I envy writers who get an idea, settle in to create an outline and then write. My process is not at all like that. At least not at first.
I have written nothing for four months, which is not at all usual for me. I have three or four beginnings on the go, which is quite usual. However settling on one of those just hasn’t happened, much as I’ve tried. My mind kept skipping from one to the other, back and forth as if fuelled on high-octane caffeine, even though I mostly drink decaf these days. In the end I reconciled myself to the fact that none of these projects actually excited me enough to sit down for four hours a day for months, so I gave up on them. No point flogging a dead horse.
Mid-April to mid-June I was content enough to write nothing, although I did keep a pretty active journal. I have, after all, written four complete books in as many years, no matter that only two of them were any good, so time off seemed proper. I was in Ireland then and became fascinated with graveyards. My brother totally indulged me and we toured some old and new graveyards. The feeling that something was stalking me, some story, became clear. Just what story, or where it might go, I had no idea. I didn’t worry it; just let it simmer all by itself. Now and again I checked in, what’s up with that? I asked my creative self, who said absolutely nothing in response.
When my August efforts to settle into a work came to nothing I nudged my creative self. All that actually happened was a sudden urge to paint my apartment. It wasn’t the best time to do this. The weather was hot. Very hot. I didn’t want to paint my apartment, but one thing I’ve learned about my writing process is this: when I get the urge to move the furniture around or paint my walls, then a story is brewing. I can count on that. So I spent one of the hottest weeks we’ve had sweating and swearing and painting. The place was a mess, furniture out of place, tons of books and papers turned up from where I’d stashed them that now needed to be sorted and either filed or flung out. I gave my creative self another deadline, knowing in my heart trying to dictate to that part of me is useless at best, but you know, sometimes you’ve got to lay down the law, seem in control of things. My new deadline to start is September 1.
Today is August 31. The morning dawned cool and wet. I woke up with headache and stuffy nose from paint fumes. Crabby as could be I set out for a swim, which didn’t happen because of a fire in the swimming pool complex. When the fireman told me I couldn’t go in because of a fire in the pool, I almost laughed, but I could smell smoke and the unmistakable odour of electrical burning. Folk were sitting around outside in their swimsuits. Little kids were wrapped in towels, and a few who’d already been let in to get their gear were drying off and dressing themselves, trying various degrees of modesty, in the parking lot. I trudged back to catch the bus, changed my mind and had a coffee, thought about some journal writing. Rejected that and headed for the bus.
Typical of the day so far, there was a five car accident attended by two ambulances, three police cars, a fire engine, and, eventually, a solitary tow truck. The accident blocked most of the intersection, and all I could do was stand in the rain and watch four busses stop dead in a line waiting to get through. Relax, I told myself, nothing to be done.
As I gazed into space, missed two busses on the cross street because of inattention, listened to the rain batter the hood of my jacket, my creative self sprung awake and laid out the next writing project before me. It has, I must say, nothing much to do with the day that was in it. Well, maybe a little in a hugely exaggerated way. Typically it builds on a small paragraph I wrote about a year and half ago in response to a writing prompt at a workshop.
This will be the third story I’ve taken on that is developed from a long ago written paragraph that was assigned to a notebook and almost forgotten. It is the fifth I’ve worked on after an overhaul of my living quarters. If there is anything to be learned at all from this is to never throw out the little paragraphs that seem to go nowhere and never mess with your process once you recognize it.