Posts Tagged 'creative process'

Never Easy

Leaf portrait small

It’s been awhile since I’ve said anything about my progress or lack thereof on Sky.

That’s because, in part, writing all those posts about rebound took up a lot of words and mental energy.

It’s also because after a couple weeks of unrelenting distractions and interruptions, when I finally got back to it, the magic had once again left and I had no idea what I was doing.

I had brought things to a point at the end of Chapter 7, but couldn’t quite finish it off. Too many questions… too many options. Too many, “whys”. As in, if A does that, what will B do in response? If I don’t want A to be figured out by B now, how can I have events progress as I have them? B would have to be a nincompoop not to figure everything out, and he’s not supposed to be a nincompoop.

[Where in the world did that word come from? Nincompoop??]

Somehow those questions led to a re-evaluation of the surface of the world I am trying to build, which led to a re-evaluation of the government, this after an earlier re evaluation wherein I decided to change my world set up from a single empire situation to multiple nations…

Then an interruption would come in and several days would pass before I could get back to it, during which time I would have forgotten what I had been thinking about… Returning to the work was almost like returning to square one and the whole project would seem so vast and overwhelming I’d spend at least the first day back doing my best to run away from it.

But today I got back to it and in the course of writing one of those nonstops I’m so wont to write, I remembered this:

From my ruminations over today’s work:

“It occurs to me that I haven’t really thought all this out and this kind of thing, the ideas, the modification, the sudden realization of inconsistencies, the  major readjustments, the refinement – or the dumping as unworkable and starting over…  it’s all part of the hard work of building a world for a novel. So… nothing’s wrong here. It’s part of the process and the process is long, hard, confusing, frustrating, exciting, gratifying, rewarding, never easy. Nor simple. Nor fast.”

It’s been like this before. Many times. I’d forgotten that. Forgotten that I just have to keep plugging along, and be patient, It will come, in time.

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I Seem to be Wordless

work desk

I really don’t know why I haven’t been posting much lately. Or maybe I should say, I really don’t know why I can’t seem to think of anything to post. No, that’s not it either. I can think of things to post, but then I don’t feel like writing them down, so nothing happens.

I haven’t been keeping up with email, nor even doing much in my journal.

I have, however, been fairly regular with working on Sky. Six days last week. For at least three hours a day and often more. It’s been good, because I’m actually making some progress. The biggest thing that happened was that I realized that allowing the fact that I felt dead and empty inside with respect to the work to stop me was a mistake. Yes, it was certainly true that every time I thought about the chapter, or even the book in general, I drew a complete blank. I was so indifferent I began to wonder if I was barking up the wrong tree.

So I let myself stop trying for a bit and read my HUGE Tom Clancy novel, which I believe I mentioned. Then I read another novel, a Christmas present from Bethany House. I’m currently finishing up a third, this one a continuation of the Roman-based mystery series I started over a year ago. Oh and in the middle of that I read, um, about half of The Shadow Within, just to remind myself that hey, I really can write.

That was when I remembered all the days I spent being just as blank and helpless and dismayed as I was with Sky. Yes, days. In fact, it was typically about three full days of hanging around, lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling, walking laps in my house or back yard, trying to come up with an idea, and being completely, hopelessly, helplessly BLANK.

And then after several days, something would come. It wasn’t something logicked out, or figured out or put together. It would just be there. And I’d write it down.

So recalling that, I’ve gone back to putting in the time. Not running off to do something else when I find myself blank. But just sitting or lying around exploring the blankness.

And it’s been working. I was working my way through what I was afraid was a boring and pointless party scene when suddenly a new character showed up, one related to an existing character who wasn’t even supposed to be in town… and a scene happened. I even like it!

And now, in describing that, I’ve actually come up with something to post.

How about that? (Well, this IS supposed to be a “writing diary” sort of blog…) Now I need to go get dinner started…

Charge of the Mosquitos

Alaskan Mosquitos Shirt

“Enjoy Alaska! 40 million mosquitos can’t be wrong!”

This illustration is from the sketchbook I made when we visited Alaska back in 1995. One, as the hand-written caption says, that I’d seen on a t-shirt someone was wearing.

The mosquitos were indeed horrendous, biting wherever I had neglected to put Off: in my ear, in the part of my hair, on my eyebrow… They would hover in a cloud outside the car when we stopped, waiting eagerly for us to open the door while inside we were busily spraying ourselves with another round of  Off. They even swarmed in the midst of a rainstorm.

And that’s all nothing compared to the stories of those who venture into the really wild parts, full of lakes and rivers.  Yes, by itself the mosquito is a small thing, and its bite, while annoying, is hardly life threatening. But thousands of them? In a July 2000 article in the Lifestyles section of the Anchorage Daily news described living with mosquitos thus:

Greg Balogh, an endangered-species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, said dealing with them on the job is ”truly a mental game.” He said he has seen crew members bug out from the constant buzzing.

That explains why people who work outdoors become methodical — almost fanatical — in dealing with bugs. Some douse themselves with super-concentrated DEET; others pile on layers of protective clothing; still others invest in a mosquito head net.

It was under Colonel R.B. Thieme’s teaching that I first heard about the charge of the elephant vs the charge of the mosquito — the Colonel’s colorful metaphors for the two different categories of trials and tribulations that we face as Christians.

The charge of the elephant represents the outright disasters like seeing one’s house burn down or one’s marriage fall apart or receiving a diagnosis of cancer, whereas the mosquitos represent the little things. The little annoyances that shouldn’t get to us, but do.

And the more there are of them, the more difficult they become. I find them generally more challenging than the elephants, primarily because with the elephant I know there is nothing I can do but ride it out. I have no control over the situation and thus no choice but to leave it to God.

But the mosquitos!  Ah, now those, I think I can control. After all, I only need a fly swatter, right?

The thing about the “mosquito” problems, though, is that mostly I don’t recognize them for what they are. They seem to buzz about my head, but too seldom do I stop and take a step back to actually look at them.

Unless, as with the insect version, there are too many of them and you can’t get away from them.  Like one day last week…

I was trying to get back to my routine of writing, as mentioned in previous posts, motivated by the information gleaned from the talk John Cleese gave on Creativity. I’d set a goal of just getting into the office for an hour and a half of pondering each day, and wasn’t doing too badly. A couple of days I even managed about 4 hours of work…

But then my right elbow began to hurt and twinge. I first noticed it while I was walking Quigley (or more accurately “hauling” him off a captivating smell), but then it started intruding when I was writing. Then, in addition to that and the already intermittent throbbing of my foot from the plantar fasciitis I’d recently developed (from wearing worn-out walking shoes), my wrist joined the party, the old carpal tunnel issues resurfacing enough I had to stop in the middle of writing my morning pages (part of my attempt to get myself working every day). Thinking to give myself a break and come back to it, I went  into the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and in the process stuck my right thumb into the point of a knife when I reached down to pick up the utensil basket. Puncture wound under and alongside my right thumb — where it hurt to hold a pen. It throbbed all day.

And if all that wasn’t enough, my eyes were also giving me increasing trouble, as mentioned in an earlier post — the beginning of the shingles relapse though at the time I thought it was dry eyes (well, our dew point was something like 13 and our hmidity 24%)… Of course it’s always been dry here, especially in the winter and I’d never had a problem before. I figured I was just reacting more, maybe from age, or maybe from the previous shingles problem…

So writing was out for that day and several more and finally I just gave up.

Pastor Farley had mentioned something about there being times when God will temporarily shut down the operation of one’s gift for “training purposes.”  I wondered if that was what was going on.

Never before this book have I ever felt the need to discipline myself so badly.  Writing was something I had to do. It was like that burning Jeremiah speaks of that forces you to speak. I was driven to write. The other things were the intrusions, the things I shuffled aside, and let go…

Now it’s the other way around. So, yes, once again, the pendulum has swung back, and I’m thinking maybe God really has shut me down in this area for a bit. And if so perhaps I should just turn my efforts to the far too long list of things to fix and mend and take care of around the house. And read some fiction as well (I mentioned this in an earlier post)  I’m almost done with Executive Orders, in fact, (since the eye problem interfered with that a bit) and still really enjoying it. But that’s a post for another day.

Green Lights and Red Lights

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In this developmental phase of writing a book (ie, the general beginning),  I find myself struggling to be at ease with the process. In thinking about the story, I want to to come up with a sequence of events and yet my mind seems to shy away from that. I start there, but sometimes, almost immediately, it turns away and gallops after other pursuits.

I catch myself, pull it back and the process repeats. I get glimmers of things, ideas, events that might happen, rising to the top of the soup that is my mind, and then drifting out of sight, no connection to anything else, no certainty that indeed these are elements and need merely be connected for me to have my story. Maybe this event or incident will happen. Or maybe that. Sometimes the two are opposites. They can’t both happen. And it seems I should be clearer on the matter, but I’m not.

That tends to distress me. To make me feel stupid, flighty, incompetent. Don’t you know your own mind? Don’t you know what you want to write about, for heaven’s sake?!

Well…no. And no.

But my pastor says there are far more red lights in life than green ones. That we spend more time waiting for the doors to open than walking through them. So it seems to be here. I am waiting. And I must be at peace with it. I must remind myself that the Lord is involved in this, that I can trust Him to lead me in developing something that will be pleasing to Him.

Addendum:  This is a piece I wrote for my own edification back in April of 2001. It remains as true today — this very day — as it was then. I’m sorry to say that six books later, I still must endure this experience. Repeatedly. It is of some comfort to know that I have gone through it before — and enough times that I actually wrote about it for future reference.

Quote: Recover and Recharge

I can only give thanks to our God that He has allowed me to have a case of shingles almost “in name only.” Its physical impacts have been so minimal, that except for the fact that two doctors have made confident diagnoses that I do in fact have it, I would feel embarrassed to even claim I did. The medications have worked flawlessly so far, their side effects also minimal.

The rash is nearly gone, and my eye looks and mostly feels back to normal, except for occasional zings of nerve pain in the left corner now and then.

But in spite of all that, things have conspired to keep me from the blog and the book. More on that in another post. For now, it’s late, so I’m doing another reprise from my old blog, this quote relevant to my current creative situation:

“Creativity comes in cycles. One month you’re churning out piece after piece, everything you put your hand to comes out fabulous. It seems like it’ll go on forever. You are the Productivity Queen! Next month you crash and burn. You can’t even bear to look at your studio, let alone make something. This is when you need to recognize the signs your body is sending. After a time of great creative work, your brain, spirit and body need a break. You’ve spent your creative energies and your well is dry. It’s time to recharge.”      ~ from Alexia Petrakos’s “How to Recover and Recharge from Creative Burnouton Collective Creatives – a cooperative artisan blog

One Day At A Time

Well, I’m tired this week. Still getting over a cold I’ve had for over 10 days now. And We had a big weekend — my hubby wanted to throw a party for friends who’d helped him with this Bighorn Sheep Hunt last year, and so I helped. It was an all day affair on Saturday that started at 7am and lasted until 2am the next morning. After a few hours sleep, we started in on the clean up.  I had a nap after that.

Monday I was good — worked on Sky for three hours! — but Tuesday I crashed entirely. Slept almost all day. Watched TV all evening… (Well.. they were the season openers for NCIS and NCIS:LA, so… I’d have watched them anyway. Probably wouldn’t have sat there for VEGAS though…)

Today I was in the blank, wandering around the house staring at things mode. Trying to make sense of the notes I had for Sky, feeling like the entire premise was absurd and fatally flawed and how had I ever thought this was remotely interesting?

So I didn’t work on the next blog post I’d thought to do for my impromptu Light of Eidon week. In fact, I couldn’t even decide which one of several to do.

So I got the idea to go looking again at my early newsletters… the ones I put out right after Eidon released and found this bit from one I put out in April of 2003, written while I was deep into the writing of Book 2: The Shadow Within.

It applies today as surely as it applied nine years ago, and was actually a comfort to me to reread in my current circumstances.

One Day at a Time

I’ve been writing for a long time, and have never been a fast writer. I have always tended to go three steps forward and back up two. Sometimes I have to rewrite and rewrite until I get the thread right, and only then can I go on with the story.

Often I may go for two or three days getting nowhere at all, blank and empty and even indifferent. Then the doors will open, the scenes will emerge and all will be well. Until I hit the next blank spot.

Over the years I have tried setting up various writing schedules according to the generally accepted advice that if you want to complete a big project, you must divide it into increments, then proceed to carry out each increment in its time. I would make up my schedule of how many chapters I wanted to complete over a certain period of time, and determine that I would be professional and disciplined and Just do It! It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not, you just have to write it. Except . . .

I couldn’t.

Never have I managed to keep one schedule. Always I hit a snag, go over the allotted time, then hit another snag and another until the deadline I had set for myself fades into dim memory. I have received much friendly and helpful advice on how to deal with this, but none of it ever works.

Over the last few months, as I contemplated the remaining time I had left before Book 2 (The Shadow Within) is due, I found myself increasingly disturbed that I still hadn’t reached the point where I could sit down, plan out a schedule of work, then embark upon that work and be confident that it would all be done on time.

Throughout all this, the Lord was reminding me that I should be trusting Him about it, but the voice was too still and small, and the message too familiar.

I was too busy thinking about how much time I had left and comparing that with how much work I thought I had left to do. Too busy harassing myself to get to work, to be more disciplined, to force the story out. Too busy getting upset over outside things that came in to steal my time. Too busy beating my head against the wall–for it was all to no avail.

The story wasn’t coming any faster than it ever had. But the idea of stopping that, and giving it all over to Him? How could I do that? To do that would mean losing all control over it.

It wasn’t until I had that last ridiculous thought that I realized how silly I was being. I had no control over it anyway, so what’s the big deal about giving it over to Him?

Clearly I had a choice to make. Was I going to continue to seek to control the what for me is an uncontrollable process, flailing myself for my lack of progress and worrying about what would happen in the months to come when the Lord clearly tells me not to? Was I going to continue refusing to rest in Him, and instead seek to use my own strength and ability (obviously lacking) to handle this?

Cursed (miserable!) is the one who puts her trust in man. Or woman, as the case may be.

Finally, that verse, one I memorized long ago, got through. The light went on and I backed off.

So from here on out it’s one day at a time. I WILL stay out of the future. Whatever progress He gives me, I will accept, without making a fuss about what hasn’t been given. If I fail to concentrate or use my time wisely on any given day, I can have confidence that He knew, way back in eternity past, that I would fail and He took it into account when He made His plan.

If something comes up that diverts my time and energy away from the book, I will remember that it is also part of the plan, and that He has everything under control, knowing precisely how long it will take to make this book what He wants it to be. This is His book, not mine, so He’ll have to see that it gets done in spite of me. (I especially like that part.)

Now, at last, I can rest, knowing that even though I am “dust”, inadequate and weak, He is completely adequate and His strength will be perfected in my weakness. I may bungle my way through my days and the writing of this book, but He who is wise and good and faithful and gracious is at work in me nevertheless. And His Plan is not only perfect, it’s brilliant!

“Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord, for he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes.” ~ Jeremiah 17:7

Incubation

“Mulling over the problem in a sort of chaos of ideas and knowledge, letting go of certainties… entertaining widely differing or incongruous ideas so they can coexist long enough conceptually in order to be considered as a new composition.”

That’s “incubation.”

So when I am having a day like I described in the nonstops of yesterday’s post (Walking in Fog) or looking at the note cards spread across my desk and each one is an item that has little to do with any of the others, or there are clumps that relate, but no sequence that is emerging… they just are all there, like jigsaw puzzle pieces… I am in the process of entertaining differing or incongruous ideas together.

Incongruous: lacking congruity; not harmonious;  INCOMPATIBLE (not compatible: as a) incapable of association or harmonious coexistence; b) not conforming. DISAGREEING “conduct incongruous with principle”,  c) inconsistent within itself: “an incongruous story” d)  lacking propriety : UNSUITABLE “incongruous manners”

So if you have two ideas, say, “Abramm plans his way” and “He thinks about Blackwell…” those don’t, on the surface, have anything to do with each other. Nor does, “Trinley and Rolland argue about Abramm’s reign.” They are all three incongruous and when I think about it, I feel this frustration. Because I can form no connections.

Not that I’ve consciously tried to form connections, just that I survey the stuff and there aren’t any. So I’ve lately been just collecting it all into a chapter. Then I read the chapter and it jumps all over the place. Because there is no sequence, no organization. It’s chaotic, it’s a collection of different things, ideas, actions, feelings… sometimes they contradict each other. They can’t both happen, but I don’t know which one I want to happen. And it is very uncomfortable.

You’d think I’d have learned by now to get comfortable with it, but I haven’t. Reading files like this one, written as it was back when I was starting Return of the Guardian King is helpful.

As is the realization that this very thing that I find so frustrating is probably a key ingredient to making my books work. If I just laid down a simple sequence, chose a few things and went with them, I wouldn’t have so much to wrestle with. Writing would go more quickly. Unfortunately I would be very bored… which means my readers would also be bored.

And consciously trying to link my incongruous ideas not only won’t given me the final answer, but may lead me off on 100 page rabbit trails. I just have to resign myself to waiting until it falls together on its own, in God’s timing, not mine. Thus this stage will always be here, this mulling stage where I have the incongruous and widely differing elements coming together to form something new. I have no idea what that is, so how can I possibly guide it? I can only play with it.

And pray for guidance. And wait.


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