We are all babies in the water….
As I’ve been wrestling with myself to get words in my computer to finish my novel, and as I’ve been reading comments from fellow writers on Twitter, I’ve been reflecting on this game of fiction writing. I’ve noted how other writers are having difficulty “focusing” and still others find they can only write so many words during the day. If you’ve been a writer for any amount of time, you’ve probably started the infamous word-count vigil. Is that the true measure of progress for the day? Competitions like Nanowrimo train us to think in these ways, and without words on the page, there would be no progress, but we all know there are poetic words and words we later find cringe-worthy! We speak of inspiration–sometimes rightfully so, since there are grand mysteries in this process–yet too often that thinking becomes an excuse for giving up. We tire of waiting for the “spirit of creativity” to visit.
To prompt some reflection of your own, let me propose a metaphor. Sitting down to write is like stepping into the ocean for a swim: for the best of swims, you need to immerse yourself, and let the waves roll over you as you descend into the darkness. So it is with writing; we can float on the surface, but our writing then will only be superficial. Stereotypes will creep in, and our descriptions and dialogue will be pedestrian or just plain confusing.
To mine the depths of our creativity, we need time. Some may have the training or personalities to dive right in, but most of us have to ease our way into cold waters. Several writers have their routines: they must drink certain types of coffee out of certain special mugs, or they need to sit in their particular chairs at a certain times during the day, or they must hear the purrs of their cats in their ears, before they can start writing. I haven’t found a routine yet–perhaps that’s why I struggle with distractions so much–but I do know when I make excuses. Something comes up, and my writing time dwindles from four hours to one; then I don’t want to get wet that day; I’ll write more tomorrow.
I also know the benefits that come when I do set aside the time, when I go to the library to get out of the house, or when I turn up the film music to shut out the noises, or when I finally do sit at the kitchen table with my tablet, when I do ease myself in (by consulting my chapter notes or reading what I’ve already written). Writing becomes more natural. Ideas flow. Dialogue dances. Magic happens.
Immersion comes with discipline. We do not wait for the ocean to overwhelm us; we learn ways to go out for a swim. Writers need to find those routines that allow them to shut out this noisy world and glide into deeper waters. Poetry visits more regularly when we’ve built these writing practices. The next time you sit down to fashion words, take a moment to close your eyes and see your characters. Then breathe in and dive down to discover the world waiting for you to describe.