Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation.
Jo in Little Women, 1994
I’ve found new obsession for ten to twelve p.m. It’s not so much my mind that comes alive then, but my freedom. I can take off several of my hats, Employee, for instance, and Mom. And instead I can just focus hard on the thing I want.
Have you seen the Pirates movies? Captain Jack has a compass, and it shows the holder the direction to whatever it is they want most. The catch is that there are always a hundred different things these characters want. And their wants cross over each other and hinder each other and help and hurt at any given moment in the film. And there are any number of things that need wanting, and discovered, before the thing they want the most. It makes the compass a tricky thing to read.
It’s an important storytelling technique, this issue of want. Cheryl Klein of SECOND SIGHT says at any given moment in your book your reader should be able to state what your main character wants most, and the secondary characters too. Most writing sessions, blog posts, and books will tell you this is the single most important thing. What does your character want? What gets in their way? And what are the stakes if they do or don’t get their desire?
Donald Miller in his book A MILLION MILES IN A THOUSAND YEARS learned this was actually the problem with his life. It had no story, no all-important want that shaped another missing part, the things he actually did.
It’s wonderful and horrible to know exactly what you want. It might take so much work to get there, that’s the horrible part. But it keeps the working so much more enjoyable. That’s the wonderful. There are possibly a hundred different wants to be accomplished before the major one, which can be distracting and get us off track. But life is chock full of compasses, reminding us why we began this crazy journey in the first place.
I had three beautiful babies in approximately seven years. They won’t be with me forever, and they need me so much while they’re here. That is something I want.
I used to type, medical transcription, only a few short hours a day. The rest of the day I spent with my home and my baby. I loved the weekends but never dreaded the week. My Monday was all the things I loved most – my home, my baby, and just enough work to feel full. That is a feeling I want.
I have a handful – or two or three – of books that make life feel so rich and beautiful and good. I stack and re-stack them sometimes on the shelf, touching their covers, their pages, their heart. I don’t need to write the most famous of these. I don’t need to make the most money. But to have captured a piece of my efforts like that…that is something I want.
You don’t have to tell me your list – but you should know for yourself. What is it you want most?
These things, at least lately, are mine. They’re my compass. And at least from ten to midnight, I row for all I’m worth.