Seeing through a glass, darkly
That phrase occurred in a passage Amanda quoted in her Tuesday column, and it… so to speak… caught my imagination. Because that’s not how my imagination – or Amanda’s, to judge from her comments – works. Ha! Imagination should only be so polite as to present itself in long, leisurely segments that fit my typing speed! It tends more to arrive with the speed and finesse of a runaway train!
A long time ago Diana Gabaldon told me something about her writing process that exactly described my own (Yeah, I know, too bad my results aren’t as wildly successful as hers). I’ll try to paraphrase from memory:
“You’re typing in a fog, trying to make out your characters from flashes of movement or the glimpse of a red coat, straining your ears to eavesdrop on them. Then, if you’re lucky, the fog lifts suddenly and you can see and hear exactly what’s going on.” And the thing to do then, we both agreed, was to thank the Muse politely and type as fast as you could before the fog came back down.
That’s one of the ways imagination works, and by far the most benign, though for beginning writers it can be a snare and a delusion. Experience that quasi-magical trance state once or twice, and they may be fooled into thinking that this is the only condition in which they can write. I’ve seen friends fall into that trap, and it’s very sad. They may spend the rest of their lives waiting for that fog to lift again. Because (pro tip) the best way to recreate that experience of the lifting fog is by recreating the precursor conditions: Butt in chair. Fingers on keys. Mind on story.
And that’s one of the ways, pace Amanda’s unnamed source who thinks we shouldn’t write so fast, that you get to 4, or 6, or more books a year. If you’re constantly courting the muse by producing words in a row, in the course of a year you’ll have a lot of those words lined up… even if the fog seldom lifts for you.
Other visitations from the Muse aren’t as conveniently timed, but you should offer thanks even if they result in socially awkward moments. One cannot, for instance, put down one’s fork at a dinner party and announce, “I’ve just figured out how I want to kill Baron Jenneret.” Not unless one’s dinner companions are also members of our peculiar club. Normal people get upset if you say things like that at dinner. Or on airplanes.
Once my head is well stuck into the current book, whether plotting or writing, I get ideas while I’m doing long tasks that temporarily preclude typing. Hand quilting a new quilt is good; it takes forever and I can hardly type while my hands are occupied with needle and thread. Long walks on hiking trails used to be good also, but unfortunately my bad knees have removed that option. The dentist’s office makes for a productive morning a couple of times a year – all that time staring at a blank ceiling while I concentrate on not thinking about what he’s going to do with that sharp, shiny tool. And this summer, interminable PT sessions are some substitute for the long walks. I can worry about how to get my Regency heroine into a compromising situation while raising and lowering my right knee in any number of strange positions.
The ‘socially awkward’ part happens after the solution to a plotting problem flashes through my mind. Having my entire body occupied with supposedly therapeutic contortions, and being without a notebook, I try to remember the solution by condensing it into one sentence that I can mutter over and over until it’s engraved on my memory. This has led to some awkward conversations, like yesterday’s:
PT: “What was that? Something about healing? Am I doing something wrong?”
Me: “No, no, it’s just something I want to remember about the current book until I get a chance to write it down.”
PT: “You’re writing a book about healing?” (Probably a therapist’s worst nightmare, a patient who’s using him as material.)
Me: “No, no, it’s fantasy, I just figured out that I need a healing well that also protects against the evil eye.” (Under my breath: “Now are you happy?”)
PT: Huh who what that doesn’t make any sense.”
Me: “I’m a science fiction writer, I’m supposed to be weird.”
What kind of social complications has your imagination gotten you into lately?