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Self-defeat at bedtime. Doubt. A brain filled with “you’ll never….” An internal blow to ego that thudded so loudly it woke me just 90 minutes from shutting my eyes. A feeling I refused, that I pushed away, even as I felt it.

A self-indulgent sleeping-in, unlike me. And then the Wow.

A quiet wow. Nearly invisible. The sun coming out in my head. The cleaning of the inner picture window.

I blew-off of the morning miles…didn’t need them. I felt as if someone was guiding me to a destination but wouldn’t say where.

Suddenly, I knew the answer to a question I hadn’t known how to ask.

Seems scarily simple, this: The moving of an idea to a place earlier in the book that made one why after another fall into place…and made the idea’s original home seem richer. Some folks call this an “ahahhhh moment.” Too quiet for that. Usually I HATE moving backward. In anything. But I know that every change that the new placement demanded slotted easily into place–round pegs into round holes, as if the adjustment had been designed for it.

Am I at the stage in the book where anything short of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe would be acceptable? I don’t think so. I hope not. Fact is, sometimes we just don’t know.

I know how the change made me feel; what it brought alive and how it glued plot elements together. I know that it imparted a sense of inevitability to a sub-plot that that had been wandering along in its own direction. I know that I wrote in a state of breathlessness from morning to afternoon, unable to stop and that the idea was the propulsion.

A day with unexpected energy. A day with Wow in it. They can’t all be like this. But that’s what we work for, isn’t it?

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(This from a conversation in eSalon yesterday morning. Thank you Donna and Joni.)

Three writers. One plagued by a bad case of the “shoulds”: I should pick it up again, I should rewrite, I should submit, I should be dedicating more time. Should.

Tough word, that one. Because it’s not a word at all…it’s the invisible screen we throw our intentions against. The one we raise to keep ourselves from our real issues, fears, desires.

We all do it. All of us. We fidget and procrastinate and excuse. We find a fleck on the carpet that needs picking up. An email to check. Laundry to fold. And before we know it, the day is gone. Intention has been starved to death in a secret cubby of ourselves that we’ve never quite managed to find.

Joni gave voice to the source of it, in a litany of real-life concerns that could have come straight out of my head, word for word. We-of-the-screen are full of fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of rejection. Fear of our limitations. Fear of the steep uphill slog that publishing has become. We spend half our inner reserves of energy running from the fears that we refuse to name—we run ourselves ragged on our own personal emotional Treadmills from Hell—and we wonder why we are too exhausted to devote ourselves to the work that will only get done if we do it.

I am not saying “I accuse” in these reflections…except perhaps to myself. I am the me who has such a desperate dedication to the writing that it detaches me from the real world. The me who treads the writing waters ceaselessly, day after day, simply so I won’t drown. Not laudable. No choice. My screen may look different…my screen may seem to offer a clear view of a writer writing furiously…but it’s the same damned screen.

The thing I’ve learned: “Tomorrow” is the writer’s worst enemy. The creation of the thought, the assembly of the idea, the rewrite, the rewiring, the small perfection—they can only happen today. Now. This instant.

Now that I’ve got the screen pulled down, at least for the moment, I have to get working. See you later.

 

The Quadrantid meteor shower last night.

Woke without the alarm at 1:30 a.m., gathered my kit—the long cushion from the patio swing, pillow, jacket and an assortment of wool blankets and throws—and stretched out on the driveway, the vantage with the best view of the north/northeastern sky.

Fuzzy moonlight overhead. Owls hooting at the edges of the pasture. The distant lowing of a worried cow. The occasional rumble of a neighbor’s heat pump. And waiting.

Patience is the lesson of most meteor showers. 80-100 meteors per hour does not mean a cosmic schedule of clocklike regularity. Last night, patience meant waiting for moonset and the clearing of the night’s high fog; meant knowing that, for a while, only the brightest, strongest shooting stars would be available to me.

Moonset. The vanishing of the light, a new kind of silence, as if a hiss had gone from the sky. I opened my sight to the reach of my peripheral vision. And then. The show. The one that had been going on all along, even when I couldn’t see it. Meteors. Long-track ones, horizon to horizon. Tiny pale ones. Sparkly bold ones. A twin: two meteors, side by side, a synchronized swim in the sky. Two almost at once, from opposite directions, the second appearing before the first was gone. A green one.

Was I the only one out there in my little valley, under the sky? Probably. And as I lay out there, waiting for the ooh/ahhh, grinning when it came, I thought—as I so often do, in the oddest of circumstances—how much like being a creative person this was.

Alone, we are. Braving the chill at absurd hours. Lying in the dark, waiting for the miracle.

What sort of happy fool would do something like this? What inner-whatever does it take to appreciate the long wait for a instant of beauty; to witness the last living moment of a well-traveled bit of heavenly scree as it transforms so magnificently from matter into something else? What would the neighbors say if they saw me out here?

The answers to those questions are the essence of what we are as writers, artists, musicians. We wait in the dark and the cold. We wait alone. We wait with wide eyes, hoping to capture fleeting flashes of beauty that we struggle to remember, to feel, to describe…the magnificent instants that may well have meaning for nobody by ourselves.

We are the wait. The longing. The brief, brilliant light. We are the meteors at the true north of ourselves, the instants worth waiting for.

 

I’ve written here before about my reliance on my little analog tape recorder. It is my constant companion in bed, on walks, in the car. A frightening amount of whatever gold tumbles out of my head is entrusted to mysterious machine-guts and a tiny strip of vinyl. It is the first stop on the way to transposing that promising, precious metal into written notes (early in a book’s life) or into the keyboard (for works in progress).

I need my little helper; I rely upon it—to help me hang onto what is most fleeting and irreplaceable. Which made the episode of night-before-last all the more horrifying.

The recorder failed me.

Notes for this book. And the next one. Important ones. Secrets revealed. Falling-sleep thoughts. Under-the-covers musings in the middle of the night. Waking revelations. A lovely immersion; some solid clues to making the final polish gleam; some fluid passages that sang. Substantial, valuable stuff.

I sat down in the morning ready to transcribe.

Nothing.

The “Record” switch hadn’t done what it was meant to, despite new batteries and a perfectly serviceable tape. Press the buttons, speak; press a button and play back. Simple. But no. No response from my tapey lifeline.

Like the notebooks I carry with me everywhere when I’m freefall thinking, like the computer that never leaves me when the book is nearing completion, the stuff that comes out of my head in the quiet of night can rarely be duplicated—nuances, constructs, phrases, cues…like dreams, written down while still warm; thoughts that almost always prove themselves worthy in the light of day. Last night’s stuff, just gone. Smoke.

Okay. Not a total-total loss. Three notes remained in my head. Three I got to keep. But I can only wonder what else escaped me in that epic mechanical fail. I hope that it’s still up there, playing hide-and-seek among the synapses. I hope that it will turn up eventually, like buried treasure in a new-plowed field.

Worst thing is that now, every time I hit “Record”, I’ll worry about what else I might be about to lose.

Where’s my quill pen and papyrus when I really need it?

Real world vs. Created one. The sticky press of human interaction vs. the cool, orderly chaos in my head. Physical-reality people vs. made-up ones. It’s a struggle to choose. Especially when the real world presses too hard.

I am an idealist. Which means that, very often, things fall apart. Friendships, inexplicably, come undone. Fairness does not triumph. Thorniness flourishes. Prejudices and wickednesses really do stride with long steps across the landscape. People simply refuse to understand.

Come here, Created World. Here people are flawed, just as in that parallel world where I constantly trip over myself. Here they are evil. And stubborn. And plotting. And dishonest. And loving. And seeking. And generous. But here, I own the real estate. Things are safe here. I may not like the direction of events—especially when a plot runs away with itself, and I’m forced to chase it, yelling “Wait, wait, it’s me, remember?”—but I have indomitable faith that all will turn out for the best in the end.

Yet. People. Hmmmmm.

I create my characters out of physical models. Not all of them, but often the principals, and especially the male lead…my version of teenage stalker- fandom, I guess.

I make a concerted study of these folks. I watch for nuances of speech; for physical mannerisms; for clues to psychology. I am fully aware that these views are outward manifestations only…iceberg-tops, with the greater part of the person hidden from view. But these observations give me a place for imagination to begin taking hold.

But here’s the thing… what happens when a character-model does something irredeemably stupid in real life? Like falling in love with someone half his/her age. Or trying to scale a lamppost in an orgy of drunk driving. Or turning out to be a kitty-molester. Or a Republican. Then my life gets more difficult.

Sorry, but in this case, as much as I hate it, that other life becomes all-about-me. If the revelation of kitty-molestation comes after the book is finished, not so bad. I can retreat to the eidolon, the Created Construct. If it happens mid-work, then I’m in a not-good place—like finding a half a worm halfway through your salad. And if it happens in real-real living life? The not-written world I’m obliged to wake up to every day? Yikes.

I don’t want to be grudge-holding. I don’t like the judgmental me (the other half of the person who, often unfortunately, can see multiple sides to everything.) But I am those things. sometimes. On paper, those qualities work. In life, not so well.

I read a report, once, about a woman who was wakened from a coma who asked to be returned to it. The world outside her head just didn’t manage to live up to her hopes; the inside world was much more beautiful. Damn me, but I know how that feels. The idealist runs rampant through the streets of my head. Somebody stop me. Before I think again.

And, once again, for your Friday viewing…The Spiritkeeper trailer…

One of the biggest challenges for me as a writer is knowing when a chapter is right.

Those combinations of words, rhythms, progressions, meaning: Sometimes they sing on the page. Sometimes, from the tape recorder, they sing to my ear as I play them back in the dark.) The combinations of ideas that progress from one to the next is musicianly, melodic, airtight. Not one note could be or should be different.

When it’s right, it’s right. Then it’s easy.

Sure, that sense of writerly perfect pitch becomes somewhat instinctive after a while; a result that’s not necessarily the product of something you planned (although you would love the world to think so.)

But (and this from a writer whose past works had to pried from her fingers to prevent her from making more changes to the galleys) knowing where you’ve fallen short in the pages and passages that don’t fall gently to the ear: How do you figure out what the problem is? How do you know where you’re going—or how to get there?

I’m dealing with exactly that issue now; a chapter that has all the elements, but none of the oomph. This early section  is not what I’ve coined a “landing chapter” in which a plot point is finalized with a big “ta-dahhhhhhhh”…rather it’s a transitional chapter that introduces some new ideas, reinforces others, and propels us to where we need to be. And that, in its way, is trickier.

First place to look for the problem: The progression of information. Are the paragraphs leading from one idea to the next in a way that creates maximum impetus and impact by the end of the passage? What order of information tells the story best? What progression withholds knowledge…and which reveals it in a way that raises the “ahhhh” factor at the end? (The solution for the chapter in question actually came to me whole, an outline in the middle of the night.  I’ve yet to test it on the page, but it feels right so far.)

Another landmark in the inner critique: a close examination of the words themselves. Words placed under a microscope. One word is not the same as another, any more than red is the same as green. That’s the beauty of it. And the fun. Is the problem not in what you’ve said, exactly, but in the way you’ve said it? Sometimes, just jiggering with the style of a passage can untangle a seemingly impossible knot.

Another mental check: Am I just trying to do too much? Having everything and the kitchen sink in the chapter doesn’t just delay the gratification—it smothers it. Sometimes a sentence-ectomy is the only fix. Identifying and throwing away bits you like—even if they’ve seemed right through fifteen readings—is often the only remedy. The fact is, those bits are not necessarily as clever or unusual as you’d like to believe…sometimes they’re just self-indulgent. The good news here is that an interesting turn of phrase is sometimes good enough to save for later, an approach that uncorks some fascinating ideas down the road.

Here’s a good one: leaving it until the morning. Or the next morning. Or two mornings. Amazing what can come clear in the light of day.

And the most drastic measure: Oddly enough, it’s the one that’s most obvious. Abandon it altogether for now. If you know basically where you need to be but not how to get there, come back to it. You might find yourself less lost when you’ve walked around your own roadblocks.

Finding the way to the music. Tough. Sweat-making. Sometimes, downright frustrating. And, once the answer is discovered, the best gift ever to a good night’s sleep.

A post for which there are more questions than answers. And this, again, suggested by the extraordinary Kristina.

I’ve talked here about the method-acting approach to building a scene; the immersion, the re-living of past pain; the willingness to open ourselves to the difficult, the transcendent, the joyous in our natures.

But what of the dark side? The deep and glittering energy that waits in the hidden depths of the clear pool of ourselves? What good can we find in the dark arts (the non-Harry Potter kind)? Is love better for the creative spirit—or is loss?

Dear Kristina, an artist, puts it this way…

“I have one friend in particular who cannot draw when he is in a loving, happy relationship…yet does amazing things when going through a breakup! I used to tease that person about it until one day I realized that I, too, feel more passionate creatively when dealing with relationship issues/loneliness…and now I’m trying to figure out how to channel that passion the same way we did as actors.”

Interesting, no? The first understanding that springs to mind is the classical “no light without darkness” argument. But how mistakenly simple that is. Another answer that borders on the classical is a creative person’s need to overcome that inner darkness…a need so great that only the power of the creative act can overcome it.

I know that was true in my life. Painfully shy and awkward as a child, writing was a way of saying “I exist”; the voice that spoke for me when my own voice could not. Creativity becomes a way of equalizing the pressure between the full-inside and the vacuum outside. It’s a way of exercising control…of populating our lives with acceptance.

Creating anything is, by its nature, a solitary act. Which raises the chicken-or-egg-first conundrum: Does our art make us solitary…or is it merely that solitary natures are drawn to the creative act?

Perhaps one truth is as simple as this: the act of creating—whether writing, painting, acting—shines a light into that dark place; sanitizes it, airs it out.  There are creative people I’ve known, writers in this case, who cannot create without being miserable…whose misery fuels the misery which fuels the misery. What a way to live. Not surprising that many of these folks wind up drinking themselves to a slow death. Or worse. That is a contradiction to every thought I postulated above, I know. But….

For me, I choose to visit the darkness…to wonder at it…to harness the dark lightning when I can…yet, as much as this is within my control, not to swell there.

See now why this is a subject with more questions than answers?

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