Posts Tagged ‘creative process’

Dry Spell

DessicationI am in between writing projects and I am unsure whether another story will ever consume me. I know some writers have a list of ideas for potential projects always sitting on the back burner. Sadly, I have exhausted my list just as I have exhausted items on my bucket list.  When I told a doctor that I had done everything on my bucket list, he suggested I compile a new list of things I wanted to do before I die.

I could transfer the doctor’s idea to my current dilemma, but my problem runs deeper than nothing on a writing to-do list. The real cause for disturbance is the lack of a burning conception that compels me to give it artistic shape–an idea that won’t let me sleep, and when I do sleep, inhabits my dreams. To work my way through this dry spell, I have turned to reading the works of prolific writers.  Joyce Carol Oates’s novels The Gravedigger’s Daughter and Middle Age: A Romance are better than Anne Rice’s recent offerings of Angel Time and Of Good and Evil, in which Rice’s troubled Toby O’Dare is whisked back into Renaissance times, first in England and than in Italy. Rice should have situated her story completely in the past and created a richer, denser fabric similar to what she accomplished years ago with Cry to Heaven and A Feast of All Saints.

I use reading to fire my own imagination.  While I appreciate the texture of Oates’ storytelling and I recognize the shortcomings of some of Rice’s supernatural narratives, reading their novels starts my mind churning. To force a project prematurely, I fear, is liable to result in a mediocre work or one inferior to an author’s previous work. Being prolific has its pitfalls. Great productivity doesn’t equate to works of equal greatness.

There are other methods to jump-start the creative juices. For instance, foreign travel, or maybe a hike, even a short walk off a long pier. Armchair tourism is good too. Watching an excellent film set in an equatorial jungle or in a Hungarian castle may stimulate the imagination.

So what to do?  Nothing. Simply, pass the dry spell sitting in the sun on the deck and searching the sky for signs of rain.  Or write this ditty about the dilemma:

Dry spells—empty wells—

writers sometimes have,

squeezing words, last drops

from a sponge; phrases

shrivel, dead on arrival.


Better to fold the arms,

look into the sky and wait

in silence for parched earth

to receive a cloud burst

when the ocean upends.


Better to read another’s book

and drink another’s draft,

whetting appetite for taste,

sound, smell, touch of print:

delicious rain of language


Better sit a spell and think

than to scratch at word-making

in dust and drought that leaves

readers hungrier than when

they begin the bland fare.


The Revision Stage


Although in my younger days I preached the necessity of rewriting after the euphoria of finishing a first draft, I did not go tripping lightly to undertake that chore. I went dragging my feet and procrastinating. Some attitudes do change with age and I have experienced an attitude adjustment over the years toward revising, editing and proofreading. No longer is it the necessary, but onerous stage. I jump into revision with more gusto as if I were cleaning out messy closets, jumbled with old clothes and shoes I haven’t worn in years, dumping them gleefully into a trash bag. I feel the same zeal throwing out wrong words, lackluster prose, awkward construction, straightening and polishing all my verbal disarray as I do with discarding the junk in the closet.  Closets need rearranging and so do sentences and paragraphs,  scenes and sections of dialogue. This is no longer work for me but play.

The tapes of our mothers play in our head long after they have died. This one, A place for everything and everything in its place, plays for me whenever I clean out the closet or finish revising a piece of writing. Some tasks we do because we have to and some tasks because we love to do them. The transition from disliking revision to loving it was subtle, unconscious, built up through time and habit just as my awareness grew as I aged that I had absorbed the repeated refrains of my mother until they no longer rang like the stale wisdom of my elders.


As I revise my latest novel, The Wheels of Being, I marvel at how revision has now become my favorite stage in the writing process. I am on a search and destroy mission to root out any weak element. Aha, I found a clunky word!  Kill it. This is a muddled passage. Clarify. Expand. Smooth.  This is worn out; this has a hole in it. Trash or patch, which one? I am really enjoying this stage. After all these years, am I finally practicing what I preach? It seems so. Even better, I am thoroughly enjoying it. It feels like a walk in the woods or riding a bike. It’s fun!

I Am a Longhand Reactionary

Ever since I purchased my first computer, an Apple IIe in 1984, I have mostly composed using a word processing program. I have taken a 180 degree turn and regressed to the pen and yellow legal pad form of composition.  I made the interesting discovery that the flow of a pen actually aids rather than hinders my flow of thought. I write more freely. The cursive handwriting connects me in some intangible way with the creative process.  The movement of my hand seems to permit prolixity and to prevent censorship of ideas at this stage of the writing. Freedom to entertain any thought is desirable in the first draft.  In later drafts the grammar police and style director can assume control.

Writing in longhand produced another side benefit. In transcribing my handwritten draft into my Word document, I revised and edited as I typed, resulting in a second draft.  The printed effect on the computer screen projects the illusion of a finished draft or print-ready copy–very deceptive impression when it in fact needs more careful reading and rewriting. A draft on a yellow pad gives no such illusion. Scratch-outs, arrows and sloppiness beg for cleaning up and smoothing of sentences and paragraphs. Oversights, defects in tone and voice, lackluster prose, clunky phrases and anachronisms stick out like the thistles and weeds they are. New or better ideas occur while typing the longhand into a Word document.

So I am a throwback to the Middle Ages. Maybe not exactly Heloise bent over her escritoire with quill and parchment, but the ball pen and yellow legal pad serve me as well as it did  for her writing love letters to Abelard. Keyboard pecking or moving a pen across paper is a matter of taste.  Styles sometimes do come back into fashion.  The advantages that I discovered writing a first draft in longhand did change my style of composition. This long-hand writing reactionary likes the benefits she sees in her current work in progress.

Virtues of Walking

Today I was reminded of the virtues of walking. Spring was late in coming to my neck of the woods, and here it is officially summer. Warmer and sunnier thankfully today, I walked and thought. Walking is conducive to thinking. I mostly thought about the novel I am writing. I take my walk after two hours of writing, which usually is the most I do at one sitting. I do not get so much thinking done in any other activity. Washing dishes, vacuuming, pulling weeds, any other physical activity do not produce the same results. The combination of fresh air, sun, trees, birds, and sky possess something inherently thought-provoking for me.

In my walk, I worked out many details of my story. Ideas came left and right on how I could improve or change words, sentences and paragraphs. When I arrived home, I was well-satisfied in body and soul. I immediately resumed my writing to add the ideas that had occurred to me during my walk, and I wrote an hour more before stopping.  Beyond the thoughts the walk produced; I was energized, refreshed and stimulated.  The best remedy for a roadblock in your writing is to take to the road. Walk outdoors. Solutions for that troublesome spot suddenly come to mind on a walk.

Walking’s ability to rejuvenate seems to derive from its leisurely pace. Objects do not speed by so fast as to make close observation and contemplation of them impossible. The walker can absorb the scenery.  I don’t have to huff and puff, sweat and strain with some misbegotten notion that I am molding a plump body into  perfect shape, but just relax, breath in the fresh air, and take in the sights. Walking is different from hiking. In hiking I think of climbing a steep slope, exerting myself to reach a certain height. I don’t want to climb steep grades. I want to think and to see and not to hear myself gasping to go a few feet higher up an elevation gain. I’ve done that and it has done little for my writing productivity.  But walking has enlarged my imagination and has inspired me to maintain a disciplined writing schedule.