Collecting Smoke and Packing Springs
I’ve come to terms with being a slow writer.
I’d love to write faster, to sit down and let the fluid flawless prose flow from my fingertips like in the movies. Except that only happens in movies.
Or, I could be like the poet in Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk (below) and have a tornado of inspiration surge through. But it just don’t work that way for me. “Mulish” was the word Ms Gilbert used. I can relate.
Sure, I have breakthroughs, moments of clarity. Even (dare I say) sparks of divine inspiration. But most of time, ideas build slowly, coming from all manner of places. Like wisps of smoke on the wind, I collect them: bits of a song, a sensation, a turn of phrase or quote, a scene or a snatch of dialog. Sometimes just a character’s name or a place. (I have a notebook filled with random, unrelated Post-It notes, plus a separate notebook for each project.) Then, after an indeterminate amount of time, I’ll peer in the cupboard to see if anything has coalesced.
Idea sparked, there’s still the matter of hammering it out. But fiction isn’t an essay or a three-point sermon, and writing prose is precisely where poetry gets me in trouble. Growing up I read and still do read a lot of it. That translates into a constant internal challenge not simply for economy and traction, but the music of language. The right word in the right place to generate rhythm of thought and sound across the sentence, the paragraph, the entire story.
It’s like packing springs- one misplaced and they all pop out. Or that Mouse Trap Contraption Game. Properly done, the reader should move through the story’s tricks and turns like that marble without stop all the way to the end. Not saying that I do it all the time, but that’s the goal. Like holding a Horse Track Betting sheet, I stare at my keyboard and realize the winners are right there in front of me.
Shift Tense complete, The Barrow Lover nearing completion, and the next Clar1ty Wars plotted out, I’ve opted for ‘the drip’ method this year- a little bit on a consistent basis – rather than periodic guilt-wracked spasms. No, my schedule doesn’t allow me to write every day. But I can write four/five times a week.
These last 6-8 weeks I’ve been doing a short session in the morning followed by a short session in the evening. I get material down on paper, then come back and hammer it into shape. And punch out a little more material. Which I hammer into shape the next session, and gets me a bit more new material, and so on. The proverb about eating an elephant in little bites comes to mind.
After all, writers write and I have to say it’s been working well so far.
Best to all of you in the new year, especially you writers.
BTW – I highly recommend Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual to every aspiring writer, regardless of genre.
Here’s that TED Talk. Worth the watch.