Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Lessons from Mother Mallard, Part II

Mother Mallard has abandoned the nest. The incubation period passed over the weekend. The eggs look so perfect nestled there beneath the greens of the daffodils. What made Mother Mallard move on? Did she know from the beginning that the eggs were for practice? Or did she change her mind along the way because something didn't feel right?

Her actions feel similar to ones I've taken with my own work. For the sake of KM, I've tossed hundreds of pages and false starts. And like Mother Mallard, I've feathered my nest with characters only to abandon them later after I realized they didn't belong, no matter how witty their banter.

I can't always articulate why it's time to abandon a darling, but I usually know when. Call it intuition or the muse or both. I listen to the little voice inside and follow its lead. When I'm wrestling with a particular passage or a bit of prose, and I'm lucky enough to be deep inside the heart of the story at the time, a kind of knowing accompanies the process. Inside this space, entire hours go by in what feels like a few minute's time. Inside this knowing, I'm one with my characters, and know with certainty what their next move should be. It's a feeling similar to the one experienced when sculpting, sketching or painting. Burnt sienna feels right to add in one spot, carnelian red in another.

Inevitably during the creative process, there comes a point when I've muddied the paragraph, sculpture or piece of paper beyond fixing, and starting over is easier. I open a new file, scrape the canvas, or reach for a clean sheet of paper, and begin again. Maybe Mother Mallard decided to start over, too.

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