Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Out of Chapter Twenty-Nine

I didn’t want anything more to do with Chapter Twenty-Nine. The demon in my head was even suggesting I didn’t want anything more to do with the whole damned book. So I tripped into the avoidance dance.

First I decided our bedroom had to be completely reconfigured. This involved moving heavy furniture which meant I had to recruit my husband to the enterprise. He had no idea he’d become party to my scheme to avoid Chapter Twenty-Nine.

The bedroom actually did look better afterward but now I needed another detour. It occurred to me that we should be better entertained in there as well. [Please behave. I hear your sniggers.] I decided we couldn’t live without Amazon Prime on the bedroom TV.

Once again I enlisted my husband as my once again unwitting accomplice. He was much more enthusiastic about this project than he’d been about moving furniture. Who could resist the prospect of binge watching “Boardwalk Empire” for any entire weekend – which we then did.

Monday arrived with Chapter Twenty-Nine still lurking in my peripheral vision. I averted my gaze but I'd begun to feel a bit ashamed. I needed a truly justifiable diversion this time so I decided to pay the bills. I hate paying the bills but apparently I hated Chapter Twenty-Nine more.

During the night between Monday and Tuesday I developed a fortunate cough. Now I could tell myself I had a summer cold coming on. Grandma used to say “There’s nothing worse than a summer cold” and Grandma never lied. I downed a couple of pills that put my head in a fog and that took care of Tuesday.

This morning inevitably dawned and it was just as inevitably Wednesday. Hump Day – the day I had to get over the hump of Chapter Twenty-Nine or give up altogether. Would the previous twenty-eight chapters ever forgive me if I chose the latter? Would I ever forgive myself?

Somebody once said that the most important writing exercise ever is putting your butt in the chair. So I did that. I accessed Chapter Twenty-Nine on my computer and resigned myself to the discovery that it was still there.

Three characters were there too. The same three characters that had been boring the inspiration out of me five days before and all the days since. Something interesting had to happen or Chapter Twenty-Nine was DOA for sure.

I write romantic suspense so two of the three characters are stumbling toward falling in love. Sex is always exciting but the third character is the heroine’s mother. Sex wouldn’t work this time. But maybe I could tune up the suspense side of the story. Two cops arrived with two bad attitudes.

The rest was history as they say and I am out of Chapter Twenty-Nine at last.

I put my butt in the chair. In other words I showed up. I showed up for my story. I showed up for my characters. Most important I showed up for me. The writer who wants to get on to Chapter Thirty and all of the other chapters yet to come.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writing in Shock Mode

My family and I are in shock mode right now. My granddaughter had major back surgery several days ago and is now in a world of pain – a world we inhabit with her in our own way.

At first I told myself I couldn’t write. It seemed almost insensitive to do the work that gives me satisfaction and makes me feel good. My darling girl was struggling. How could I do anything but grieve and pray?

I always carry a notebook with me now. A small flexible notebook from a 99 cent store that fits in my purse or pocket. It has a black and blue cover that seems appropriate at this time when we’re all feeling pretty bruised.

I used to have the notebook carrying habit. Actually I carried 5”x8” cards then. I took them everywhere and whenever I had a spare moment or two I would write. Then came a long hiatus from writing fiction and I forgot that good habit. Now it’s back.

So I was sitting in the hospital swallowing the tears I felt I shouldn’t shed in front of my already stunned family. Suddenly the black and blue notebook was in my hands and I was scribbling away with a pen I’d picked up somewhere.

I jumped straight into the next scene in my story. It was an emotionally fraught scene and that suited me fine. I was pretty emotionally fraught myself at the moment. I poured all of those feelings into that scene. Because – as I keep harping at here – strong stories are all about strong feelings.

When I got home later and started copying my notebook scribbles into my computer I was pleased but not surprised to see how raw that scene had turned out to be. My character was on her ragged edge just as I had been when I put her on the page struggling struggling struggling.

Our family crisis continues and I have kept on scribbling. I slip into a corner of my granddaughter’s hospital room while nurses and techs are bustling about and it’s best for me to be out of the way. I pull out the notebook and put my head down and write.

The hospital cafeteria is another writing haven. The loved ones of patients sit in near catatonia and stare into the middle distance. The medical pros actively avoid those stares. I eat whatever bad comfort food I’ve slapped on my tray and I write.

I drop onto the ground of the scene. I dig down into it. I bury myself there in these people born of my imagination and the terrifying trouble and wrenching choices I’ve created for them. I lose my own pain for a moment by crawling inside of their pain.

I understand that moments other may be coming when I won’t be able to manage the depth of focus that scene writing requires. I already know what I’ll do then. I will pull out the notebook and write what I am feeling myself.

I will describe the scene. What the cafeteria smells like. How the muted conversations strike my ear. The way the artificial air settles on my skin. The taste of the hockey puck cheeseburger I should have known better than to buy. The vista before me of devastated loved ones and nurses in comfortable shoes.

I will ask myself “What am I feeling right now?” Not just in my emotions but also in my body? Where is tension most taut? Is it in my ankles or my throat or the inch between my eyes? What can I compare this feeling to from my past history and from my imagination?

I will imagine one of these strangers walking up to me and saying “How are you?” I will hear myself blurting out the real answer to that absurd question. I will write down what I say in all its angry/shattered/dazed-but-lucid truth.

Meanwhile I wander in shock mode through this experience of personal torture. The kind of experience we unfortunately have all experienced and probably will experience again. I clutch my notebook to my pummeled heart. We are all still black and blue.