Friday, November 17, 2006

Chatter, Time-outs, and Prairie Writer's Day

Let's face it. We writers value our quiet time. In this space we commune with our muse and discover our stories.

If we're lucky enough to find ways to cut the chatter long enough to do so.

During the months following E's aneurysm rupture, I struggled with so much chatter I was too emotionally exhausted to return phone calls let alone form a coherent sentence. I remember suffering a tremendous amount of guilt preferring Gilligan's Island reruns to something with substance, and waiting for friends and relatives to call me instead of initiating anything.

Looking back on that time now, I'm not surprised I had trouble. My brain was on overload. Much of the chatter I lived with arose from my fear of not knowing who E would be after she recovered, my grief at finding our family in that place, and my anger that such a thing could happen to me, to us, and to E, who'd come into the world with so many challenges ahead of her.

Through trial and error, I discovered ways to reduce the chatter long enough to leverage the alone time I needed to channel my muse. Vermont College was a catalyst for change. So were my advisers, Ellen Levine, Sharon Darrow, Jane Resh Thomas, Tim Wynne-Jones, and my classmates, the MVPs. Their patience and support shepherded me through dark months when I seriously questioned my decision to pursue an MFA in writing for children while guiding E through her recovery.

Fortunately, I discovered what works for me. Unfortunately, the quiet place where my muse resides very often brings me face to face with the fears that built up the chatter in the first place.

Thankfully, I've learned ways to summon the strength needed to banish my fears long enough for my characters to step forward so that I might tell their stories. The tools I've collected in my writer's toolbox don't always work. However, on good days, my characters enter the stage of my story ready to work, and my biggest challenge as their lives unfold like a movie is typing fast enough to keep up with them.

The good days are the reason I write through the dark times. Muscling through when every sentence sounds like crap is part of my process. So is muzzling my inner critic if at all possible when I do so.

I muscle through the dark days because the payoff is worth it. Light exists on the other side. As does a paragraph, page or chapter that sings.

Let the dishes call. Let my daughters dig through the laundry baskets for clean underwear and socks. Instead of giving in the siren's call of leaving my chair to do anything else but writing, I dig in my heels. I slog through the shit. I keep writing. Unless my kids run into the room screaming about blood or fire. Or my characters start acting out of character.

When my characters grow grandiose, petulant, close-mouthed--you name it, they need space. And I need space.

I give myself permission to shut my laptop. I might write in a notebook instead. Or write outside or in a cafe. If that doesn't work. I find something else to do...reading, research, another project. Anything to give my story breathing space. I've found that even in that space, my muse is still writing, working out character arcs, sorting out events.

Last weekend's Prairie Writer's Day provided my story the perfect simmer time because, quite frankly, nothing quite inspires my muse the way a roomful of writers does.

I know I've talked about many of these reasons in previous posts, but they're so powerful for me, they deserve repeating.

With fellow writers:
* you don't need to explain why you're not published yet.
* you don't need to explain why you keep submitting in the face of rejections.
* you don't need to explain why your idea of a good time is cruising a bookstore for the latest titles
* you don't need to justify the high you get after writing the perfect opening line.
* you don't need to explain why writing the book one time through doesn't mean it's ready for an editor.
* you don't need to explain that wherever you are in the process, you don't need to rush it. Where you are is right for you.

With fellow writers, you need only be yourself.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I love your last paragraph....only writers understand the life of a writer! So true! I was at Prairie Writer's Day as well, an amazing day!