Friday night arrived with an impromptu party for our teens. Part of the celebration included a bonfire in our outdoor fire place. We simply lit the kindling under the stacked wood and walked away, allowing it to burn beautifully for hours.
Not all fires are that easy to care for, however. Over the years, I’ve built more fires than I can count and have learned a thing or two in the process. Like the fact that bonfires are a lot like writing.
Of course they are. But how?
- All good fires start with tinder–the little spark that burns hot and fast with the sole purpose of igniting the kindling. A story simply cannot be written without an idea.
- Kindling. These small sticks nurture the flames. They are subplots and character sketches, setting and conflict and dialogue. They are little snippets of ideas that gain strength as they grow, united in their journey to create a unique and beautiful story. Every story, like every fire, needs to be nurtured and fed.
- Wood. Once we have a fire started, we layer on logs–small ones at first, followed by large, sustaining ones. This is our writing–our very words that we commit to paper. For ideas and outlines, no matter how awesome they may seem, are nothing until they are put down on paper. No words=no fire, and we are left with nothing more than a brief flash of something great that will never be realized.
So now we have a magical spark, a grand plan and some words. You may think we have succeeded, yet with the utmost assurance as a bonfire master, I can tell you these components are merely tools for making a good fire. We can build our framework around them and still end up without a place to cook marshmallows. Why?
The single most important factor in building a fire is a good draft.
If a firebox or chimney doesn’t draft well, a fire will splutter, smoke and die out. A fire built right on the ground faces a similar demise without the circulation of fresh air. All fires require a good draft, yet not all fire pits or fire places provide a good supply. When this happens, we spend more time tending the fire than enjoying the soothing crackle of the wood and the sticky sweetness of s’mores.
Likewise, our writing needs similar care.
And I don’t necessarily mean an outline or a rough draft. I mean it in the truest sense of a bonfire. A draft is that breath of life. It is the air that feeds the flames. It alone keeps our fire crackling. Without a good draft, we have nothing more than a pile of tinder, kindling and logs.
How do you ensure your writing has an adequate supply of fresh air? How do you feed and nurture the flames of an idea so your story doesn’t splutter and die out halfway through?
And have you had a s’more yet? I haven’t, but I can hardly wait for the weekend when I know a bonfire, marshamallows and sweet chocolate await me.