Thursday, April 02, 2009

Chasing the Dragon

I once worked with a heroin addict (clean for many years, but he taught me that to say "former addict" is incorrect) who told me that the first experience of heroin is the best. Junkies, he said, are always chasing that ephemeral first time, which will never occur again.

Writing is like that. The first time I hit the zone--that state in which a scene unfurls seemingly with no effort, in which the characters take on life and act with no regard for the author's preconceived ideas, the state in which (as one author once put it) the writer seems to be taking dictation from God himself--I was hooked. Entirely and forever. That first experience was long before I began writing novels, long before I could reliably write even two pages a week for my writing class. But from that day to this, every time I sit down at the computer, I hope that lightning will strike.

It usually doesn’t. But the promise of it always brings me back. Because unlike heroin, the first time for writers is not the only time. Who knows what the zone really is--self hypnosis? Endorphin rush? Whatever brain chemistry is percolating (biologist geek that I am, I'm certain that some physiologic process is involved) the zone is, for me, one of the strongest lures of writing.

This is how I chase the writing dragon: Unfold the scene, starting with the light. I read that once in an author interview, although I can't remember who--Anita Shreve, maybe. Imagine the light in the scene first, she said. How bright it is, where it’s coming from.

Then the sounds. Scents. The touch of upholstery, the humidity in the air. See the characters, set them moving, set them talking. Set a spark, see if it catches. Get it all down. If the zone starts rockin', hallelujah and roll with it. If not, then slog on. The dragon waits to be caught...

...if not today, then surely tomorrow.

7 comments:

Melissa Marsh said...

Great post, Christine. I think I'm addicted to that aspect of writing, too. I love it when I get lost in "flow" and everything just pours out of me. Natural high at its best.

Sally Nemeth said...

Yo tambien.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Man I love that zone. 3 hours later and looking up and you can't believe 3 hours has passed. Wasn't it just a few minutes ago you started? Mmmmm... I'm gonna start a new project in a month or so. Can't wait to chase that dragon again. :)

lkmadigan said...

*leaves dragon puffing gently to comment here*

Yes.

Yes I said yes.

The Flow.

Christine Fletcher said...

Thanks, everyone--glad to know I'm not the only "addict" around!

Lisa Nowak said...

It's been too long. Far, far too long.

Jaz said...

No drug other than crack is as addictive as heroin. So kicking a heroin addiction is almost impossible to do alone. If you are addicted to heroin you really need to seek out the help of a heroin treatment center.