If we run out of stories to tell
Sometimes, I wonder how many stories I have left in me. Maybe that sounds melodramatic. Maybe that's a little weird to be thinking at age 21, when I (God willing) have so many years ahead of me to write stuff down.
Maybe it's something that every writer thinks about. I can't remember when I first starting thinking about it. The thought might have popped into my head sometime after I finished the first draft of Privateer (I'm now on the fourth, in case you were wondering). But right now, I have the sneaking suspicion that this thought's swirling around up there because I'm currently in so many storytelling classes.
It's my final semester at USC. I'm taking a fiction writing class and a playwriting class, and as I am attempting to straddle the two different art forms—forcing my brain to switch back and forth between fiction mode and playwriting mode while doing homework—I keep getting struck by the fear that one day soon I will sit down with a blank piece of paper and come up with... absolutely nothing. And it'll be a lasting nothing. It'll be a nothing that never ends, because I've written out all of the stories inside of me and am now just a shell of a writer, with nothing left to say.
So this fear is probably fairly irrational. But that doesn't mean it hasn't set up camp in my head. There's a nice bonfire going and everything. It's, like, really attractive.
To add to that, I am currently in the middle of half a dozen different projects. This is f***ing with my brain, because as you may recall... I never do this. And it's not because I have SO MANY IDEAS that I want to write ALL THE THINGS. It's because I am not inspired by any of the ideas I'm working with. I'm not genuinely excited about any one project.
That little, friggin' camper is burrowing in for the winter.
It's not a very nice place to be, where I am right now. Maybe you've been here, too. It's kind of like writer's block, but it's not exactly the same. It's more like... exhaustion. Sometimes I will open five different Word documents and a Celtx file, look at all of them, and realize that I can't remember why I started them in the first place. I will maybe crank something out for a class, but my heart won't be in it.
But I wonder how many novels I have left in me.
It's sort of amazing (sorry, allow me this one self-indulging moment) to look at a 400-page book and think, "This was once inside of me." It's kind of insane, actually, that I have actually somehow done this multiple times. Like... where the HECK did all of it come from? WHAT am I doing with my life? And is this what I'm going to get to do forever? Get so worked up over a topic and an imaginary person that I will actually rant about it for 400 pages, then rinse and repeat?
...what if I can't do it forever?
What if I simply... run out of things to say?
In his comic book series The Sandman, Neil Gaiman wrote, "Everyone has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world—no matter how dull or boring they are on the outside. Inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds... Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe."
To me, it is nothing short of a God-given miracle to be able to say that I have worlds inside of me. That you have worlds inside of you. Even if you're not a writer. Even if you're not a filmmaker or an animator or an actor or a designer. Holy crap. You were born with worlds in you.
I think that there's another word for what Gaiman calls "worlds," and it's curiosity. As long as I am curious, I have to believe that I will never run out of things to write. Otherwise, what is the point of all of this? If I knew everything, why would I need to write fiction? If I could tell you all the answers to life's most difficult questions and craziest philosophies, why the heck would I feel the need to spin entire epic tales about made-up people in made-up situations?
So I'm working really hard right now, trying to juggle writing short stories while revising one novel and completing another, while also writing a full-length play to be turned in as a final... but as my fear of running out of things to say grows, so does the hope that maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm doing something important.
Maybe it's not that we run out of words, but that sometimes we are at a loss for them. Because we're doing something worthwhile, something that could possibly make a difference, and when we reach the core of anything... it's always a little bit too beautiful, too bright, too fierce, too much to describe. At first.
I hope that's true. In the meantime, I'll be putting my butt in the chair, showing up for my half of the job. Eventually, I think the words will, too.