Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lightning Strike

Most days, writing feels like a whole lot of heavy lifting. Write a sentence. Delete it. Write a slightly different one. Delete that. Put the scene together, bit by bit. The character enters, and…then what? She looks around, oh, that’s good. And sees…what? OK, think about where she is. What does it look like? Sounds? Smells? What is she feeling? For that matter, why is she there at all?

*Sigh* Delete paragraph. Start over.

But then—sometimes—lightning strikes.

It happened last week. I’d already written one partial scene that didn’t work. I went back to my notebook, scribbled some thoughts, drew arrows from one note to another. (Drawing arrows always makes it seem like I’m in charge. Like I know what I’m doing. It’s an illusion…but one I cling to).

I started the scene again. And this time…it flowed.

Some people call it being in the zone. Some people call it the Muse. I call it Thank you, God, and I write as fast as I can. Don't stop to look stuff up. A character needed a French surname; I threw together a bunch of letters ending in "ier." Fix later. Write now.

When lightning strikes, the characters take on life. They’re no longer mannequins, waiting for my direction. Instead, they’re moving, talking, acting, often with no regard for my original intentions for them. I feel like a reporter, looking through the characters’ eyes, feeling what they feel, scribbling down everything. The internal editor stops squawking (awkward sentence! bad phrasing! how run-on can you get?) and quiets to a hum, reaching in only now and then for a fast tweak. The scene unfolds; new people appear; characters say and do things I didn’t anticipate. It’s like watching a movie for the first time, with all the surprise and delight of the unexpected. I’m no longer eyeing the clock on my computer taskbar, wondering when I can legitimately take a break for lunch… check the mail…move laundry. I get hungry, but the scene isn’t stopping, I can see what’s coming around the corner, let me get just this bit down and then I’ll go eat.

The scene comes to a close. Last sentence, final period. I stretch, and the animals leap to their feet. It’s past their dinnertime. I never stopped for lunch. Wet laundry is still in the washer, the mail is still in the box. My shoulders ache, and I feel a little buzzed, a little disoriented. I’ve just spent ten hours in an upscale department store salon in 1944. My kitchen in 2008 seems strange. I find myself looking at a can of cat food like I’ve never seen it before.

I feel fantastic.

All the writers I know live for days like this. They don’t come often. The only way we know to make them appear is to do the days and weeks of heavy lifting. If you choose not to write until the lightning comes...well, you’ll be waiting a long time.

Sure enough, since that one great day, it’s been nothing but more heavy lifting. That’s OK. The lightning has struck, for the first time, in this newest novel. It’ll strike again.

We’re on our way.

7 comments:

Diane P said...

Have you heard about the Kiddie Lit conference in Portland in Sept. Thought you might be interested.
http://kidlit08.blogspot.com/2008/05/getting-ball-rolling.html

Christine Fletcher said...

Diane, I hadn't heard about this--I checked out the blog and it looks like something I definitely want to be part of. (Plus, this year it's right here in town. What a bonus!) I work Fri/Sat, but if I can get the time off, I'll be there. Thanks for letting me know!

Walter Rowntree said...

As a reader, I sometimes fall into a part of a book and end up in 'the zone'. I read along without realizing I'm reading, I'm somewhere else, the pages turn without thought. No body, just story. At some point I realize I'm 40 pages past where I last noticed I was.
I wonder if these moments (rare, and wonderful) are from reading what coincides with what the author wrote while in 'the zone'.
There were several passages in Ten Cents a Dance that were like this for me.

Melissa Marsh said...

You captured this feeling perfectly. I long for the times when I can be in "flow" when I'm writing. But lately, it's been a lot of heavy lifting and I'm getting heartily sick of it. Still, nothing to do but plow through it and wait for the inspiration to strike again. :-)

Christine Fletcher said...

Walter, I've often wondered if parts of a book written in the "zone" are the same parts read in the "zone." I do know that if the writer is never surprised by what happens, then the reader probably won't be, either...so maybe there's something to that.

Good luck with the lifting, Melissa! Sometimes it feels like an exercise in faith...May the Muse visit you soon!

Marie said...

Christine--It's great to read about your continued success, and to read about your challenges and triumphs with books 2 and 3. I'm looking at the start of book 2 and, well, I'm up for it. But it can be daunting to begin again--this time, with people watching.

Christine Fletcher said...

Marie, I find starting a new book to be daunting, too...I think because I know now how many dead ends I'm likely to run into, not to mention frustration and just plain hard work. :) And yeah, knowing that this time, there are people waiting for it. (yikes!) Still, the good writing days more than make up for all that.

Thanks for reading the blog, and good luck with your book #2!