Imagination doesn't just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving [problems] or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. [Some people] would call this escapism, but they would be be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful branch of writing there is.
--Diana Wynne Jones

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I thought of that while riding my bike"

Some thoughts on how I write:

I'm inspired by early morning and sundown--those times when the air changes color--also rain, snow, and fog. It must be the mystical mist. Or maybe it's just that when the world takes on a different look, it's easy to imagine that it's not its own usual self. And that flips on the story-making switch somewhere inside my head.

A lot of my ideas come when I'm doing something else--hiking, walking the dog, sweeping the floor. My favorite Albert Einstein quote, on his Theory of Relativity: "I thought of that while riding my bike." Some of my best brainstorms, too, (nothing so huge as Relativity) strike while I'm peddling up the canyon on my bicycle. Right on. Me and Al.

Still, I don't get a lot of ideas away from the computer without putting in the hours in front of the screen. Here's another quote I like, by Hemingway, I think: "I never write unless I am inspired. Luckily, I am inspired every morning at eight." I need big blocks of time to get my mind into my work, and I need to write often, daily, or I lose momentum. I'd put in fourteen-hour days when I'm in the middle of a project if I could get away with it. Interruptions drive me crazy.

Outline vs. organic? I've sort of tried to write from outlines (not very hard. I don't believe in it), and it doesn't work. I often have an idea of where I want the story to go, but the story usually ends up telling me, sometimes against my will. If you take characters you know well and plop them in a certain setting with a particular set of circumstances, they will behave a certain way, and the story goes where it must, given the parameters. When I get stuck, I try to remember to ask myself, "what would this character do in this situation?" And then I have to write the truth. Sometimes that gets me into trouble. I'll go around for days without any clue how I'm going to rescue my characters. And then I'll get on my bike and halfway up a hill the answer will come. And then sometimes I really don't know what the truth is and I have to zone out for awhile trying to listen to what Ann Lamott calls my inner "broccoli." Hopefully, the broccoli speaks.

My essential tool is the laptop, which I use mostly at home, and bring along with me to those doctor appointments where you sit around waiting for hours.

Receptionist: (fake sympathetic smile)I'm so sorry, but the doctor is running behind today.
Me: (genuine smile) No problem. Type, type, type, type.

My second-most-essential tool is a little notebook with a pen stuck in the spiral top. I carry it everywhere I go. In the summer when kids are out of school, I sit in a deck-chair at the public pool and write scenes while I watch my kids swim. They're happy; I'm happy.

How do I write and still take care of five kids? I go to the pool a lot. My kids are pretty big, most of them. One is out of the house. I write when they're at school. I write at midnight waiting for teenagers to come home. I write at three am during vacations. I let go everything that's less than essential. My house is a disaster. I could really use a maid and a cook. We struggle along somehow. I think it's good for my family to realize I don't have any more time than they do to take care of the house. But my family's real needs always trump writing. When kids come home from school, I try to make myself put away the computer and focus on them, talk to them, help with homework, steer them toward the healthier snacks, and sometimes, like tonight, I even cook them dinner.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hopkins and me

I've discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins feels the same way I do about thrushes. He very kindly wrote me some thrush-themed lines of poetry 120 years or so in advance to go along with my book, Thrushbeard.

Here it is, an excerpt from "Spring," by Hopkins:

"Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing..."

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