Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time to Think

by Elizabeth

Funny thing about productivity.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a tear, writing every day, producing words, moving along with my WIP. I knew much of it would never make it to the final draft, but along I plugged anyway. I'd made an appointment with the muse, and even if she didn't decide to show up, I would, and I'd work alone if I had to.

Then life hit again, and it coincided with doubt, and let me tell you, for a writer that isn't the prettiest combination. Its offspring, in this case, was twins: self-doubt and lethargy. Not the cutest pair in the nursery.

I needed to get back to the basics. Plot. Story. Characters. I didn't really have enough of any of them, more a situation for some cardboard cliches. Situations might be interesting, but they don't make a novel. I needed a refresher course on how to write a book. It showed up in the most obvious of places.

Books, of course. I read, and with the mindset of a writer. It helped that the novel I'd happened to grab at the library earlier in the week had realistic twists and turns, new information that kept me guessing and just a step ahead of the protagonist. (I love feeling smart that way.) Plot! I thought. Story! Not to mention characters. I finished the book and immediately thumbed through it, chapter by chapter, outlining its trajectory.

Then I put down my pen. And started thinking. I thought on the treadmill; pondered as I waited between appointments and in carpool lanes; noodled my way through long walks in the new crisp air. Thought about my book. Its plot, story, characters. I allowed myself to abandon what I thought it should be about, and let my mind decide anew. I think some of the characters had a word or seven to put in as well, not all of them suitable for a family blog.

But: I fell in love.

I'd had an idea and trudged out some 12K words from it, but the heart wasn't yet there. My heart wasn't there. Not only had I just placed some characters in a situation rather than a story, I was also ambivalent about committing to this project. My brain kept meandering to other stories (ahem, maybe situations), other characters. I felt unfaithful, even as I showed up each day right on schedule.

Taking the time, giving myself that gift of it, to think, made the difference. I saw how the first chapter would play out, tied it to the central theme of the book. I invented peripheral characters with the big job of advancing the story. I made decisions about the challenges my characters would face, helping tap the elusive-for-me plot into place. I saw how the book would end, how it would break my heart in doing so, only to staple it back together. I felt those characters' hopes rise as their stories unfolded, and crumbled beside them with their disappointments. I found the excitement I'd been missing.

So now I'm ready to get back to work, scribble out words that might stand a chance of surviving revision and critique. I'm ready to show up and see if the muse meets me, and my guess is that this time she'll be there more often. If not, I'll survive. I've got a real story now, and a plot. I've got the enthusiasm. I've got some people with a story to tell, and they're counting on me to do it.


  1. What an inspiring post! And I love that you 'made an appointment with your muse'--and that you were there, even if she didn't make it.

    And I know what you mean about your heart not being in something. I've written like that before and felt like the words were so empty. Thanks for being a good writing role model!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Great post, Elizabeth. Sometimes that time is all we need. Thankfully the kids are in school now so you have some quiet.

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth and Kim. I cleaned my house, too--with no remorse for not writing. Amazing how that freed me up to do both things better. Time for everything, in its time.

  4. Excellent post, Elizabeth. No doubt you cleaned house in more ways than one and now you're tapped into the heart of your story. Way to go! Happy writing!


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