When I used to play basketball I enjoyed going to a court alone and shooting hoops. It was a meditative kind of practice, with only the ping of the bouncing ball, the squeak of my sneakers, and the whoosh of the net or rattle of the rim accompanying me. I had to create my own challenges when I practiced alone by moving closer or further from the hoop. There was no fun in simply standing a couple feet from the net and sinking basket after basket. The satisfaction came not just from the sound of the ball through the net but the focus necessary to achieve it.
Sometimes, however, a friend would join me and we’d play some one-on-one. The net and ball remained the same, but now my competitor’s defense, his anticipation and reaction, provided most of the challenge. If that challenge was significant, I could get so frustrated that I’d forget he was my friend at all. He became the guy, the villain, denying me the satisfaction of my success.
The audience can be like a competitor. My ideas for stories begin where there is no thought of a reader. I am completely alone with these ideas as I try to find them in a way that they will make sense to me. Often I understand my stories before they are fully told. I can see the connection between the beginning, middle and end before I’ve put down every sentence. It’s challenging to find a story in this way, but it’s rather forgiving. I feel some satisfaction even though I haven’t hammered out every single detail.
Eventually, however, I must tell the story so that someone else can understand it. Sometimes that person is my agent, sometimes it’s an editor, and sometimes it’s you, a reader of this very blog. This is a less forgiving way to tell the story. Now I’ve got to hammer out the details; now it’s got to make sense to someone who does not have the luxury of peering into my mind to see what I see. To do so I must find the strongest, clearest connections between beginning, middle, and end. If I leave too much out, neither the reader nor I will be satisfied.
I ultimately understand my own stories better when I tell them for a reader. The reader always asks something of me that I do not always ask of myself. But it is easy for me to turn them into blind villains, incapable of seeing what is so clear to me. This always happens when I forget that the satisfaction comes from the focus and not the finished product. The moment I find that true connection between beginning and end I feel as if I’ve found the true connection between the reader and me, and we all friends again.