No Enterprise

photo of laptop and books, including Uhura's Song

Warning: This essay contains a very minor spoiler (not plot significant) for the third book in the Bloody Jack series.

I’m in the movie theater watching Star Trek: Beyond. I haven’t gone in blind, and I’m finding much to complain about. But although my mind is churning on dialogue problems and weird plot choices, my main experience is this: My heart wants to come out of my chest and go to the screen. I don’t know these new characters; I keep comparing them to the originals; I don’t understand them at all. But they are on the Enterprise, and I feel a gravitational pull to be there too.

Later I’m crying, and it’s not because of the events of the movie. It’s not even because Leonard Nimoy is dead. I’ve known that fact for over a year, and my mind can finally almost touch it, but not quite, certainly not enough to cry. No, this is something more fundamental: I’m crying because Star Trek isn’t real. I can’t live there. There is no Enterprise.

Where can I find consolation? Where can I learn what I should do in the face of this problem? Of course I look to literature for the answer. Here’s what I find: In Under the Jolly Roger, L.A. Meyer puts Jacky Faber on the Pequod, even though his novel is historical fiction and the Pequod is a fictional ship. Why does he do that? It’s so he can live in Moby Dick, through his character. By putting her on the Pequod, he refuses to be left out of fiction; he declares that we’re all the same, and that we’re all in the same world, whether we be fictional or whatever the other thing is.

So, Mr. Meyer, I thank you for this comforting hypothesis. And I see that, in a way, I live in Star Trek when I experience Star Trek stories. I see that if I were an officer on the Enterprise, I wouldn’t be living in Star Trek the story, I’d be living a life on the Enterprise. But still, in the theater the feeling is visceral: My whole body is straining toward the screen: I belong there, not here.

Writing this, I realize: The feeling isn’t that I belong in space, or even on the Enterprise. It’s that I belong in a story. It comes down to that. I’ve never seen it so clearly before.

What makes your heart swell? What makes your soul want to come out of your body and go there, more than anywhere else? I love Rembrandt, I love van Gogh, and my heart moves toward The Starry Night. But it moves toward Star Trek more, toward stories more. I love linguistics and math, and my heart moves toward them, but they are mainly loves of the mind. I love making books and origami, but that is mainly a love of the body, of fingers and eyes. The place that pulls my soul out of my chest is fiction, is words, is story. Literature is my first and truest love. I can’t deny that anymore. I must make it my first priority. What must you make yours?

There’s a fashion for saying to do only your top thing and ignore everything else. But if you need to be creative, doing only your top thing doesn’t work. You have to live in order to get ideas. You have to go deep in other areas if you want to make breakthroughs in your area of specialty.

If you love writing, but it’s not your top thing, keep writing. Maybe write a little less and do your top thing a little more, but keep writing. Keep coming to Write to the End. What you do with us will help you do your top thing.

I won’t stop making non-written art, doing other things I love, living in the moments I’m not writing. What a gift this world is, what varied and wonderful opportunities it contains: Not only to read and to write, not only to study the things I love, but also the meaningfulness of pure experience: to touch the texture of a 20-year-old construction paper cover I made for Uhura’s Song, to hear slow crickets at 2 a.m., to feel the lemony squeeze of tears beginning to form, to look into the night sky and find Antares and recognize the Scorpio that’s not Jessica’s Scorpio, but to think of it, and her, and the times we spent together. Life, if I let myself open to it, is like being in a story.

I promise to write, but I also promise to live, and I ask you to do the same. Do your top thing, and put it first, but let the rest of your life flower, too. The other things you love, the care and depth with which you do them, the appreciation you give to the passing and irretrievable moments of this one life—all will return to you and help you as you work on your top thing, and your life will become a story.

Promise me you’ll do it.

There is no Enterprise but the one we make ourselves.

Crafting a Story Description

My writing assignment was to come up with a brief description of my short story Equilibrium, which falls into the literary romance category. Though I have experience writing descriptions for nonfiction, I had never done this for a short story. I looked around a bit online and wrote this description:
After her divorce from a difficult husband, Emily Walker’s life contracts into a steady routine of work and solitude. Wanting more, she takes her first steps out of her comfort zone to connect with someone new.
My first attempt didn’t fly because although it was technically accurate, it didn’t capture the feeling of the piece. Here is what the publisher said in response:
The description is ok, but it doesn’t really address the magic of what happens in the restaurant, and that’s really the key to the story. So I think what you have is a good start, but how about going a little deeper into the story? Show off the angles that make this stand out from other romance stories of similar storyline.
I pondered that. I went online and searched for advice about writing pitches for romances. After a fair amount of thought and effort, I came up with two possible approaches. I decided to send both:
Option 1
Worn out at the end of an ordinary day, Emily stops at a roadside diner, where she meets Jim, a sensitive man who intuitively understands her. Can she move beyond the pain of her broken marriage and rediscover the simple pleasures in life over a bowl of soup?
Option 2
At the end of a long day at work, Emily stops for a quick bite to eat. Instead, she finds a respite from the stress of everyday life, and a surprising connection with a kind, unassuming man, who really understands her.
I also included this note: Am I getting closer? I’m willing to keep at it until you’re happy with the result.
This time, the publisher was happy with my efforts. Here is what the editor said:
I’m loving Option 1, so I’ll be going with that. We should be sending you an “it’s live” announcement very soon!
My final response to the editor:
Yay! That’s ahead of schedule, and very exciting.
What I took from this experience, is that just because something is short, doesn’t mean that it is simple to write. I would say that it took me about 2-1/2 hours in total to come up with the final two sentences that the publisher is using. Also, until you start writing professionally, you might not realize how much publishers rely on writers to craft chunks of their own promotional copy. The publisher might revise what the author comes up with, but they know we can write, so they’ll ask the author to provide at least a starting point.
As a writer it is worth spending some time on a description like this because it helps your work sell. It can also help you figure out what the real essence of your story or novel is about, and how it is most likely to connect with readers.