Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sometimes It Just Works

I've been publishing in book length fiction for almost twenty-five years now. Most sane people would assume a writer with that background might have learned a thing or two along the way. Maybe even learned to understand the business.

Okay. Forget that one. Nobody understands the business I'm in. Publishing is one-half 19th century procedures and one-half Millennium we'll-take-all-rights-into-perpetuity-for-publishing-methods-not-yet-invented.

But the creative part of the equation. Wouldn't you think I'd have acquired at least a passing understanding of how it works? I mean, we all know that inspiration isn't enough. Inspiration is a great starting point but without discipline and a skin thick enough to withstand the constant criticism from sources both likely and unlikely the odds are you won't see your name in print any time soon.

I get that. I believe that. Yet I know there's something missing in that equation. Maybe inspiration isn't the right word. Inspiration sounds a wee bit magical, doesn't it? Magic has its place in the writing process (an enormous place we'll take about another day) but I'm wondering if maybe we don't create our own magic some of the time without realizing it. (Which makes recreating the magic tougher than it should be.)

I'm thinking about Labor Day Weekend 2006. It wasn't anyone's idea of a terrific holiday weekend: rainy, a little cold, definitely grey. Maybe I should amend that last sentence since to me the weekend was just about perfect. Rainy, cold, and grey call to me. Rainy, cold, and grey make me want to sit down and write. Rainy, cold, and grey does something mysterious to my neural pathways that somehow explodes onto my computer screen in a storm of words. I'd been simmering an idea in my subconscious file cabinet for a long time. It made me laugh. It combined elements I loved (fantasy/paranormal, knitting, New England.) But I hadn't a clue where it could possibly go or how I would get it there.

But that weekend I suddenly knew. I curled up with my laptop and let the words pour out. I couldn't have stopped them if I tried. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Pages. I knew names of characters who hadn't existed a nanosecond before they leaped onto the screen alive and ready to go. I knew the town, the people, the situation, the tone of voice, the danger, the romance, the whole nine yards. No second guessing. (Rare for me.) No rewriting. This one blessed time I got it right the first time.

Even better, the idea sold first time out and became a two-book contract with my publisher. There's enthusiasm for it in house and even greater enthusiasm for it right here in my house. I've been slowly reacquainting myself with the proposal the last few weeks (I wrote another full book between Labor Day and April -- Just Desserts which will be out in February '08) and wondering where that elusive burst of almost other-worldly creative connection had disappeared when it came back. Late last night I swear to you I could almost hear it open the door to some of the unused portion of my tired brain and start to fill up the empty space with ideas and enthusiasm and, even better, the confidence that I'll know what to do with those ideas and that enthusiasm.

Why did it happen? I don't know. Why then? Beats me. How long will it last? I haven't a clue. Is it inspiration, the Muse, the product of years of discipline? Your guess is as good as mine.

You see what I mean? All these years and the whole process still makes me by surprise.


Anonymous georg said...

I write that way. Great beginnings. Involved middles. Sometimes I know how the ending should go- but I never get that far. I have two stories where I have the endings and the beginnings, and nothing in between. It's the drive that sees it all the way through that I seem to miss... and yet, I have done amazingly involved things that would equate to the same effort.

But the magic is delightful when it holds!

July 20, 2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Barbara Bretton said...

Let's hear it for the magic! Middles are tough. Maybe the sagging middle is telling you that the projected length needs tweaking. Are you aiming longer than the story needs? A friend of mine got me started on the 101 game when I get stuck in the middle. Sit down and write 101 things that could happen in the book. They don't have to make sense. They can be ridiculous, crazy, nonsensical. They usually are at first but something happens to me around #40 or so: the internal censor finally shuts up and the right side of my brain takes over and the "could happens" become more relevant, more possible, more like something I can actually use. The thing, though, is don't stop in progress. Don't re-read until you hit #101. This is about generating ideas, not polishing your prose.

July 25, 2007 8:39 AM  
Anonymous Barbara Bretton said...

PS: Georg, just once you need to write your way through the entire story just so you can hit the magic words "The End." Sometimes I engage the Caps Lock (if I write all in caps my internal censor knows it can't possibly be publishable and lets me alone)(okay, so maybe I =am= crazy), close my eyes, and let it rip. Short sentences, maybe one line each. The point is to get from A to Z so you can actually believe there =is= a Z. The written word can be fixed. The unwritten word can't. Good luck. (And yes I know this is much easier said than done.)

July 25, 2007 8:43 AM  

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