Sunday, December 7, 2014

For Better or For Worse - The Writer

For Better or For Worse - The Writer

How wild your imagination becomes if someone you love is late coming home. You’re sure they’re safe, but…what if? What if your family is one of those about whom the headlines are written? After all, it’s the luck of the draw. Nobody is absolutely secure. Bad things can happen to any of us. In your mind, you go from imagining fatal accidents to acts of violence to kidnapping — all the stuff you see in the movies. Perhaps what we do is prepare ourselves for the worst. Maybe this is a good exercise, but it’s often far too stressful and far too frightening.

When folks ask how writers come up with so many weird ideas, I use the "missing at night" scenario to explain: Give yourself a situation in which you have no control, something that could go in any direction — this is when your writer’s hat goes on. You want to resolve the situation now; you want to be able to handle whatever happens, and so you let your imagination loose. The next thing you know, you are in the mind of a writer. One small idea bubbles into another. Could there have been an accident?

You visualize this awful possibility: the car, the people inside. Are they on a roadside? In the water? Soon, you’re bringing in sirens — an ambulance and police to the scene. You go from imagining the accident to living through the aftermath: the hospital, the anguish, the lives on the line. You argue with nurses, you fight for the right to know. You call relatives and tell them the news. You wait for the recovery, or you plan for the wake. This is how a writer works; even though you’re telling a story, you feel as though it’s real.

For a writer, imagination is a gift. For someone who is waiting and wondering, it’s a nuisance. The good thing is, by the time you reach the most agonizing chapter in your imaginary scenario, your missing person shows up and you have nothing to show for your night of woe but relief. And…isn’t that a great way for this all to end?

-Lynn Johnston