Building a One Match Fire
I was thinking about fire this morning. About building fires, exactly.
My dad is a master fire-builder, splitting piney logs until they looked like matchsticks, layering them horizontal, crossing each other to make a tiny roofless house, newspaper always in the middle. Of course he talks the whole time, figuring the placement of each element out loud like a 3D puzzle in stereo. “And you’ll go there, and this one will go there…alright, that looks pretty good.” He sits back on his haunches and looks at it, gives a sniff of satisfaction, and I know that it’s ready. He pulls a single match from the box and lights the fire. Immediate inferno.
One-match fires. He specializes in one-match fires.
You see, the key with one-match fires is that you prepare for success before you even pull out the match. In fact, although the whole concept revolves around that one match, the match is not the most important part. I guess you could argue that I am wrong, that without the match, the fire wouldn’t start. But, the thing is, if you have created the perfect one match fire, any spark will turn it into a blaze.
What am I really talking about? I feel that I am writing in metaphor, but I don’t really know what I am saying yet.
There are all these things in life that we want to do, actions we want to take. We want to change our jobs, our lives, who we are. We want to lose weight, be a star, dump our girlfriend, buy a house. We want to strike those matches so quickly that I think we forget to prepare our little one-match fire with care. We want to keep doing the same things we have always done and get different results.
That’s actually the definition of insanity, Paco. Look it up.
In order to make our life blaze, we must do the deeds, put in the time to prepare the fire. We must take those small steps forward in order to make our lives what we wish they could be. Dreaming is the enemy, action is the goal, preparation is the sticky-sweet center that makes everyone feel tired and fat.
My husband has hated his job FOR. EV. ER. He complains about it constantly. Every 2 months, he comes home and sits down in a darkened room and just stares into the middle distance. He says, “I am so burned out about my job. I have to get a new job.”
“Great,” I say. “What are you going to do about it?”
You see, there’s my mistake. Kyle’s a dreamer, not a do-er. This is the reason why he has been doing the same awful jobs for 10 years. He doesn’t know that he has control over the preparation part of his life.
I’m the opposite. Slash and burn, that has been my life’s motto.
Although this perpetual motion lends to some very exciting stories (as long as you live to talk about them), it usually ends painfully. I notoriously light matches on a whim and watch the destruction consume my life. No control, no warming flames, just forest fires that engulf my world in chaos. Unlike my father’s meticulous campfire ritual, I don’t take the time to consider my actions, to prepare my life for the changes that I want to make.
The point, is, neither Kyle nor I are building that one-match fire. We spend our lives on the idea or the action, but not the necessary work in the middle.
My most recent victim has been my book project. It was a good experiment, interesting and full of learning opportunities. For example, I learned that I actually can string 130,000+ words together in a line. That is very cool. None of them were very exciting words, but it was a feat to be able to reach the end and say, “Wow. I made a story and then I wrote it all down.”
The problem with my book is the problem with my life: I just went ahead and lit that match. It takes a certain amount of preparation to even jump right into creating a good story. Good writers know which ideas are good ideas, spend time dreamcasting their characters, have some thoughts about where it is all going, what the major conflicts are.
When I started “Dark Tides,” I basically knew that my book was an underwater society. Cool idea, but it’s hard to create a plot that is based entirely on setting.
Now, I have given myself the freedom to move on. I have been thinking about my next book a lot over the past few months. Not too much, mind you. I kind of feel like I’m standing very still while a unicorn creeps up next to me. I don’t really want to turn my head and look. It might startle the idea away or disenchant it somehow.
What is really exciting for me is that, for maybe the first time in my life, I am getting ready to do something instead of just doing it. I hope that doesn’t mean I am growing up.
My new story idea makes me want to fling myself down in my chair and just start typing away.
But, I haven’t done that.
Instead, I have been writing down character traits, images that come to me and seem to fit with the story. I have colored post-it notes on my work-board, random ideas that will be included, but with no real organization yet. I look at the board and feel like I am picking up sticks, putting them in order, preparing the kindling so that when the match strikes, it will turn into a lasting flame.
I’m not finished yet.
As a writer, I want to make something that lasts in your mind. You and I have a relationship now, one that I don’t have with anyone else. I tell you my secrets, the things that I never really have the words to say because I don’t know them until they come out of my fingers. You listen. (You are so good at listening!) I want to write something for you, something that helps you know that the universe loves you and that you have a special place inside of it.
I think that is what all writers want, right? To be able to cut away the time and space that separates all of us and allow us to be in the same room, having the same conversation – to be connected to each other. If you think about it, it is mind boggling. When you read Shakespeare or Bradbury or Kant, those men are alive in their words. They have reached from beyond to grave to shake you.
How can you build that kind of lasting flame without preparation? If I really cared about you (and, I think I do), I would make sure that my story is built carefully, with good wood and with enough oxygen to keep it burning long into the night.
So, be patient. Know that I am building you a fire with patience and precision. When the time comes to light the match, I promise it will roar into life and keep both of us warm.