When the Gate Opens
So I was SOCMOB (Standing on Corner Minding Own Business) one day when suddenly two bad dudes showed up in my head telling their story.
Actually I’m lying. First of all I was sitting… erm… er… not on the corner and second, one bad dude showed up in my head, telling me his story.
Wait, telling is a misnomer too, or at least a white a lie. He was in my head, and his story was flowing through me.
I was on my way to a local con, fully dressed, with war paint on (I put make up on when I’m about to go out to a con because I’m an introvert. Putting the makeup on symbolizes putting on the outdoor face. If I don’t put make up on, I’ll hide under the panel table looking at you with terrified eyes from between those curtains they hang in front. And the one of you who just thought he’d like to see that is going to bed without dinner.) and I told my husband “I just need to go pee.” And then of course, in the two seconds quiet dark of the bathroom it hit.
I was, needless to say, in the middle of another book. (Needless to say because it’s always when these things hit.)
Ten minutes later, my husband dragged me away from the computer, but not before I’d managed to get down the first two paragraphs of the novel. This was “Enough to recover it when needed.” And this is an important point — and we’ll talk about it later — because I didn’t get back to it till three months later, though when I did, I finished it in two weeks, because this type of experience is like opening a faucet.
So, what do I mean by this type of experience?
Don’t know. We don’t talk about it a lot for reasons of not being that fond of “I love me” jackets. Among writers, sure, particularly late at night at a con bar. That’s when we say things like “And the damn thing dictated itself to me” Or “I’d never planned on killing the character, and damn, she was dead, and there was nothing I could do about it” or the truly freaky “And the story was done. I had another ten pages of outline, but no, it was done, this was the right ending, and I wasn’t going to be allowed to change it.” Other things you will hear about: writers who see/hear their characters/plot/events in the book. Now, this can range from anything like what I have — thank Bob, no Visual/audio hallucinations. Yet. — which is just thoughts, at the back of the head, in a voice that is definitely NOT mine. (Important: Terry Pratchett was absolutely right when he said “always remember which voice is yours.” Otherwise you DO need that “I love me jacket” or at least some really good drugs.)
However, if my colleagues aren’t bullsh*tting me, (come on, these people lie for a living) the experiences range from “just knowing when the story is right” (which is actually where I operate most of the time, which means there’s a lot of fumbling and wasted writing. Some of my books have twice as much in removed stuff as in published stuff.) to full on visual/audio hallucinations. (Though sometimes just of parts of the book.)
The thing is, I don’t think my friends are bullsh*tting, and I don’t think it’s that unusual, because if you scratch deep enough and read a lot of artists’ bios (I do. Mostly to reassure myself I’m not nuts, I think) you find that every artistic profession has this, including but not limited to illustrators and composers.
So if you’re experiencing any of the above, do not adjust your set. For a given definition of “normal” (you do know you’re not in Kansas anymore, right?) you are perfectly normal.
Now, how do you manage it? Because whatever the heck it is — I DON’T KNOW what it is, I just have created this image of something large and loud broadcasting in the center of the universe, and some of us are receptors, in certain frequencies (keep that qualification in mind, it too is important.) — it is not designed to make your life easy. And it certainly doesn’t make your career easy. (I’ve read of tons of writers who don’t have this, who just wake up one morning and decide to have a writing career, learn the stuff, outline, write to outline, figure out what they want to write next that makes career sense… They’re usually the biggest successes (though not all the biggest successes are like that) and I think “It must be nice.”) Having this “thing” — my friend Kate calls it “gateway” — and trying to have a writing career is sort of like trying to accomplish a long journey by car while being driven by a crazy person who also happens to be drunk and suffer from occasional seizures. You can sort of steer by talking to the crazy person or, in extreme cases, grabbing them or pulling on the wheel sharply, but you have to KNOW how and when to do it.
I am so used to living with this monkey that I might forget to tell you some of the tricks. If I do, don’t be shy about asking. Because I’m going to give you all I can think of:
1- It always hits when you’re in the middle of another novel. PREFERABLY it hits when you’re in the middle of another novel and are contracted for a three book series. Of course it does. I don’t know why. Perhaps you’re secretly masochistic. Or perhaps the panic in your mind sends off a signal to the great transmitter.
How to deal:
Try to finish the novel/series you’re in the middle of. Yes, it will feel like yesterday’s newspapers, but if you let the beacon sidetrack you, you’ll NEVER finish anything. TRUST me. Also, when the novel is finished no one will know how it felt to you while writing. And it won’t read like yesterday’s newspapers. TRUST ME.
2- It won’t leave you alone.
When I was young and a fairly hot dish, I had guys who out of the blue and for no reason I could figure out decided they wanted to marry me. (Of 8 or so proposals I had only two were from guys I knew I was dating. The others were from guys I’d friendzoned — though we might do things together like go to the movies — and two were from professors I’d only seen in a school setting.) Some of these novels (short stories I just stop everything and write) are like those guys. They call, they send flowers, they send chocolates, they will be waiting at my door, when I get up in the morning. They will follow me through the city like lost puppies. They’re creepy beyond belief.
How to deal – particularly when you have this other novel to write:
This is tricky because it depends on the novel/series that has started dictating itself in your head and how clear it is.
If it is a beginning, dictating itself in words, be aware it will hold, and wait, intact, in some corner of your mind. The thing is, you need something to “rappel back into it.” Usually that is a page or two, but in the case of my dragons-in-WWI series (rolls eyes. Yes, it’s still there) it took three chapters. You’ll know when it’s anchored so it won’t drift off. Just try it. But you have to be firm, or you’ll end up writing the whole thing, and unless you can write an 80k novel in three days, which even I only managed once, you simply can’t do that.
SOME novels (I’m dealing with one of those right now) are insistent but are idea/concept more than story narrating itself (In fact, I don’t have the character who will narrate it yet.) AND some of them, when they require heavy research will allow themselves to be foisted off with research and not actual writing, which means you’ll be writing in the morning, researching at night or in the afternoon. In crazier instances, you might find yourself writing a novel in the morning and one in the afternoon (AKA what I’m doing now, and weirdly not in my world.)
3- It’s something you don’t know how to write
This one is tricksy, at least if it doesn’t arrive in your head fully written (sometimes even if it does. Because writing some things WILL break you) because it might be a matter of you being at a level/place where you can’t write it YET or it might be a matter of its being something you would never write. Take me: writing porn would probably break me, and I have serious issues with certain types of horror. Do I get ideas for those? Oh, hell, yeah. I think we’re receptors within certain ranges, and sometimes we get things at the edges, that aren’t really right for us, but the “sender” doesn’t know that.
How to cope:
Identify what type of wrong it is. Is it just “I don’t know how to do this yet?” In that case write an outline and maybe what you can, then file it. You’d be amazed how “I can’t write this” changes in a few short years, with experience.
Or is it “OMG, NO.” If it is “OMG, NO” do your best to forget it. Tricks that work to get rid of it include but are not limited to: giving it to a friend whose style it is. He/she might not even ever write it, but it gets it out of your head! Also neutering it, i.e. changing it so it will fit in a short story, then writing that short story, whether or not you ever send it out. In last resort, write out the idea/outline. There’s a good chance if it’s really wrong for you you’ll forget it. If not, maybe in a few years it will be right for you. Who knows.
4- You were sick/moving/all of the above for a few years and these damn things arrive one every three months, and you now have a list of 30 or so all of them hopping.
How to cope: If you find out, tell me? Right now my hope is that as soon as I get my medicine in some sort of balance I can actually start writing these at one or two a month to catch up. Failing that, I don’t know. Set up a bunch of collaborations? Start wearing tinfoil hats?
You figure it out, be sure to let me know.
Meanwhile I’m going to write chapter two of a fanfic for my blog. Sigh. Because. Stupid gateway.