Intense Emotional Flux–or, the Virtue of “Let the Draft Sit”

The Right Writing House — Part III

Apparently underwriting a mortgage these past couple of years is one step less involved than landing a man on the moon, and the exercises in repetition are just as rigorous. AARGH!

But at last, within two weeks I’ll be ensconced in my shade-wreathéd oasis, the little town bungalow with the secret half-acre garden hidden behind, and a bright and airy writer’s loft.

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Too bad I’ve completely stopped writing since the whole spectre of home-ownership first shimmered into view some six weeks since.

I’m not certain if Intense Emotional Flux even is an excuse to stop writing, though that’s somewhat more legitimate than the fact that I’ve had to bury my writing laptop (and other valuables) deep in dresser drawers during this time my condo has been shown to potential buyers.  (But it’s so inconvenient to retrieve it and have to hide it again!)

However, this longest-hiatus-since-I-began-to-write-again has afforded some writing benefits in the form of insight into the Let-It-Sit phase that is supposed to follow the parturition travail of the First Draft.

The longest month of your life

The gestation period for this First Draft was three months with final delivery achieved on January 31st. I dutifully avoided cracking open the file for the entire proscribed “one month “let-it-sit” (albeit the shortest month, even in a leap year). It was difficult not to be pre-occupied with the development and nurturing of my “baby”, but I amused myself drafting scenes for a sequel, so the traumatic separation from the world I’d created was not exactly absolute.

March came in like a lion, and so did my First Revision phase. I went at my draft with all the fury of a turkey buzzard first on scene for road kill.  I considered my First Draft fairly polished because I had had an OUTLINE.  I was so on top of things.

So of course it didn’t worry me one bit that my changes were minor, the tweaks grammatical and a few for continuity. Some of the dialogue was spiced up a bit.

Until about halfway through when I realized what a boringly mundane pile of lake pebbles I’d constructed. You know the fun of rock hunting along a shore? A single pebble can be amazing, a microcosm of Creation–for a time. But by the next day you just want to fly a kite or go skinny-dipping again or something different.

My first draft went from beginning to end according to the outline but there were no twists and turns–of the sort one can only insert after seeing what one has written. HAH ha HAH ha HAH!  Who was I to believe that, after a decade of scarcely putting pen to paper, I could spit out a draft in three months, wait a month, and know everything there was to know about polishing it up?  Warning signs to look for (Karl Popper wisdom* aside):  if your own draft bores you, it needs more than tweaking.

Emotional flux–or just the gears grinding?

So along came the house of my dreams and a GENUINE Let-It-Sit phase, and perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because that Draft has never really been far from my mind. I don’t know if it will ever make it all the way to Polished Final Draft phase, fit for public consumption, but I’ve had all kinds of genuinely creative ideas about what’s missing from the story, ideas that never could have developed while I was bent over the draft tinkering away.

I could have been writing these past few weeks, working on other things, keeping the flame lit even as I considered my Draft from a distance, but still, the point has been made:  there’s more to writing creatively than Draft 1, Draft 2, Draft 3. . .What worked for me in grad school doesn’t cut it for novel-length fiction. That sucker can always be more complex.

Here come some more lame excuses, but I still have one giant relocation ahead of me, cats to hand-hold and placate, new roommates to get used to (I’ve chosen to leave the ivory tower), and time for writing will continue to be erratic for about another month. The Right House to Write In had better pay off, though. Emotional flux is no less and no more interesting than a new pebble.

 

* ‘No book can ever be finished. While working on it we learn just enough to find it immature the moment we turn away from it.‘ –Karl Popper

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The Right Writing House–FOUND!

Small town in front, private park in back–couldn’t be more perfect.

I didn’t mention my hopes last blog but this was the “impossible house” I was imagining as I outlined my wish list for the house search:  it was on the market, but for a variety of reasons I couldn’t make an offer YET, I didn’t have my ducks in a row. My heart was broken. Forget the house:  this was everything I ever wanted in a yard.  It stretches WAY back–to include a little wooded area.  I dreamed of English gardens on the back half with a path winding through.

And a white gazebo.

But sadly it came on the market before I was anywhere near ready! My radius of search was SO TINY–what were the odds I’d find another that fit every desire?

THEN, with a little help from friends and family and a great realtor and mortgage broker who did magic, and after I had given up all hope, darned if those ducks didn’t line up like first-rate soldiers.  Straightened up and quacked right. It was a mad race in this seller’s market to make that offer before anyone beat me to it.  And here I am, over my head financially perhaps, but a half acre of my own to live out and retire in my second half century on earth.

I’m normally fiscally cautious:  head down, move along, play it safe.  But the few times in my life I’ve taken that leap of faith into the abyss of financial uncertainty, it’s been SPECTACULAR.  It’s not like I have any innate intuition, and my timing sucks more than anyone you’ve ever met, but I seemed to have it when it counted.

Such as the day my dad kept asking me in disbelief, “Why are you PACKING? You don’t have the tuition!” –for grad school, well, had I not pushed on in a kind of delusional trance I’d never have gotten that full-ride assistantship and fellowship the day before classes began.

I keep waiting for the spectacular leap to fail me. . .Check back in a couple years when the dust settles.  Because it’s all or nothing now.

Here’s the blank canvas, a writer’s retreat in the middle of town.  I know I’m lucky, but just like always, it’s going to be a lot of work to make luck stick.

 

Finding the Right House for Writing

First move in 15 years. . .and counting

Lately writing has taken a back seat to re-locating. The plan had always been to live in my top-floor apartment-style condo for some time before finding a little house to retire to.  Well, retirement’s at least 2 decades away, but one needs to plan.

As much as I love the birdsong and many trees in this lovely, walk-worthy area near the edge of my small-town, those birds compete with shared-building life, kids’ shouting in the pool not far from my balcony, kids’ shouting in the yards, noises from the 5 softball fields by the elementary school across the street, and all the usual noises of many people living in close proximity (and some of the more mysterious and likely illegal ones).

I’m claustrophobic by nature. Many writers and independent scholars are.

As I explained to my Realtor what I wanted in a home, the Top Four demands had nothing to do with the house itself. More  large trees, more birdsong (inspires my writer sensibilities); private outdoor space (for the writer with a laptop), quiet neighborhood near downtown (well, duh); not a corner lot (wasted outdoor space that could be private).

I don’t much care about the house. With imagination and working plumbing one can pretty much live with anything.

But the market is really wrenching for the Buyer this year. No contingency offers (and I’ve already found the perfect downtown yard with small house!), which means. . .one has to find a place within a tiny window of just a few weeks after one gets a purchase offer on her own house!  And my searching radius is only about a mile. How often will a suitable place even come up for sale?  Half a dozen in a year at best?

I’m hearing stories of whole families having to live in temporary housing just to find/wait for the right home. I swear that moving a couple of kids around would be easier than my moving my elderly cat with medical issues and the other one. Living back in my parents’ basement at age 51 here in town with two cats and THEIR two cats? 

But this is what I may need to do to find the perfect writing home for the rest of my life. Wish me luck.

What are your concerns when finding the Right Place to Write?

Geraniums

 

 

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Re-post: Working with a cover artist, Part 1 — A Lonely Indie Writer’s Best Friend

Working with a cover artist, Part 1 Lonely Writer Tip of the Day #1Have you ever worked with a cover artist? It is like any business relationship, or it should be. Respect your cover artist, and they will help you. Don’t, and beware! Get an idea of what you want before you start The last…

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A Muse of Fiery Dragons

When it was just me and a tree, I knew it all

St. George and the Dragon Day – something I like to celebrate, as it reminds me of those far recesses of childhood when I began to learn the world was SO BIG, and even bigger when you thought about all history. And in my head I had such a sure, vivid, timeless yet evolving image of all the stages of history in all the places I knew of. What does an “absent-minded” daydreaming six year old who has never left Michigan know? A whole lot! Enough to fill a universe. That’s the nature of the brain.

I suppose these vast conceptions of places like medieval England or colonial America or Neanderthal Europe were informed by folk tale books my mom read, TV and school–but I’ve been around the world and dangerously over-educated in the 4+ decades since and these “forms” (in the Platonic sense) in my mind’s eye have not much changed. This feels very much like a collective unconscious. Somewhere there is and always will be an England of rolling green hills where a maid tends her sheep across the river from a village fair outside a Gothic cathedral, and archers roam the forest and knights in armor ride out from a castle with crenellated parapets. Somewhere there will be a dragon and a St. George to do battle with it.

What the other realm has to do with inspiration

These places are real in the way everything in a dream feels so much more present and tangible and real than being awake: in your dreams, the smallest thing can be infused with a sense of the greatest symbolism, and what happens next always has the feel of momentous inevitability. This is how good writing works: you set up a world of believable vastness and palpable intimacy, where events or imagery sustain multiple meanings, and the plot develops logically and naturally from the introductory matrix.

When I write I don’t feel like I’m creating a new place, rather, I’m trying to re-capture one that already exists–has always existed–in my mind, which is the same as to say it already exists in the “out-there” where all possible places and settings have always and will always exist. Inspiration is just getting to a point where I can remember it. I’m just tapping into something outside of myself. I’m being reminded by a “Muse”.

But the Muse is elusive! I can only actually write while I’m awake, with all the meaning-less distractions and inelegant minutiae of everyday life crowding in. How can I possible get past all that to a mental state where I can touch that other realm of inspiration? Most of the time it’s as hard as remembering your dreams. You forget just as soon as you remember a piece of one.

And what memory has to do with inspiration

My dad is nearly 82 years old. Since starting up the whole genealogy thing a few years back, I’ve made a point of asking questions about my parents’ childhoods, and I get very frustrated at how little he remembers. Is he holding back? Or can he honestly not remember a day out of his entire fourth grade, or one of the dresses his mom always wore? And yet, since I turned 50, a part of me has started to believe it. I’ve reached an age where I have to face the fact that maybe not remembering that certainty of childhood has less to do with simply not thinking about it lately and more to do with the fact that there are memories that may well be gone forever. You start to get pretty desperate to tap into that world-eternal you had all around you as a child.

I still play this one game sometimes while trying to fall asleep: I scrape and think really hard and try to come up with one early memory from childhood that I haven’t thought about almost since it happened. Maybe it will keep my brain and memory in shape. Maybe I’ll actually learn something about myself. It’s a game because I don’t always win; in fact, it’s quite rare that I un-earth a genuine long-buried gem and the corresponding feeling of supreme satisfaction. For just a moment, I know all the secrets of the universe yet again.

Is education inspiration?

I’ve spent a life voraciously chasing after that complete education, the level of knowing it seems like everyone else must have, a basic understanding of all history and myth, of geography, of the “greatest” writers and artists and musicians, the times of the greatest break-throughs for science and mathematics, how a cell works and how a galaxy is born. Reading every word Shakespeare ever wrote (happy birthday) and doing a dissertation on his histories. I think I always thought that’s how someone achieves enlightenment–er, peace of mind–er, being a real human being.

But apparently my Muse is the same she’s always been: someone who puts me in touch with a conception of the world I’ve always had. Or maybe I’ve just set up a false dichotomy: I suppose even as a child I had to overcome staggering inanity and mundanity. Probably trying to find school-clothes that weren’t laughable and doing homework that was a painful exercise in futility were just as frustrating to my higher self then as these stacks of unsorted receipts and boxes of unsifted cat litter are today. There were bullies then who teased me about my overbite and flood pants and my uncool mind-absences, and there are bullies today who torment me over my awkward bookishness and unfulfilled potential and my uncool absent-mindedness.

Daydreams and distractions, still

I think now that reaching my Muse is more of the same creative selective-attention I learned as a child. For sheer-survival I learned to tune out–as soon as they were gone–the unpleasantness of nose-bleeds on the school bus and that girl who always said out loud how messy my hair was or how I acted like a boy. In my head all that mattered were the woods I played in and the books I read. Today I sit in my condo and listen past the distant road traffic and screaming kids and that jack-ass running his leaf-blower at dinnertime and sometimes I really do manage to hear only the birds outside. I play with my cat and some string and sometimes I really do find myself as single-minded and in the moment as she is.

Perhaps it’s the pernicious TLE déja-vu seizures I have that have me obsessing on capturing something lost from childhood:  in the moment of the seizure it sure feels as powerfully atmospheric as a dream. Or perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been around the world and still I’m right back where I started:  a daydreamer in a book under a tree, desperate to prove one way or another that what you all thought were “mind-absences” were, in all ways amazing and worthwhile, me being very much present someplace after all.

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