the little girl’s dog ate earthworms to the child’s horror.
From that single scene imagined on a drive down Cary Parkway in central North Carolina, my book Nine Fingers was born. Every day, I would drive back and forth to work and imagine more of the scenes.
Now, in years past, that was the extent of what I would do with a story. It would play over and over in my head but never leave the realm of my imagination. It gave me pleasure, but it was the very definition of intangible.
The true joy came when I sat down and started writing. Characters introduced themselves and told me their life stories. A stream of simple scenes in my head suddenly had depth – characters I had imagined as only bit players stepped to the forefront and said, “Hey, take a look over here. I have something to add to this.” I worked as their biographer, and, more often than not, I acted as their torturer. In some cases, I was their executioner. I lamented their deaths and cheered their triumphs.
Eighty-thousand words later I typed the final line. The epilogs were complete, the denouement was satisfying to me.
The Buddhists say there is no greater joy than to begin. Obviously, they haven’t written a book.
To write the end, to finally take the idea that has plagued your imagination for months and translate it to words is joyous. No matter what happens after that, whether the book is enjoyed by thousands or universally panned, there is joy in that ending.
I’m deliriously happy for days after finishing a book. My blood pressure, which often climbs to heights that would make a full grown giraffe proud, drops to the level of a Yoga master. It’s the equivalent of a runner’s high, and, once you get a taste of it, you want to experience it over and over again.
More importantly, the muse is satiated. She goes away for awhile, though hopefully not too long. She stops playing the same movie over and over in your head. If you’re fortunate, she goes off somewhere and invents a new story to tell you. My muse is an especially chatty Cathy, and she likes to show me double and triple features. She’s exhausting sometimes, but I’m glad she hangs around.
For many of us, that’s what writing is about. The joy of writing down the bones of the story – the contentment that comes when the scenes stop playing over and over in your head because they are finally recorded. There is no better therapy than to set the imagination free and create something intangible.