Monday, June 23, 2008

Crazy Little Writer

The frustrating thing about the way my creative process works is that it's absolutely absurd from a practical make-a-living standpoint, but dammit, it actually does work creatively. My writer friends have learned to accept my weird way of working, and even my editor and publisher are patient, but I don't know if I will ever be able to quit fighting it.

Yesterday, (Monday) was a prime example.

As you know, I haven't been feeling great. Mid-morning I dragged over to a coffee shop to see if a mocha latte might scrape the skim off my brain, and sure enough, I got some writing done, using the idea the washing machine gave me. (See post below). But then I was out of ideas, possibly because there wasn't a washing machine at Starbucks. So, for the rest of the damned day I did nothing but surf the web, because once again, nothing was moving on the book. And yet, I had a familiar internal feeling that things were perking (to continue the coffee theme), and that they might even brew something before the end of the day.

All I had to do was wait. I am an effing waiting master. As somebody said, "The secret to successful waiting is finding something to do in the meantime." Well, yes.

So I surfed. I e'ed. I cooked supper. I planted and watered fleurs. Then, about 6:45, as I was scrubbing a pan at the kitchen sink, I got the epiphany I was waiting for, and it is a doozy. I love it, and it turns my next chapter, which I was worried about, into something much more edgy and interesting.

Yay. But sometimes that process takes weeks or months.

This is no way to earn a living, but it seems to be one writers' way to write a novel. When experienced writers tell you that you should write "any way that works for you," they (we) mean it. There is no "way" to write. There's only you and the words and they come fast for some people and slow for others and all you can do, if you want to be true to your own well of creativity, is catch them when they bubble up, if they bubble up. You do have to be ready with a bucket, and you need to know how to use said bucket, which requires some skill. I used to be able to force words to the surface--or at least force something up--and if you can do that, then good for you, truly!--but that has been mostly impossible for me to do for years. You can believe that, or not, but I'm telling you, speaking as somebody who had years of experience in successfully "forcing" it, when you can't any longer do that, you can't. You just fucking can't.

I don't like this way of working. I really don't. I'd much rather be able to crank it out. But until and unless my process changes again, this is the only way I have to work. Personally, I think it sucks, but what do I know? It's also true that our whole deadline society is insane, so really all I'm doing is trying to fit creativity--which has no time lines--into boxes where it can't fit and won't go.

I need a Renaissance patron. We all need one. Our patron can pay our rent and publish our masterpieces whenever we deign to hand him one, and we will then be free to let the creativity wells bubble at their own maddening, irrepressible, unpredictable pace. Yep, that's the ticket. Who's with me?


Nancy P said...

Early to bed, early to post again.

Family Man said...

Hi Nancy.

The whole thing of waiting for the ideas to come or forcing it would drive me crazy. Since writing is an art, it seems to me that forcing it would in someway diminish what the artist is trying to create. However, if you're on a deadline and have to meet that..... Well since I'm fond of eating I think I would meet the deadline. :)

Like you said, some people are good at forcing and some aren't. I hate to see an artist forced to complete a work before they are ready. Again as you said, you need a Renaissance patron. I've always wanted to be a Renaissance man, so I'll tell ya what. Once I win the lottery, I'll become your Renaissance patron. But, I'm not wearing one of those short jackets with tights. :O

Have a good day and let those ideas flow.

Anonymous said...

First, I want to thank Nancy on her blog for a fabulous teaching and mentoring job at WRW. Not only are the evaluations glowing in regard to your participation, it was a pleasure having you around for the 10-days.

Your honesty on this board is refreshing and a great learning tool. I myself had an hour long conversation with Maass today about a book I'd worked on for a few years. While he read it, I started something new I couldn't wait to begin... an old college project that simmered for several years in my head. About ten minutes into our conversation today I interupted and said, "Don, I don't think I want to work on that book anymore. I agree with everything you're saying, but I'm done with it for now. I can't even think about it." So we spent 45minutes talking about the new project (and lessons learned from the old one). It was frustrating and yet liberating. This is no gig for the weak-hearted or thin skinned. And as much a craft as an art... that fine line we have to walk. But when I finish a book like Virgin of Small Plains... I thank folks like Nancy for battling the storm and leaving the polished work for us to enjoy.

AndiF said...

Morning all.

I'm looking for a Patron of The Dogs Not Barking at Night. So Nancy, as soon as you find your patron (as soon as FM figures out the winning numbers), maybe you could help me find mine.

Maria Lima said...

I need a Renaissance patron

Hee! Don't we all?

Nancy, I always love hearing about how other writers write, mainly, because as someone who seems to have the same type of workflow as you do, I get disheartened to read other writer blogs where the books just get cranked out.

I bless the fact that I have a great "day job" - it's demanding, yes, but I love it and it truly does pay the bills.

FM, let's you hope you score the huge lottery and then you can keep us all as pet writers. ;-)

Off for another Manic wait, how did it get to be Tuesday?

Jen said...

I like when you write about process. This very raw and genuine side of you shows up and it is always fun to read even if the topic is frustrating.

Over the past decade I have had to completely re-learn how to write. I had just gotten decent at it when I got sick. I used to write copious amounts in marathon sessions over short periods and then my wait time would come, but I could finish a book in 3 or 4 months easy. Now? No. Everything is different. Along with a much slower process, I find myself actually rejecting a lot more ideas, and really even the mechanics have changed. I don't make a sentence the same way I used to, and my form has gotten very loose.

Practically all of the changes are good, but I have felt so impatient about the amount of time it has taken to learn how to do this again I've almost given up on several occasions. Too stubborn and bored for that to stick, though. ;)

Nancy P said...

Hi, guys. My Toshiba hard drive has crashed, so I'm leaving to go see the computer guy. Jason, I feel like a chapter in Don's book. . .if it's bad, make it worse, now what else can happen, okay, now what else. . .car blows up, printer blows up, get sick, computer crashes, and then there's the book that's over a year late, with all the attendant financial concerns that go with all that. . .

At least I can get on my Mom's Mac. (cue ominous music). . .for now,

Hey, I'm learning about plotting!

Kelly McCullough said...

Renaissance patron? Oh hell yes!


Process is a bitch, especially the parts that don't work the way we feel they should. The fact that the first third of a book takes me four times as long to write as the last third drives me crazy. Likewise the fact that I can write like a demon for three weeks and then have to sit still and do nothing for a month followed be three more weeks of demon but only a week break after that and no idea what will be which this morning.

I'm not going to complain too much because my process got a whole lot faster about three years ago, but it still drives me to distraction that I don't have more control over it.

Beth said...

Be careful with that Mac, Nancy - you might find yourself drawn to the Dark Side with the rest of us! After screwing with Bill's PC all last week (and am still doing so), I'm even happier with my Mac.

Fam, I'll join your patron list, but you HAVE to at least try on the tights! You are too funny.

Good luck with the bubble-catching, and waving to everyone else. Off to tackle another day.

FARfetched said...

Hey everyone!

Nancy, we need a bucket, and need to know how to use it: but what if they stole our bucket? Or if your bucket is a Dozebox, you can count on the bottom falling out from time to time (as you've learned).

But seriously, I've had that feeling, that "I hear Olga stirring again" feeling and I also have to wait for the epiphany or whatever it is (I usually don't think of a Russian dominatrix cracking a whip as an "epiphany" though).

Speaking of epiphany, the latest FAR Future episode went up last night, only 15 hours behind schedule. Once I get past the next ep (episode not epiphany, although I might need a minor one), I should be good to go for a while.

I guess I already have a patron — but most people would think of it as "a day job." [Andi, I've seen the Patron of The Dogs Not Barking at Night. It's a roll of duct tape. :-D] Speaking of day jobs, I have deadlines associated with mine. But after 20-odd (and I do mean odd) years in this technical writing business, I've learned that deadlines are little more an arbitrary line in the sand; when you cross that line they just draw another one.

Jen, it sounds to me like you've exchanged quantity for quality. That's always a good trade. As long as, like Nancy said, you can do something else while you're waiting you're fine.

Off to a boring-a$$ conference call.

Conda V. Douglas said...

A patron? Oh yes, please. I have a mini-patron in the form of a supportive b.f., but he's never won the lottery so his patronage has to be limited..but I'm grateful all the same! Every bit helps!

And thank you, Nancy, for posting on one writer's mind-journey. Makes me feel a lot better when I spend hours/days on trying to squeeze a character that popped into my head into my w.i.p.!

Are all of us creative types crazy in specialized ways? I suspect so. Certainly that has been my experience.

Nancy P said...

Today has been so unbelievably, dramatically up and down I can hardly begin to fathom it. I still don't have word on my computer/book, but something financial happened--a total surprise--to save my sorry a** so that if I need a new 'puter, at least I can get one. And a printer. Not a car though. :) Yet.

I'm shell-shocked.

One time, when my son was wee, he was sick and so I took him to bed with me. In the middle of the night he woke me up to say he needed to throw up. I grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, holding him, face-forward, out in front of me.
On my way in the door, I tripped. I saw us both heading for a fall into the hard bathtub, and I realized in that split-second that he would hit face-forward and I would land on top of him.

In that moment, I twisted my body clear around so that my back was to the tub and he would be safe. I fell hard onto the floor, landing somehow on my butt with my back against the side of the tub. He, still in my hands, landed so gently that the tip of one toe barely touched the floor.

His first words?" I don't think I need to throw up now."

That's the way I feel right now. I no longer feel sick. The shock of the day has left me standing upright, saying, "I don't think I need to throw up now."

Nancy P said...

You all are very kind and wise.

Maria Lima said...

Nancy!! srsly, come to the dark side. I <3 my MacBook. :)

The fact that the first third of a book takes me four times as long to write as the last third drives me crazy.

Kelly, I think that's the exact description of my process.

This writing thing is HARD! (said in Barbie doll: Math is hard voice)

FARfetched said...

Nah, writing is easy. Writing something that coheres over 70,000 words, now that's hard.

Kelly McCullough said...

True dat, Far.

Nancy, glad to hear some money fell out of the sky. That always helps and it sounds like now would be an especially good time.

boran2 said...

You do have an interesting process, Nancy, but it sounds very artistic rather than forcing X words per day.

I'm sorry to read about your computer. Hopefully it will be feeling better soon. I'd be happy to install a new drive if I lived nearby.

boran2 said...

Drat, I forgot to add the ;-) above.

Anonymous said...

After reading some writers who crank it out continually, I prefer your books that have more emotional depth to them than some writers who write multiple books a year and under different names. I won't mention any names because I don't want to offend anyone. Just thanks for the work you do.

Jen, what books do you have out that I might look for at the local bookstore?

Anonymous said...

p.s. Congrats on your windfall.

Anonymous said...

p.p.s. What? no pix today? Where's the resident photog?
(Hi, Andi)

Nancy P said...

Thank you, boran2 and Anon. Much appreciated.

Alas, there probably won't be photos again until I can get back on my own computer--or at least, a computer of my own.

Jen said...

Jen, what books do you have out that I might look for at the local bookstore?

I have not yet forayed into attempting to publish, Anon, but thank you for asking. :)