Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The ephemeral nature of writing time. Or “Stuff Happens”.

Barbara here. There are times in a writer’s life when events conspire to defeat us. It could be job commitments, or visiting relatives, or that summer dinner party that seems to be days in the planning. When writing that all-consuming first draft, momentum and continuity are important. I am currently writing the first draft of the ninth Inspector Green novel, entitled THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS, and it is proving especially difficult because there is so much I don’t’ know. So the momentum itself is constantly being interrupted as I flip through reference books or run endless Google searches, particularly for pictures of the things I am trying to describe. Unfortunately my old stand-bys – Google street view and satellite view – don’t work in the far north where much of the story is set. So in order to maintain my momentum, I leave blanks or make things up, to be verified later once the first draft is done.

This past week, however, lots of things have happened to take me from my writing. Most of them have been wonderful, like cottage visits with my children and my 92 year-old mother. Whenever I found myself stressing over the neglected first draft, I asked myself – isn’t a writer entitled to a holiday too? What is life worth, if there is not time for those distractions?

Some distractions, like the dog with the ball in my picture, or the call of a loon on the lake, are fleeting and fun, meant to bring a smile and a sense of calm and balance to the creative process.

Some distractions, however, I can do without. This morning I nearly set the cottage on fire trying to cook some bacon in the broiler, and it took much of the day to clean up the aftermath. Those chemical fire extinguishers make an awful mess! On the plus side, no one was injured and the only casualty was an aging stove in that “almond white” colour popular in the early 1970s, which was well past its due date and had no self-cleaning capabilities. It will not be mourned.

But my writing day was shot. That scene I’ve been working on in fits and starts for a week, will have to wait another day. This blog too has suffered. It’s being written at the eleventh hour, after two soothing glasses of wine, and it is likely barely coherent. But at least it’s getting written, because unlike my wretched novel, its deadline is tonight at midnight. And it’s a lot easier to spin out a 500-word blog during the lazy, wine-soaked days of summer, than it is to write an intense and riveting scene for a novel.

I could say that even though I haven’t put pen to paper on the novel, I have been working on it in my head. That is often half the work – figuring out next steps, untangling plot problems or fleshing out characters while taking the dogs for walks, emptying the dishwasher, or twiddling my thumbs in rush hour traffic. But the truth is, that takes mental focus, something in short supply when a dinner party needs planning or the cottage is burning down. No, for today I had just better give up the hope of a coherent string of thoughts.

Maybe tomorrow?


Susan Russo Anderson said...

Thanks for the post, Barbara. I so identify with the feeling of being scattered.

Hannah Dennison said...

I love this post Barbara. I COMPLETELY identify with the challenge of that first draft. I'm in the same boat - literally and yes, you are right, it's about keeping the momentum going in the face of life's interruptions. I think writing the first draft is the same as seeding a new lawn. Every day we have to water it - just a little bit for it to grow. I also think that even if life steps in (the fire incident!) our subconscious is still noodling away. First drafts are AWFUL. But when it's done ....

Donis Casey said...

It's nice to know I'm not alone, though I shouldn't love your pain, I know. Realizing that others suffer the same slings and arrows does keep me from throwing myself under a train.