Friday, June 22, 2012

Wandering for the Well

After two months of working sixteen hour days to finish up the Lords of the Darkyn trilogy, outline some new proposals, deal with family dropping in, the computer crashing, the nesting dove dive-bombing anyone who came near the front door and various and sundry other domestic crises, I needed a day off. Mostly I needed to shut off the computer, turn off the phones and leave the house so I could reset my head, recharge my batteries and restock the well.

You know that term writers always use for random inspiration: everything is grist for the mill? That one has never worked for me because as demanding as writing can be, the inspiration for it has never been grinding or crushing. It flows, like water from the world to a fountain within. My creativity also feeds itself, in the same way a fountain works. I get a rush of ideas, I pour them out, they pool and percolate and recirculate and then pour out into another rush of new ideas. As a storyteller I'm never finished, not really. One thing always leads to another, and even when I'm ending one thing there's already something else in the works or brewing or that I'm prepared to begin. I don't question or mess with this because it's my natural process and frankly I don't want to jinx it.

My well has never run dry, but it does work overtime and every now and then it needs repriming. I get bored and I need something fresh to add to the waters. Going out into the world and searching for it is fun and keeps me from becoming stagnant. I also have a proposal that I need to finalize and get to the agent, one that I wanted to let percolate. So when I decided to take my day off, I grabbed my kid and we spent a day out together shopping and hanging out and generally wandering around doing nothing in particular.

When you open yourself up to the universe of possibility around you, wherever you are, you'll find inspiration. Mine came in the form of a little out of the way park where we spotted this interesting tree. It was huge, old, and appeared to be engaged in a battle with some sort of vine. I'm not an expert, but I think the vine already lost, because when we walked up to it the vine appeared dead, and the tree looked pretty smug.

While I was taking photographs from different angles, my daughter noticed something, and called me over. There was a short length of rusty chain embedded in the trunk of the tree. The chain was on the road side of the tree, and there were no other trees nearby, so it couldn't have been from a hammock. I didn't think anyone heartless enough to chain some poor pup to the tree would do so within a few feet of a road, either. The chain was an interesting mystery, especially because it looked like there might be more of it inside the tree -- and as I thought that, I thought of the proposal idea, and how I could use the ideas from the tree to cement one side of the story.

From there we walked through the park, where we came across several signs warning us of low-flying hawks. I've never seen a warning sign for birds, so this tickled me. I want one for my dove now. And sure enough, as we made our way along the walk we saw a beautiful hawk soar over our heads, and paused to listen to its piercing call. Why were the hawk and his pals hanging out in this pristine, pretty little park? What if it had something to do with that old warrior tree? And in my head, another side of the story idea went from slightly muddled to almost painfully clear.

A few minutes later we came upon a sudden burst of bleeding heart vines, all tangled up with the otherwise politely manicured landscaping:

The splash of color and the chaos of blooms brought me to a standstill. Unless he was lousy at his job, the groundskeeper couldn't have planted them like that, not with everything else so perfectly arranged and trimmed. Seeing this beautiful, delicate thing growing wild twined itself around the third and final side of the story triad I'd been unhappy with, and the proposal crystallized. If I'd had a computer with me, I could have written it right there and e-mailed it off to New York.

The rush of all these new ideas tempted me to tackle one final problem I'd been having with the proposal, namely the series title. I've been tinkering endless with that, and I came up with one that was almost, but not quite, fitting. It's a single word, I coined it myself, and it names the universe, the storyline, the setting, the characters, the whole shebang -- almost.

Even as great as my day had been going, I wasn't getting my hopes up. I'd spent almost a month hammering away at that title, and I'd been so close to nailing it that I could practically feel the right version of it hovering in the back of my head. I felt like I was pushing it, too -- I'd gotten plenty for the well and my story from the tree and the hawk and the flower, but to expect the universe to hand me the perfect series title during my day off? That was never going to happen. Never. Never.

And then, just like that, I had the title.

Tomorrow I'm going to clean my house, catch up on laundry, spend time with my family, and not rush to the keyboard to type up everything in my head. It's tempting, believe me, but it's also foolish to rush the rush. The well is definitely refreshed, and ready to pour itself out on the page, but all the new ideas need time to cascade and pool and percolate and cycle through a few times. I do, too. I want to spend a few days resting and relaxing and wondering a bit more. The well isn't going anywhere, and neither am I.


  1. That happened to me! I had a series planned, the outlines done, and the names sorted. It's about a rock band, so I even had the name of the band. But not the series. Then I took time out, and I built a twelfth scale conservatory. I concentrated so much on working out how I should paint the bricks (I have a lot of photographs of bricks and brick walls on my computer now!) and the series title just arrived.
    And I got a contract.

  2. What a great post! The description/story with each photo was terrific--and I loved the photos! Wonderful you've refreshed the well (your readers are happy, too!)

    For days I've been struggling with a title for a novella. I just can't get it. Two words, that's all I need, just two tiny, simple words...sigh.

  3. Oh, fantastic! So happy your proposal, title, etc. all came together. Sometimes you really do have to get up and go out to give your brain a chance to make the connections. Can't wait to hear what happens!

  4. I really enjoyed your post today! Thanks for continuing to share your writing process with us. I get a lot out of those posts, and am always motivated by your amazing productivity!

    I'm taking a day with my kids on Monday in the local botanical garden. I hope I am as fortunate in finding creative inspiration there.

  5. Thank you for this! I needed the reminder today. I'm in the middle of not only repriming my own writing well, but clearing out all the dead leaves that have collected over the past year of neglect. I needed te reminder that it's not going to happen overnight.

  6. dive bombing birds. squatter frogs. climbing snakes.

    the signs you'd have would be hilarious.

  7. I love the Low Flying Hawks sign. I want one! My ideas are popping in one after another. I start to write them out and I lose focus. Not quite back yet, I guess, but I'm on the mend. And your tree picture gave me a bit of an idea too...