The Bumble Bee

 shari_post_20141015It isn’t supposed to be able to fly, you know. The bumble bee isn’t built with the correct anatomical construction for flight, but try telling that to a jail-striped insect lusting after pretty flowers between bouts of breathtaking aerodynamic displays. Of course it’s just a worker bee after all, motivated but sexless, doing its robo-job on behalf of the hive, all glory to Her Royal Highness, the Queen.

We can learn a lot from the busy bee, industry and work ethic being at the top of the list. Butcher, baker, or writer, you can’t beat the bee for getting the job done. I’m not fussy about who claims the title writer for themselves. Published writer or wanna be, (I’m in the latter category, sigh,) as long as you write, keyboard nib to virtual page, you’re a writer to me. I’ve written five books, two for children, three for adults, with more story ideas in the chute, awaiting their place in the computer files. Not a claim for commendation, but not a candidate for sloth either.

I read so many articles about getting over writer’s block, way too much time and space wasted wondering why so much is written about how we can make ourselves do what we all claim we love to do – write. Frankly, my dears, the only caveat I see about calling oneself a writer is staking the claim and then standing back to wall, describing bricks as the Big Block. I live in California, earthquake country – I know that a brick wall falls incredibly fast. Ambition matters less than motivation which matters less than inspiration which is always fleeting and subject to bouts of fancy and antsy. What counts is work. I don’t care if you do NaNoWriMo or prefer flash fiction or need a prompt to get your juices out of the blender – you must write. Standing in line for your Bucky Brew and thinking about the next line you plan write to as soon as you fire up the laptop counts for Good Idea, (as when Mom says, “What a Good Idea, Sweetie, now eat your broccoli.”) but writing only happens when it’s a hard wired commitment. Damn the broccoli. Fire up. Write.

Here’s a strategy: Don’t count. I work with children who crab and fuss about the number of words they’re supposed to write. “I can’t think of any more. Is this enough?” they ask. I ask them if what they’ve written completes their article and states all they mean to express in the best possible language. Most want to return to the formula of the number of required words; it’s a benchmark they can measure. Staring at word count and trying to get to a target guarantees frustration as the optimal number remains elusive. What? Only 125 words? But I need yadda yadda amount! You might as well start at the dictionary, list its words, stop at an arbitrary number, and stake your flag on that territory, page 329, done! The effect will be much the same, with the same blah value and impact. Those kids who simply write, getting their thoughts on the page, telling everything they know, do better of course. Grammar and spelling aside, that which issues from their hearts tumbles into something worth reading. So don’t count. Just write.

I began my first adult book with no clear goal in mind other than to tell the story that had been beached in my brain like a ship in the sand. It wasn’t going anywhere until the tide rolled in and took it out to sea – er, until I sat at the computer and wrote the story. I figured at first that I’d be lucky to get to about 50,000 words to tell the story, (I wasn’t doing NaNo; 50,000 just seemed like a good number) but a funny thing happened on the way to that market – I went way past 50,000 and found myself up in the hundreds of thousands. (Shall we draw a number line to see what that looks like? Oooo, big!) Required some serious editing.

I’d written like the bumble bee that flies, completely unaware of the dynamics needed for success. I wrote because I had a story I wanted passionately to tell, peopled with characters who’d been living rent free in my head and needed digs of their own, and a story arc that was about to explode if I didn’t get it down on paper. (OK, it’s a computer, but the old fashioned image of me as writer working at my worn wooden desk, scribbling words from a leaky pen is more visually appealing than me in front of my white/black computer screen, my tush broadening with each paragraph. As my Mom actually says, “You know it, girl.”)

Here’s another strategy: Write what you love. If you don’t love that bad boy, that unlikely plot, that trampy vixen, that innocent Everyman with the droopy eyes, how are you gonna wanna write them into being? How you gonna make your reader wanna read what you wrote if you don’t love your story? Don’t fuss over genre or blockbuster tomes, worrying that you don’t want to write ___________ (here you may fill in the blank of whatever genre is most popular at this moment or any author currently on the best seller list.) Stop jingling the change in your pocket. Wrap your fingers around a pen. Plant a kiss on your story, hug your keyboard, and write what’s in your heart, cads and all. The first novel I wrote? It wasn’t a hot genre in 2012 when I entered it into ABNA, yet it placed within the top 250 books. That placement was heady confirmation for my story but my blue ribbon came when I wrote the final word a few months before.

Success is simple. No matter the designated label or projected numerical outcome, whether writing in November, February, or July, it’s all the same. Don’t count words. Write what you love.

And if you’re still wondering how that tubby bee does in fact fly – because we’re all successful empirical scientists and we know he does – he flaps harder. Just like we should.



11 thoughts on “The Bumble Bee

  1. I enjoyed this, and the word counting made me remember something.
    I used to teach English as a Second Langauge. New students had to take a placement exam, and one part asked them to write a paragraph of 50 or more words describing a family member.
    Most, of course, wrote a paragraph, but I remember the day I saw a test on which a young man had written a numbered list of words! I guess he either didn’t know the word “paragraph” or he didn’t know how to create one.

    • It’s so hard to become fluent in another language, to understand a new culture. Your student might not have known the word paragraph, but he seemed to have gotten the concept of a numbered list.
      Many years ago I took an entrance exam for a private school. I was 11 and we’d just moved from New Jersey to Hawaii. My NJ school has used textbooks decades old and the Hawaiian school I’d attended for just a few weeks had no textbooks at all. Subjects taught at each of those schools were barely recognizable as being related. So when the entrance exam presented a long sentence and told me to define the words, I did. I painstakingly wrote a lengthy description (read, “definition” in the most traditional sense) of each word. Noun? Preposition? Had never heard of them.
      I did get in to the school.
      I hope you were kind to your young man, Emilie – but I’d bet you were.

  2. Brilliant and motivating, thank you 😉 As left-brained as my past has been, I find myself these days discounting word count also. I let my mind let me know when I have reached a stopping point for the session. I am certainly not a connoisseur at sticking to my plan, but more often than not I do. And when I do, the emotion felt from doing something I love far outweighs the drivel that pours from my fingertips. And more often than not, that drivel (after a little bit, or a lot of editing) becomes the basis of a story I want (no, need) to tell. Thanks for the inspiring post – I think I need to post a picture of a bumble bee next to my computer now 🙂

    • Dave, I’ve so enjoyed your comments to various posts on this site, and have no concerns about the quality of your writing. You don’t need to count as a strategy to motivate yourself to write. I also edit as I write, much a no-no with many writers. But it works for me on many levels. I say, do what you do best. And if the bee image helps, please use this cute little guy. He’s straight out of Clip Art. Just to remind you that he can’t fly – but he does.

  3. Well written Shari. I think I recognized a few of those students…

    BTW, did you see Amazon’s call for manuscripts? Not through CreateSpace, but through a new publishing arm. There’s a $1500 advance if you’re selected. You have a few books that could be selected… I have the notice on my blog (scroll back a few days)

  4. Thank, Jacqui.
    Yes, I did see the Amazon call, but don’t think I’ll participate. I’d need to hire an artist for a cover and I don’t like that little ploy.

  5. Thank you, Roxanne, I’m honored!

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