Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Go Where They Can Find You

"But it isn't Easy," said Pooh to himself... "Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you."

~The House at Pooh Corner

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I had a revelation this morning. It relates to my favorite writing quote, which is above, and it is this:

The reason I am having such a hard time with the last bits of my novel is that I am trying to write my novel.

Let me explain.

1. The best novels are those which you can pick up, read a little, and say, "Aah. Yes. This is going to be good." You relax into them, fall into their worlds, become their characters. Editor Cheryl Klein talks about this in reference to Harry Potter; one of the reasons it's so successful is that Harry's world is so complete, so detailed, so painstakingly and entertainingly shown.

2. The only way to write novels like that is to relax into them, to fall into their worlds, and become their characters. As a wise new friend from my coffee shop put it, you have to describe the story, rather than try to create the story. You have to channel like a medium, put your ego aside and let your subconscious do the work.

3. This is impossible to do if you are trying to write as fast as you can, or trying to force the novel to go in one direction when it clearly wants to go in another. It's also impossible if your brain is full of blather from elsewhere in your life, or if half your brain is wondering how long the baby will nap, or whether those other kids on the bus are watching you, or if your hand gets tired writing because you took too many days off in a row and got out of shape. Or if your inner editor won't shut up.

So what to do? How to get rid of the blather and the deadlines? I have been utilizing the less-than-effective screaming at yourself approach: "Could you just freakin' get a grip and FOCUS for a second so you can finish the darn thing NOW. IT NEEDS TO BE DONE YESTERDAY AND IT STINKS!!! FOCUS, YOU PITIFUL SLOB! NOW WRITE! AAAAAH!!!!!"

I wouldn't recommend it.

Instead, as usual, Pooh is right. You can't go get the story. All you can do is relax and show up at the page, every day, and be ready for the story to find you. And being ready means being ready to write, but it also means being focused and relaxed at the same time. It means being open to what your characters are telling you and putting your ego aside so you can describe instead of manipulating. It also makes the whole process much more fun.

So, thanks to a chance conversation and to Pooh and probably not in small part to Walt Whitman, I am writing furiously, but relaxedly, and it's fun again, and it's really good and I must go back to it now...

Now you, too, go write.

17 comments:

Marcia said...

This is so true that all I can say is, "This is so true!" And I know this, and it has worked for me, yet like you I've been doing the second paragraph of point #3.

Just as important as time is the focused/relaxed mental state. Without getting really weird, you have to remove yourself from life to some degree in order to get it. I mean that you can't be always all caught up in what's going on in the physical world around you.

Diane T said...

Excellent. Now the next time my husband comes home to find me sleeping in the recliner instead of making dinner, I can say I was relaxing and waiting for the story to come find me....

Tabitha said...

Amazing advice!! And so true. I think this is a skill no writers have in the beginning, but that good writers acquire.

BTW, I'm glad that Steve from AT&T braved the spiders so the rest of us could have our TNoftheAWSPWTBIM. I was getting anxious when I didn't see it first thing. :)

PJ Hoover said...

Nothing is better than when a novel flows out, especially when it takes unexpected directions! I love that feeling!

Angela said...

Jacqui;
glad ur in character and falling into your story.
I agree...to really write what the story needs a writer must be ready and willing to feel those emotions. I get mad and cry not WITH or FOR my characters, but AS my characters.
I think you and Pooh got it right (btw that is my all time favorite book... I cry at the end every time!)

Jacqui said...

Marcia, I agree completely; for me it's a focus/filter other things out issue.

Diane: Ha!

Tabitha, me too! But I still teased him about the spider fear.


PJ and Angela: it does feel good. And thanks, all, for not thinking I'm nuts!

Elise Murphy said...

I would add - you also need to be open to the times when you are NOT full of inspiration, vim, and vigor. Those times often require a step back, a few days off, a little time to remember why you were so passionate about the manuscript in the first place.

I truly believe good writing is WORK and that we must show up for work even when we're feeling unhappy, or uninspired because through the act of living through those "writing is work" moments we get to experience the "writing as ecstasy" moments.

But a break? A break goes a long way (she says while hovering above the pot of pickles, and making beef jerky . . . and NOT writing)

Anonymous said...

Jacqui

You should take up golf! Maybe great golfers are like so-so writers. The golf shot requires total focus-but for only 15 seconds. If you think of anything else, you're screwed! Also, I play with many golfers who make up great stories-they can't count to seven

Vijaya said...

So true ... I hope when I sit down to write this fall, the characters will come to me, because finally I will have time for them.

Jacqui said...

We hope so too, Vijaya.

I actually understand that golf metaphor!

Elise, I heard Judith Viorst talk once. She spoke about inspiration as the wind that pushes your sail as you write. Then she said she has a big sign in her office that says, "When there's no wind, row."

J. Thorp said...

Stephen King had a great section in Misery (I'm recalling through through the dusty haze of years) in which the captive author speaks of finding the hole in the paper and falling through. I've always found that to ring true - when it's flowing, I don't so much see words on the page ...

Pooh is right about many things, true. Jodi was talking to a dear friend of ours who is also a "creative type" about her frustration at times that sometimes writing doesn't happen when you want it to, and that part of the process is knowing when not to write.

Jacqui said...

Mmm. Thorp, I like that falling through the page business.

Jill Corcoran said...

Go play a game of Pooh Sticks with your kids and let your YA ending float into your mind:)

C.R. Evers said...

Wow! That's so perfect. I always knew Pooh was a wise genius! :0)

Great points as always, Jacqui!

Christy

J. Thorp said...

I recommend to all of you Pooh-lovers (and closet philoposhizers) the book The Tao of Pooh.

Soothing, enjoyable and quick read, and I loved it. Our oldest son, on the other hand, asked if it was about Winnie-the-Pooh or just poo ... (Smart-alecky kid, anyway.)

The Te of Piglet is not nearly as true to Milne and Milne's voice(s), so it's not nearly as good.

Jacqui said...

Thorp, can that be my fifteenth classic, you think?

J. Thorp said...

It would be a nice respite, I think ...