It’s No Good to Anybody In Your Head
If you haven’t seen the film Amadeus, you are instructed to stop reading and go rent it right away. You won’t regret it.
Still here? Great. Amadeus is a biopic of the flamboyant Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose flame flared brightly enough to burn him out at a young age and still echoes in concert halls today.
Toward the final chapters of Amadeus, an opera director comes to see him and asks to see the pages for The Magic Flute, the opera Mozart is writing for him.
“There aren’t any pages,” Mozart says.
The director is upset, thinking of payrolls and schedules, and says, “I asked you if we could start rehearsals next week and you said yes!”
Mozart nods. “It’s all here,” he says, pointing to his head. “The rest is just bibbling and scribbling, scribbling and bibbling.” Mozart is quite drunk, of course. And we hate the opera director for his next line, because we’ve come to care quite a bit for Mozart and his creative craziness by this point.
“Finish it,” he snaps. “Write it down. On paper. It’s no good to anybody in your head.”
I think of that scene when speaking to aspiring writers. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was hoping to land my first book contract, asking questions and listening intently to the authors. Now I’m the one they ask about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, or how I find time to write with a day job, or where I get my ideas. It’s a thousand questions that boil down to, “I want to write. Tell me how.”
Sometimes, I tell them about my friend Joe. Joe was a wonderful storyteller. We’d have lunch, and he’d tell me the latest story he’d concocted: dark fantasies full of drama and angst, color and magic. I’d listen, and then start grinning until he asked me what was so funny.
“Did you write it down?” I’d ask, and he’d give me the half-smile that says, “I know, you’re going to tell me about Mozart and the opera director again.”
The turning point for me was an issue of Writer’s Digest. The cover article was an excerpt from Stephen King’s memoir titled On Writing. The cover showed King’s face, a little less lined than it is now, and the title: “Stephen King on how to get ten pages a day.” Elsewhere on the cover was the title of an unrelated article: “What’s keeping you from success?”
I cut out that cover with King’s image and those two sentences only. I knew what was keeping me from success – on what still keeps me from success, as I measure it. King writes every day of the year, and I do not. Life intervenes, as does the day job, the requirements of being a wife and mother, the other thousand obligations that nibble at the hours.
But that keeps me from success. One day off turns into two, turns into a week, and suddenly the dust has fallen in the mind as well as the keyboard.
You see, the opera director was right – you knew I’d get back to him. He was harsh and selfish, but he was right. If Mozart had never put pen to paper, none of us would ever have heard The Magic Flute. It would have vanished into the ether with his untimely death, and all his songs would be unsung.
What are your songs? What are the stories you have to tell? Why do you keep them locked inside you where no one can see them? What is keeping you from success, whether it is commercial, critical or creative? What is required to get you what you want, and why do you let it slide one more day?
At the risk of sounding like a harsh opera director, I can only tell you what I have learned. Write it down. On paper. It’s no good to anybody in your head. Your stories will be unheard and your songs unsung as long as you let that hard work of putting pen to paper slide for another day, and another, and another.
It is the only answer to “how do you write those books?” I’ve ever come across.
As to where the ideas come… well, if you listen closely enough, in the dark place between awake and asleep, your ideas will speak to you, in what dreams may come. Please, share them with us.
Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She lives with her husband and her son in a haunted house in
. In her spare time, she
has no spare time. Her latest release is Nocturne Infernum, a trilogy of vampire mysteries set in a dark
alternate Illinois . Memphis