Go Ahead, Be Terrible

One of the hardest things about starting a new book is the awfulness of it. I’m there now, at the beginning, no longer thinking about the book or making notes or even writing long backstory and character pieces—which is actually one of the most fun parts of writing. If it was only that part, I would be the happiest writer in the world.

Instead, I’m actually starting to write the thing, in scenes, with characters talking and moving and all that.

This is the point of ruination. I’ve talked about this before—every book is perfect before I must try to bring it into the world. They live in some other place, in the Land of Books Waiting to Be Written, and some are mine to write and some are yours and some are still waiting for their person to get busy and bring it over into the Land of Books That Can Be Read.

As I try to bring my book over the wall into this world, I ruin it, almost from the first word. (more…)

Writers Don’t Get Lonely

As part of rehab for my brand-new bionic knee, a physical therapist comes to my house five days a week and puts me through my paces. As I’m standing on my toes and cycling on a portable little bike, we chat. He’s a guy of a certain age, with an intriguing history as a Shakespearean actor and a director in New York, and we’ve found lots of things to talk about. We were talking about various kinds of work, and introverts and extroverts and I mentioned that I was spending a lot of time alone with the rehab, but that’s pretty much the shape of my life.

He said, “But writers don’t get lonely, do they?”

It gave me pause, because I had actually been feeling…oh, not lonely exactly. More at loose ends, like a bead banging around inside an empty can. I don’t get lonely, for the most part. I love being alone, puttering in the garden or taking photos or writing. My head is filled with people, lots and lots of them, and they amuse and entertain me quite nicely. I also just like to think—about the vast reaches of space, about how tea is harvested, about the young woman on the radio who said both men and women should be hairless, all over. (Really?) I also love the company of other people, and find people interesting, which might be why they tell me their stories.

Just now, however, I’m not engaged in much of anything, and I guess the word lonely might have been floating around. CR works all day. My concentration is a bit splintered. I’ve been doing a lot of watercolor exercises, which is distracting and enjoyable, but there are only so many a person can do in a day.

It turns out that a writer who isn’t writing actually does get lonely. When I realized that, I sat down and opened the Scrivener file for my MIP. The two main characters have been poking me, and followed me all over England (I wrote pages and pages of plotlines on trains) but I thought I should be more focused before I started actually writing scenes. I’m floating in a world of narcotics and know from experience that there’s a reason they keep you high for awhile. (Another PT said, “Do you know what they do? Basically amputate both bones in your legs and then get you on your feet the same day.”)

But it’s not like I won’t go over them twenty seven thousand times between now and the time anyone sees it. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing here.

I opened a file and started writing. Funny—I wasn’t lonely anymore. More, there’s something freeing in doing it through all of this wild year. I’m a writer, and what I do is write. I write to understand things, to celebrate things, to decipher things. I write stories and essays and blogs and articles and letters and posts of all kinds. I write because that’s what writers DO—sick or well, sober or high as a kite, furious or peaceful or silly. Writers write.

Have you ever discovered a loneliness that can be eased by working on something?

A Writer Not Afoot

I’m in recovery from a knee surgery last week, so not really coherent enough to write a long post. I’m in that strange convalescent phase that means I drift along like a bottle on the sea, admiring that swath of sunset or the way the light catches on my cat’s whiskers but nothing much more. In the back of my mind, I’m working on my next Barbara O’Neal book, which is taking on a life of its own and going places I didn’t expect, but that’s fairly normal for my process.

I have discovered Scandal, which everyone told me to watch and told me to watch and told me to watch, and once I got past the first episode, it was great. What else would you recommend?

Oh, my monthly column will be up at Writer Unboxed tomorrow, called originally enough Not Writing, about my favorite subject, filling the well. Come on by.

Have you ever had a few weeks of forced inactivity? How did you fill the time? 

Listening to the Prompts

All creative people devise ways to communicate with the mysterious place where ideas come from. A scientific person might call it the right side of the brain. A more mystical one (that would be me) probably calls it the universe or Spirit. Whatever the name, we all learn over time to trust the whispering prompts that nudge us into a particular direction.

Detail-from-JMW-Turners-B-007I’ve had some weird communications going on with the universe over painter JMW Turner, an Englishman I’d honestly never heard of until three months ago. I don’t know how I missed him now, since he is one of the most highly regarded of all English painters, and his style was a forerunner of the Impressionists, whom I adore with heart and soul, but there’s the truth. I had never heard of him or seen his work until I needed a painter for Brilliant. Jess gives Tyler a biography of a painter for Christmas, so I googled watercolorists and Turner came up. He was an eccentric who did things his own way and he fit the bill, so I ran with it. (Deadlines make a writer practical. Yep, works, toss it in there, move on.)

Afterward, Turner kept coming up—everywhere. At first, I put it down to simply awareness. You never notice how many cars of a certain model there are until you start driving one, then they are everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then see it in twenty places the next few weeks. I’m studying watercolors a bit, so reading in that world, and he’s a master. Of course I would see his name.

But it kept going and going. An article in a magazine I rarely read. A comment about the new movie. (Me: “There’s a movie?”)   (more…)