Congratulate me on my first draft: I officially reached 400 pages while loitering here at Twin Paradox. Actually, I’m stuck. Not for words, luckily, but for a ride because my trusty red steed is undergoing a major tune-up.
Twin Paradox gets me thinking about paradoxes in general. For example: I accomplish my best writing in the morning, yet I’m not a morning person. What’s that all about?
The fact that I can conceptualize an abstract idea like “paradox” leads me to ponder our oversized homo sapien brains. I know mine’s a strange and fascinating organ-slash-tool-slash-inner-space. On the days I roll over for more sleep, I’m not using it well — choosing the easy path. I’ve gotta face reality: Using my brain is hard work; most of the time I’d prefer to coast on previously wired synaptic pathways rather than choose the healthier, self-improving, harder paths (like getting out of bed).
From that thought, my brain (or is it “my mind”?) just skipped over to a wonderful book called An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain by Diane Ackerman. I recommend her for anyone inclined toward naturalism, creative nonfiction, new twists on fascinating topics, and lush language.
I think this post will circle back around, so bear with me. (On the other hand, I have time on my hands so “blather” might be the theme of the day.) Last night I read the following in Ackerman’s book, from a section entitled “Shakespeare on the Brain”:
Another angle on Shakespeare’s brain is that he wasn’t good at inventing plots. He elaborated them cleverly once he had them, but for the most part he borrowed plots from historical sources. As I understand, sadly, plotting requires a special cast of mind. Give me a ready-made plot and I’ll have fun elaborating it. Ask me to make phrases until the cows come home, and I’m happy. Invite me to describe a gesture or set a scene or develope an idea or explore someone’s psycho —
Oops, my mechanic called much earlier than expected! I’ll have to — NO! I CHOOSE to — leave you on a cliffhanger. Stay tuned Monday; we’ll see if this ramble was indeed leading somewhere.
The write-what-you-know maxim never appealed to me. I’m a student at heart. I like research.
So, when an Irish friend blew through town a few weeks back, I eagerly prepared myself to take full advantage of his good nature. My list of questions wasn’t exhaustive, just a few odds and ends from the first draft. (In-depth research will require a trip.) For example, do four-year-olds go to nursery school, pre-school, any school at all? Answer: Yes, and it’s called “junior infants.”
Trousers or pants? Well, since “pants” equals underwear, best beware. However, I can use the following phrase in dialogue: “complete pants,” which means “rubbish.” Over pints, I asked my friend about hot plates for camping and graffiti among other things. Poor guy, at one point I even pulled out my novel journal to quote his Irish-ness verbatim.
I’ll be the first to admit that research complicates the process. Why can’t I set a story in good old Portland, Oregon? At least then I wouldn’t have to contend with the lousy exchange rate…
Here’s an example of an actual research list, most of which relates to things Irish.
Fourth Draft Research (May ’06 Trip)
In small jurisdictions, are there detective guards plus regular (uniformed) guards? What’s the internal lingo for differentiating them? (page 6)
For civilians: do they say “guard” or “officer” or “police” etc? (page 6)(page 160)(page 175/6)(page 181)(page 297)
When CA seat belt law into effect? (page 32)
Called “Jane Does” in Ireland? (page 35)(page iii-11)
Check smoking laws vs. date of story (page 36)(page 95)
Women’s shelters in Ennis? (page 42)
Moonstone significance research (page 70)
Is “bedsit” really a word? (page 158)
Can drink outside? Festival, booths, etc? (page 183)
DPP – prosecutor. What called in civilian terms? (page 184)
What time pubs close generally? (page 256)
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (page 267)
Can you borrow against a house in Ireland? (page 267)
What do nurses wear? (page 270)
How phone calls handled on general wards? (page 311)
Public defenders used like in US? (page 324)
Visitors allowed into interview rooms when arrested? (page 324)
Call for lawyers when get arrested? (page 325)
State Pathologist has a van? (page 377)
False arrest—conditions of arrest; conditions to let go; how long can hold etc. Allowed visitors? (page 390)
Get a public defender automatically like in the States? (page 392)
Does peat go gray and powdery like coals? (page iii-23)
Check robins and wheatears in September. (page iii-70)
Last weekend, two friends mentioned that they read my humble blog regularly, and I was (absurdly) pleased to hear it. The point of these blogs is to be read, but still, I was surprised: A few people out there in cyber-ether keep up on me? One of them went so far as to mention that I have an exciting life. Hah! That goes to show that I’m a fiction writer — I can dramatize anything. My life is pleasantly dull, but if I can fool all of you then more power to me!
I have no deep thoughts today, but in honor of Jen and Carmen I thought I’d write anyhow. I know I’ll come up with something off the cuff, because writers can do that as well as dramatize…
Last week I didn’t write. However, yesterday was a gangbusters day, so I guess I did need a week to marinate. My friend Liz put in nicely in her comment to last Friday’s post: “It’s easy to outpace one’s creativity, especially toward the end. The mind needs some down time to assemble all the pieces correctly.”
Yep! Thanks, Liz!
Today I’m off to a slower start (time-out to write this post is the big clue). In fact, here’s an example of typical me on a typical writing day:
This morning, in bed, groggy, eyeballs gluey, stewing about today’s scene. I know its premise: two men looking for a woman who has disappeared, one of them the brother, one of them the love interest; plus, a dog they’re hoping has a decent tracking nose (it doesn’t). But what about this scene? I already know they’re not going to find her (yet)…So, what’s it all about? It feels boring — so is it meant to be a set-up scene for more to come? Is that kosher? What actually HAPPENS in this scene? What’s its plot? What’s going on? Why am I writing it? What the heck am I doing? (And so on.)
That was my groggy mind this morning. In the midst of these thoughts, the phone rang, a high-school buddy calling to remind me that I was supposed to have met her for coffee 20 minutes previously!
There you go. My hapless writer’s life in a nutshell.
Why is it that after a great writing roll, I lose momentum? I haven’t written a word this week, and I’m feeling overly critical of myself at the moment. I’m sure this happens to many writers, but I find it puzzling because nothing momentous occurred to throw me off my routines. In fact, it’s been a quiet week (perhaps too quiet for my own good?).
Admittedly, I’m on deadline for a freelance job, but this task only took over my afternoon hours. Every morning, I got up as usual…then didn’t get the writing done. This, even though my characters were the last “people” on my mind as I drifted off to sleep and the first when I woke up. And even though I re-read the last 60 pages that I’d written in a fast whirl to get a grip on them, brainstormed, and so on. It’s not like I haven’t been thinking about my story.
But still, I get itchy when there are no actual pages to show for my mental activity.
Three possible factors for this malingering week:
I needed to re-fill my creativity cup.
I’m on the home stretch and resisting “The End.” I’ve been living with these characters for so long…
I’m uncertain about the story’s resolution. Is something not right? Could be, but I won’t know what this something is until I write through to the end anyhow.
To quote a writer (can’t remember who, when, or where) I heard awhile back:
“Even if you think it’s crap, you gotta get it down on the page.”
How goes my impulsive and self-imposed writer’s retreat, you ask?
Just what my head doctor ordered! (Not that I have a head doctor.)
I’m up on the Puget Sound at an out-of-season resort area called Port Ludlow. There’s nothing to do here but watch for sea otters playing on the wharf. To the west, the snow-capped Olympics change color throughout the day, and the sun shines from behind a light coastal cloud layer.
As shown in the photo, I rearrange the furniture to suit my writing needs. I also don’t let the cleaning crew in to witness my writer-ly mess.
Am I writing more pages than usual? Today I will. Yesterday was “only” a five-page day because I needed a long nap. I usually go limp within my first 24-hours out of town: major decompression.
What I am doing is the much necessary thinking, pondering, daydreaming; sometimes I need to leave home to give myself room to imagine. New locales inspire me, and at the moment I’m transitioning my head from winding-up the first draft to winding-down the first draft. For me, these are unique mindsets, and I must take care now because I could lose myself in a middle-of-the-novel murky place.
I’m at about 250 pages, so I hope I’m angling toward resolutions by now!
The literary dinner I mentioned on Friday’s post was great fun — more to say on that later.
Back to writing!
Over the weekend the sun revealed itself, I received several healthy doses of vitamin D, and I bought myself a bouquet of lilies. This morning, I stumbled out of bed and proceeded to write with zero fuss. There must be a correlation.
The writing went well, but rereading the pages just now, I’m unsure how much I’ll keep when I start revisions. Especially a bit of description that might slow down the scene. But that’s okay. During revisions I might cut the description entirely — or cut the surrounding text and move the description to a better spot in the story. Who knows? I don’t — yet.
Thinking about this reminds me of a woman I met at Baker & Spice on Saturday. I noticed her journal when I sat myself down with my bread pudding. She filled the pages with petite script that I could tell was legible. Her words marched in straight lines with no cross-outs, corrections inserted between the lines, or scribbles in the margins.
Along with her tidy handwriting, I also noticed cool pasted-in items such as ticket stubs and postcards. When I commented on this she mentioned that she rarely writes because of writing anxiety, which (if I understood her correctly) prevents her from writing anything down unless it’s perfect.
Me, I’m the opposite. I call myself a verbal vomiter, and my journals are messy like my first drafts. I suppose my tolerance for messiness allows me to be okay with the pages I wrote today. I can let them go for now, because I know I’ll tidy them up later. As a verbal vomiter, I end up with lots of material to work with, that’s for sure.
In fact, I’m basking in the glow of validation. The book I mentioned on the My Current Reading List post, A Perfect Mess, coins the phrase useful mess. Yes!