My three year old niece Lucy is such a storyteller. She will invent these wild tales of zombies and princesses and dogs and fashion girls, winding them on for hours and hours. At Thanksgiving, Ian started illustrating them for her, so now whenever she comes over, we make a little book and she tells a story and he draws it for her. The illustrations prove similarly hilarious to her parents, and the books are becoming little family heirlooms.
She comes from a long line of readers and storytellers. Her mom, my sister Hilary, is a fantastic writer who went to the Breadloaf Young Writer’s Conference in high school, and both our parents are great tellers of tales (my dad, Dana Cudmore, wrote The Remarkable Howe Caverns Story). We grew up surrounded by books, making up bizarre games and stories, the most long-running of which involved a stuffed fruit collection, a panda named Willowasis and a penguin named Polka Dot. Another classic in the genre is a picture book my sister Laura put together from magazine cut-outs and coloring book pages, which, when my dad read it aloud to her, dubbed it Jasmine’s Bad Apple Day. It’s one of those weird pieces of family lore that has stuck with us ever since.
Last weekend, Lucy and Hilary (and my niece Melody, but she’s just a baby) came over and we made a book, titled King Julian Gets Some Almonds. In it, King Julian gets some almonds from a butterfly, then there’s a fashion show. The illustrations were provided by an issue of Real Simple that I swiped from my doctor’s office. We like to think of it as the spiritual sequel to Jasmine’s Bad Apple Day.
As we cut and glued pictures onto some Jimmy Buffet sheet music (from my insane pile of craft paper) the story evolved. A picture of a girl in a dress became a fashion show. The woman with the rake was mad because she had to clean up before the show. King Julian got some almonds from a butterfly. I’m sure it’s not unlike how I told stories as a kid, but now that I plot and plan and labor over every story, it was a weird kind of refreshing. The story will evolve naturally.
One of the best parts about having my friend Jason back is that he started writing again. He knows how to land a perfect sentence, a line so well executed that every time he reads to me, I immediately hate him because he makes it seem so fucking effortless. My prose is carefully molded and some lines land, but for the most part, it exists solely as a vehicle to move the story along. I deeply envy Jason’s talent to breathe sentences of easy and exquisite beauty. He talks this way too. He’s great fun to converse with, especially when wine is involved.
He read to me from his novel last night, the first pages he’s written in awhile, and as I was listening to him, I realized that it was time to cut the bullshit and write a story that’s been kicking around in my brain for about six months now. I was resisting because I told myself I didn’t know how to write it, that it had to be perfect when I did, that it would come to me in the great and evasive someday.
So this morning, I got up and I wrote the first line. The crows were restless. Then the next line, and so on for about four pages in a notebook I named The Book of Crows. And you want to know what happened? The story came to me. It evolved, line by line, until little problems I kept telling myself were huge hurdles dissolved. I let the story begin tell itself without me trying to force it into little stupid boxes, and with those boxes gone, I saw a winding path.
Next time you’ve got writer’s block, listen to how a little kid tells a story. Pay attention to the flow of it, how the scenes come one after the other without a whole lot of bullshit. Think of the first stories you wrote, back when you wrote for fun. Relish that feeling and take to your notebooks with gleeful abandon. Edit it all later. Just enjoy the writing for awhile.