Tonight, I watched the latest episode of Outlander. It’s an intense, powerfully romantic story and this particular stretch is painful. But I, along with millions and millions of others, am riveted, as deeply invested in what happens to these two as if they are my best friends. Or… really, me.
I spent the summer watching Game of Thrones. Yelling at the television, laughing too loudly, crying my eyes out. If there is a series I’ve loved better than this, I don’t know what it is.
Me, and about twenty billion other viewers and readers.
Amazing, isn’t it? That a story, a story, has the ability to stop the actual culture, organize so very many of us into a single activity. We forget about bills, the politics of the moment, the trouble with our parents, the annoying boss, and for a single hour, we are united and unified in our passion for this….
How does that happen? How does a story take over everything? Everything? An entire culture?
I have no idea. I mean, I’d do it if I knew how. All of us would.
That is not what this column is about.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert talk about Eat Pray Love. She had no idea, writing it, that it would become what it has. She just needed to write about the things weighing on her heart. What happened had very little to do with her and her ideas and everything to do with a magic something that anoints a book and sets it alive in the world. She said “I had no idea what five million readers looks like. I still don’t, but…fly, little book, fly!”
It stuck with me. Fly little book, fly!
She didn’t do anything to make that happen. Except one quite singular thing: she wrote the book. She allowed the idea to come, planted the magic bean and did what she could to help it grow. She watered it with research, staked it with good craft and editing—and then she set it free into the world.
Just as Gabaldon and Martin did.
There’s nothing miraculous—and everything miraculous– about that. It’s as ordinary as oatmeal, and yet, it’s the way all great stories begin–with the writer giving space and time to an idea. It begins with you. With me. With each of us showing up for the ideas that inflame us. Ideas that might, one day, inflame the world, stories that might still be read a hundred years from now…or five hundred. I mean, really, Shakespeare was just a guy, this writer, who had a real knack for getting those magic bean ideas. Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
How do you recognize such genius ideas, these magic beans? How do you write those ideas instead of the other ones, the not-so-genius ones? [Read more…]