Friday, October 12, 2012

On Patience and Typos

Rick's post this week reminded me of a conversation I had with another writer while I was at Bouchercon. We were discussing the research on how rituals (e.g., taking the dog for a walk) can be used to enhance creativity. During that conversation, I told the friend I was talking to about something that had happened the week before.  As I may have mentioned here, I need a title before I can really settle down to write anything – whether blog post, article, or book. Sometimes I can put off searching for the right title until I've worked my way through the research and rough outline part of the project. Other times, I'm just stuck and there's no help for it but to try to find a title. Successfully completing that process tells me what I'm writing about.

A couple of weeks ago, I had an idea for a short story set in 1955. The idea came in spurts and starts. It wasn't even clear to me why 1955 rather than 1945 or 1965. Then I remembered Emmett Till, the fourteen boy from Chicago, whose murder in Money, Mississippi and the acquittal of the two men who killed him had been a pivotal moment in the modern civil rights movement. That case was the starting point for the short story that I wanted to write. That was why 1955.

But no words were coming. So I turned to the task of finding a title for a story that I hadn't written. In fact, I obsessed over coming up with a title. I finally remembered the title of the first (still unpublished) mystery that I wrote – and that had nothing at all to do with the short story that I was writing. But the title was perfect. I went to my computer, opened a new document, and typed the title and my name. I was so pleased with myself that I called it a day – saved the page that was blank except for the title and my name – and went out to do an errand.

It was the next day, when I opened the document, that I saw what I had done. The last word in the title of my proposed short story was supposed to be “Due”. That was what I had intended to type. Instead, I had typed “Do”.

And the really fascinating part about how the brain – the subconscious – works is that in that second between seeing and recognizing my “typo” and deleting it, my brain realized that my mistake wasn't a mistake. The "Do" in the title completely changed the meaning. The title became a tongue-in-cheek pun. And the setting of the story, even the protagonist, was now right there in front of me.

And – believe it or not – that simple “typo” had suddenly put my writing universe in order. I have been bouncing back and forth, between past and present, in my Lizzie Stuart series. Lizzie is a crime historian. She does research on crimes in the past and in the process often finds herself dealing with crime in the present. I also have a short story set in 1946 and featuring her grandfather that I wrote for an anthology. And I have been working ever so slowly on a stand-alone set in 1939. And then there is the near-future police procedural set in Albany, New York in 2019 that will be out next year. First, I hope, in a second series. So past, present, future. Bouncing around.

But suddenly with that one “typo”, my subconscious seemed to have pulled it all together. After a half hour of scribbling on a yellow legal pad, I was calling myself “brilliant”.

Or, may be not…It feels right at gut level. It feels right when I outline it. But I need to talk it out with someone who is objective, who has a logical mind. So I'm going to invite a friend of mine, who is both a lawyer and a historian, out to dinner. I'll lay my idea out before her and have her “cross-examine” me about it. Then I'll be able to see if this will work.

Whether it's a good enough idea to truly bring order to my writing universe or only useful in finishing a short story, this experience does fit in with Rick's post about the value (virtue?) of patience for a writer. I have been waiting at least four or five years to learn the identity of my character Lizzie Stuart's father. She doesn't know. I didn't know. But I may now – or, at least, I know his background.

Wait and sometimes you do receive.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, I loved this post. My Alice in Wonderland approach to writing is totally creepy