Ask And It Is Given

I have come to see writing as a series of questions and answers.  My stories all begin with the same question: What shall I write about?  Perhaps the answer is, A boy on a bike.  I have my answer.  But this answer only asks more questions. How old is the boy? Where is he going? Where is he coming from? Is it his bike, or did he borrow or steal it?

The questions are asked and answered and asked answered until I have no more questions remaining. Then the book is called done. This is why writing to me is like listening. My only active role, in a way, is asking the questions. As I have written more, I have learned to ask better questions. The better the questions, the more precise the answer.

Take the first question. Once I might have just asked for some story, any story, but now I am likely to be more specific. I want a story that feels like what it felt like when I first met my wife—but I don’t want my wife in it or me in it or anyone like us.

So I’ve asked.  And now I wait.  It doesn’t matter where I am in the process, whether the first idea or the last sentence, that is the procedure: I ask, I wait, and an answer comes. If I don’t like the answer, I have learned that the problem is that I have asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, “I want an exciting end to this chapter,” which is very vague and likely to produce a half-a-dozen perfectly exciting answers, I will ask, “I want an exciting end to the chapter that is also funny and leaves my hero in a basement with only a rat for company.”

The part we call hard is the waiting. We call it hard because we do not trust that the answer will come, or we demand that the answer comes quicker than it has. Also, sometimes we don’t like the answer and we forget that it was us who did the asking. Either way, doubt the process and you have thrown water on your creative fire. Trust it, and you can burn on all day and night if you like.

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