Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Stop, Take a Breath, and Sit Down

There are times I look for something, tearing the house apart, certain I remember where I last saw and put something, and just cannot find it. Then, suddenly, it's right in front of me. It happens with writing that way, too. At least, it happens with me.

I have been struggling with finishing the latest book and just could not get back into the scenes or the characters' minds. Try how I might, nothing worked. I struggled, fussed, fumed, and generally forced words onto the page in a semblance of what should be there and it all felt flat. It read even flatter. Nothing was working, so I took yet another break.

The last time I visited this particular book was three years ago when I decided to veer off in another direction and write the novel I published earlier this year. Three years is a long time to put something off. The characters were still on the page. I knew where the story was going. Nothing sounded right. I could not connect to the excitement, the enthusiasm, or the language needed to get the story written. It was like looking for something and tearing up the house when all I had to do was stop and wait and it would magically appear. That's what happened in the wee hours of last night.

While asleep and dreaming peacefully (or not so peacefully where my dreams are concerned), I heard Delilah's voice. She had begun to tell her story and kept on talking while I slept. Slowly, her voice pierced the dream to the point I knew who she was and that I had to wake up and take dictation while she was ready to speak, so I woke up, opened the computer, and started checking email, and running the usual cycle of websites as she continued to talk.

At some point, through the haze of half-dreams, I opened up Word and began typing, and there it was, that connection I had tried so hard to find, right before my eyes and tripping off my fingers onto the keyboard. There was some hesitation. I felt like a doe walking into a familiar clearing and scenting danger in the air. The danger was intangible and the thought of losing the connection was palpable. I kept typing and ignored the danger, found my calm place in the writing zone, and the connection held.

One of the most important things I've learned about hiking is about getting lost. Instead of running around frantic to find the path, the smartest thing to do is sit down and take a breath. That's what I did with the novel. Bashing at it with words got me one flat chapter. Taking a step back and taking a breath got me half a chapter and back into that much desired connection with my characters.

I don't recommend waiting until the muse hits or inspiration strikes, but writing. I continued writing other things, blog posts like this one, for instance. It's more important to be open to the characters, leave a wide open connection, than it is to bash at the problem as the characters move farther and farther away.

My problem has been due to a disconnect with the story line and the characters and, in writing a period piece like this Victorian gothic novel, the right connection is all important. I have vowed not to go haring off after another book that needs to be written now while the iron is hot. I have had story ideas that gestated for years before they came into being on the page, and this one has been put on the back burner twice to bring books to publication. It's Delilah's turn to shine.

This time I'm following a slightly different direction, but it's not far off what I thought was true and will result in a satisfying conclusion and the book that I've been trying to write for some time, ever since an article on Jack the Ripper and a conversation about Victorian morality made the connections in my brain that began this journey. I should have learned the lesson a long time ago: finish what you start. I'll finish it, somewhat later than originally planned, but this time I won't lose the connection. Excuse me, but I have work to do.



Helen Ginger said...

I used to do that - dream my characters. They talked to me in my sleep and I would write it down when I woke. They don't do that so much anymore, but the character I'm writing now felt as though she spoke as I wrote.

J.M.Cornwell said...

Characters usually intrude into my dreams when I either cannot connect, they think I'm going in the wrong direction, or because they expect me to get up and write. They also appear while I'm taking a shower, sitting on the toilet, washing my face, or doing anything where my attention is diverted from them. They usually talk to me, which is a good thing.