by Slyford T. Rabbit
©2005 Sly Rabbit -- all rights reserved
Editor's note: Phil couldn't make it this month, so we sent in a replacement rabbit to write his column for this issue.
When I was asked to write this month's Hutch, I didn't know what to do. After all, I'm a fiction writer before anything else, and when it comes to writing about writing the topics get a little hairy. I can write what I want to write, no problem. Ask me to explain how I come up with I do, though, and I just draw a blank.
With this on my mind, I got to thinking about something I like to call 'academ-itis'. It's a disease that can easily turn a good writer into a mindless, metaphor-driven ghost of a creative spirit. What usually happens is that the writer worries too much about saying something big. High school English teaches everyone to look for the deeper meaning of a text, such that all writing is one ball of idolized, high-brow literature that uses subtle symbolism, juicy metaphor, touches of allegory, and auctorial intrusion to comment on the human condition. Thus, they approach writing like a college kid approaching his term paper: subject first, content later.
Phil commented on this in the Hutch a few months ago, in a column entitled It's the Story, Stupid. I feel this issue is something that should be brought up time and time again. It boils down to a question that those with this academ-itis completely overlook: "Where do the ideas come from?"
Here's the secret: writing comes from the kid inside that never quite grew up.
This thought was going through my mind when I found my muse staring me in the eyes. Most of that Saturday afternoon was spent fursuiting around a homey Indiana city, and when the day ended we were both a little tired. It was at this time that my friend, Rocky Raccoon, pulled out his favorite childhood video: The Raccoons and the Lost Star.
Man, it took me back.
This show happened to be one of my favorite videos, back when I was a kid. Watching it made my mind go back to younger, happier, seven-years-old times, when the world was big and vast and full of wonder. I remembered imagining myself out with the Raccoons, hiding on the dark side of the moon in a tropical paradise filled with furry, funny animals. My mind filled in the blanks and created a heroic storyline for my imaginary adventure.
Children are amazing storytellers; if you don't believe me, take five minutes to talk to a kindergartner about their favorite pretend place. They have this amazing ability to spin setting, plot, characters, and theme together to create an interesting, albeit disconnected, little story. If something doesn't quite add up in their real world surroundings, they can invent an explanation that works to fill in the blanks. They're generous with this creativity, too; they speak of these little stories with such enthusiasm and conviction, like they're inviting you to come in and play pretend right along with them.
It's too bad that people feel like they have to 'grow up' and leave behind this wonderful aspect of the human spirit. Too many times they take a wonderful talent of the mind and let it rot away under the guise of 'getting real'. Then, when they come back twenty years later craving some sort of creative outlet, they find themselves in the "I don't know what to write" snag that turns potential writers into jaded people afraid to create.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't express yourself in a story. Theme is an important consideration when putting together a real bang-up tale. Be a powerful writer; as James Baldwin once put it, "The role of the writer is not to entertain, but to disturb the peace." But, while you're out making sweeping statements about the world of today, don't forget to listen to the little voice in the back of your head that begs to come out and play.
In the end, all a writer has to do is think like a kid. Simple. Locked doors, mysterious hallways, distant stars... they're not just empty space. They're prime real estate for the imagination. They are where the stories hide.