Deb Rachel Can’t Always Get Fire

Here’s what I think: It’s a lot easier to keep a flame alive than it is to spark a flame in the first place.

It’s like on Survivor. Every season, in that first episode, all the castaways want is fire. They’ll do anything to get it. A challenge where you strip down to nothing and hop on one leg, juggle coconuts, and sing Justin Bieber? No problem, if it’ll get them some flint.

Eventually, a flame is lit and you’ll hear some contestant yell, “We have fire!”

They don’t talk much on the show about keeping the flame alive. It’s work, and there’s always someone assigned to fire duty, but the difficulty—the drama—is in getting it started.

That’s how I feel about writing. Once I have my idea and start putting words on paper, the adrenaline gets going. Suddenly I’m dreaming about the story. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I can crank out pages at a time without looking up. Well, you know, sometimes.

As long as I believe in the story, as long as I can picture the final version in my head and it looks promising, I’ll stick with it. Even if that means (and it usually does) drafts upon drafts and revisions upon revisions. No biggie. Once we’ve committed, we’re in it for the long haul.

But getting that fire started? Oh boy. First I must procrastinate for hours, or days, or months. I need to get all the other non-passion projects—the contracted assignments, the backlogged email, the unpaid bills—out of the way. Clearly it’s necessary to watch everything on the DVR, refold the clothes in my closet (and maybe do some seasonal wardrobe purging while I’m at it), and look at my cousin’s mother-in-law’s neighbor’s Puerto Rico vacation pictures on Facebook. Nothing else can be vying for my attention! There’s only so much of me to give!

I also have to have a clear sense of what I’m writing. What will this story be? How will the book be structured? Why is it worth putting on the page? The answers to these questions, or at least the first two, will probably change as I go along, but without a bit of vision or purpose, I feel silly writing.

Then, when there is no more procrastinating to be done and my insides feel like they might literally spill out my ears if I don’t sit down at the computer, I start writing.

I find that spark and turn it into a flame.

And then I put on my buff, throw my hands in the air, and say it. “We have fire!”

See? I can relate anything to Suvivor. Thank you. It’s a gift.

Do you find it harder to keep the flame alive or to spark it in the first place? How do you find fire? (Figuratively, not literally like Jane and her coconut here.)


3 Replies to “Deb Rachel Can’t Always Get Fire”

  1. Boy, this is how you can tell how old I am. I hear Survivor and I think, “Eye of the Tiger”!

    I’m glad you touched on this part of the process, Rachel. It does start with a flame and sometimes the flame takes time to catch. But once it does, you really do feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway, running around with your lit branch, gleefully yelling, “Fire! Fire!”

  2. Great analogy! I think, as you so aptly illustrated, the spark gets the gets the airtime–it’s what everyone seems to want to talk about (“Where do you get your ideas?)–and the slog of keeping that fire going is the boring, day-to-day grind that nobody (except possibly other writers) wants to hear about. And who can blame them? Slogging can be such a bore.

    For me, the spark is definitely easier than maintaining the fire. That’s where my CPs and other writing buddies come in really handy–they’re always there to blow on the flame for me when it starts to flicker. Writing may seem like a solitary endeavor, but community is important.

  3. Wow, I just love hearing everyone’s processes. I’m pretty much the opposite of you, Rachel. I have plenty of sparks. Sparks are everywhere. I dream about them and get them in the shower. It’s the maintenance of the fire that’s the real work for me.

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