Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Spinning Away

Writers are like spiders, in that we are constantly producing and spinning and weaving our words into stories, something we hope will catch a reader or two and give us a reason to keep spinning.

The last couple of days I've been alternately nursing my daughter through the flu, trying to make this new proposal shine, and working on a quilt guild challenge. Add to that taking care of the puppy, the housework, and dealing with NY. If I'm not doing ten things at once I'm not happy, but this was not the time I needed a couple of characters with unfinished business to come and bug me.

So of course they did.

If you don't recognize them, they're Kyan and Melanie from Twilight Fall. They decided to pop into my head at three a.m. while I was giving the daughter her meds. They had this wonderful idea for me to go in and get on the computer and write about them until I toppled over from exhaustion. They do this because they're characters, they don't live in the real world, and they never have to get up at 6 a.m. to walk the pup, make breakfast, pack lunches and get everyone healthy up and off to work and school.

I might be able to get around to exploring more about these two later this year, but I've already committed myself to the Chrysalis project, and I have another print book to finish before I can even start that. Simply put, I would love to write more about Kyan and Mel, but I don't have time for them right now. It's not their turn and they have to wait.

I didn't force them out of my thoughts; that never works. Instead I outlined a few new notes, added that to their existing file, and mentally promised them they'd get their turn eventually. They followed me to bed but by then I was able to shove them back into my subconscious or whatever place characters go when we're not writing them and got a couple hours of sleep.

I like to finish what I start, and I think the characters who try to railroad me into writing in the middle of the night know this. What I know is if I jot down the important points of whatever new idea they bring to me, I purge that creative urgency that can be so disruptive (and, at times, actually harmful) to a writer's real life.

Like the spider's web, what we spin is beautiful to us, and those gleaming bright threads of new ideas can be very distracting. If we go running off in all directions to chase this thread or that, we don't really build anything, or we end up hopeless entangled in our own creativity. That's why it's important to me to finish what I start, so at the end of the day I have something to show for all this spinning I do.

How do you handle those characters with their bright, shiny, distracting ideas when they come for you in the middle of the night? Let us know in comments.

Falling cover art photo credit: Geo Martinez


  1. I do the same thing you do: I take notes for later. I'm an obsessive outliner with my stories anyway, so taking notes allows me to remember my ideas for later, map out whether a certain plot direction is best, as well as purging some of that creative urgency so I can funnel my energy where it needs to go instead of letting it leak into a million places at once (which would prevent me from ever getting anything done).

  2. I am not a writer of books, but I do get plague-y nagging thoughts and ideas for my blog, or work projects or craft or gift ideas. I can't sleep or do anything else until I get those thoughts down on paper. They will nag me like a plane flying over head with a message dragging behind it.
    Once I get the gist down on paper I can get on with my life and prioritize as I need to. Until then? Ack! I've learned to give in sooner than later and save myself some wear and tear.

  3. I KNOW the shiny new idea will tarnish as soon as I get my fingers on it, but every time I am suckered anew. Writing down a few notes seems to take the edge off.

    I haven't tried putting a face on the new idea as you've done. Doesn't that make you itch more to get to it?

  4. YES! Oh, I was hoping for more Kyan and Melanie.

    I do about what you do; write down the story notes, any bits of dialog, scene notes, whatever's in my head, and save the file. Works!

  5. I think your characters were kind to come visit you. Their timing could have been better, but maybe not.

    This wonderful experience has happened to me, so often that I've come to rely on it. Having a shiny new story waiting in the wings helps me finish the current story.

    Until the germ of the next story is there, I'm a little bit afraid to finish the current one. I worry that I'll never find another story idea as good as the WIP. As silly as this fear is, it's also very real.

    Besides, having that shiny new one just off stage is a huge motiviation to hurry up and finish the current work. It's a win-win.

    So, even though it happened at 3:00, in the midst of a whirlwind, this visit from the muses was a blessing.

  6. Anonymous8:22 AM

    I write and write when those ideas come, and don't let up until they do. Which means that I have a lot of unfinished projects around.

    By the way, that is a gorgeous quilt, with absolutely lovely detailing. Is that your work?

  7. I do the same thing - either write the high points down in a notebook, or electronically in my file of Random Stuff. Sometimes I jot down a whole scene, complete with dialog, but more often than not it's just an outline of the plot idea, character motivations, emotional ramifications, prerequisites, etc.

  8. It's refreshing to know that other writers have this problem. I have more "starts" than I can count because a new idea captures my attention and I simply can't focus until I give it some time. I try hard to do this purge - to jot down all of the thoughts crowding my brain so I can be assured I won't forget anything, then I try to return to the work at hand. I confess that this is often very hard for me to do, and I struggle with this problem a lot.

  9. Anonymous11:52 AM

    I'd like to say i ignore them, but I'd be lying. :OP

    So I pretty much just jot down enough notes to hopefully hold me over so i can sleep.

  10. Anonymous1:42 PM

    How do I deal with them? Very, very badly. :P I jump in and write as much of it down as I can until ideas stop coming. usually, that means writing several scenes, outlines...everything i can. usually, that means That whatever else I'm working on at the time has to move over for a while. So yeah. I have countless stories lying around just waiting for the time to actually write them. :P Never happens though. maybe when i retire...:P

  11. Lynn, I want to know too. Is that your work? The quilting?

    I keep a notepad and paper on the nightstand and can usually get away with jotting a few notes, though I finally had to break down and get a tiny (really tiny) battery operated booklight (I do have one that plugs in, but it's still pretty bright) to clip on the notebook because I would get my ideas down and then not be able to read my own writing the next morning because they'd all been done in the dark!

    WOW! Long sentence there! :P

    Anyway, I have tons of story starts to use. I just need to get through these winter blahs because I haven't felt much like writing anything at all this past two months or so.

  12. Anonymous5:15 PM

    I'm torn between several stories right now myself. I need to focus on one, but the more I devote my attention to it, the more the other stories really jump up and demand attention, now, like my dog when I'm on the phone. I give in and have to write it all down, or risk losing the ideas and images.

    I love the spider on the quilt.

  13. I use yWriter so its pretty easy to write out a scene and save it for a later project. If the details are not worthy of a scene, I just jot those down.

    I hate it when I wake up from a deep sleep after having a vivid dream and just "have" the story ready to go. So annoying.

    But one of those dreams just developed into a flash story that was just accepted into anthology.

    The voices in my head do annoy me, but at least they develop into entertaining stories.

  14. I have the same problem. If I only had your talent. It seems my muse always waits till near dawn to strike.
    I am looking forward to reading about Kyan and Melanie when/if you do settle down and write about them.

    Hi, my name is Rose and Im addicted to the Darkyn series....

  15. Sorry I've not gotten to comments yet, guys. My little girl is home with the flu, and I've been offline trying to keep her cool and hydrated. Always fun when they're teenagers or toddlers.

    Jessa wrote: I haven't tried putting a face on the new idea as you've done. Doesn't that make you itch more to get to it?

    Most of the time I do body model reference sketches or put photos from magazines or online sources into the file for future reference that are easy to set aside. It's very rare that I find an image as eerily close as the photo I used for Kyan and Mel's cover. The guy looks similar to my vision of Kyan but it's the girl who is the perfect Melanie. And they're also posed exactly right. When you find a gem that suits your story that well, you grab it -- and it only took me about three minutes to make it into cover art. :)

    Marjorie wrote: By the way, that is a gorgeous quilt, with absolutely lovely detailing. Is that your work?

    Thank you, ma'am, and yes, this is from one of my quilts. It's not finished, but I thought the spider and web came out pretty decent.

    Theo wrote: I keep a notepad and paper on the nightstand and can usually get away with jotting a few notes...

    Oh, thank you, Theo, you've just confirmed I'm not the only writer who does this. I keep a dream journal and a voice recorder on my nightstand, and everyone thinks this is crazy. Which it probably is, but we'll be crazy together. ;)

    Rhiannon, congrats on the sale of the flash story. A great reason not to resist those three a.m. writing calls all the time. :)

    Rose wrote: Hi, my name is Rose and Im addicted to the Darkyn series....

    It's okay, Rose, you're among friends here. :)

  16. Hey! I'm honored to be in such 'crazy' company! :)

    I have to do it that way. I can't remember things so if I don't write them down the minute they pop up, they disappear into that black hole that used to be a brain.

  17. My charactors will come out when I'm sleeping, keeping paper and pencil next to the bed is a great idea, that way I could get everything out of my head before it goes up in smoke.
    I have two main stories I am working on but last night up popped a third and I had a much easier time writing it out than with the other two. Do you think I should shelve the other two and work on this one?

  18. I love crazy quilts haven't done one in a while. Your work is gorgeous.

    I too am plagued by late night visits from my characters. One became such a nuisance I wound up putting him in the book I was working on because he got on my nerves so badly.

    I keep an idea file and jot down the notes, much as you do. That seems to work best to quiet them down. If a scene comes to me I put it in my snippet file for that particular book. More than once I've had enough snippets for an entire book.

  19. I'm truly, absolutely horrible to my characters. I know it, and it's backfired on me a couple times when I feel like I'll never have another idea, but I always do anyway.

    Basically, if I don't have time and the story does not arrive in full form (if it does, I write a working synopsis), I tell it to come back when it's ready to be written and go about my merry way.

    This hasn't worked well with what I call midnight inspirations. Those are always short stories and best if I just get up and write the darn things. Even if I jot down notes, the story when I write it is noticeably less sharp than it could have been (compared to other midnight inspiration stories that I did write), but sometimes sleep comes first.

  20. Dont really have a plan for those 3am ideas. They just keep me awake. Then the next evening when I have the time to write, kids in bed (but not tonight, 4.75 year old having her first sleep over!), house fairly tidy, husband walking the dog. You know the time when you have a little peace. But then I cant think cos I am so tired from being up at 3am the previous night. Which brings me to my musings last night. Had an idea about Robin and Chris, now they are mortal. I have a disabled daughter and want to include in my writing the difficulties of raising such a child. But not through want of complaining but to show the world that we too can have adventures and fun, not always the single 30 something career girls. Thats when Robin reared his beuatiful face, he and Chris could have a disabled child and the Darkyn would not be able to fix her/him. How would they cope? Then Chris could get cancer and one could go through the thoughts of Robin caring for her. Not an easy task either. Then Robin could get alzheimers and we could see how the community copes with that. I will write these ideas into my own stories (obviously with my own characters) but ... Oh And have you read Nalini Singh's Angels Blood yet. Bloody Brilliant. Sorry Robin my heart now belongs to an Angel beginning with R. Sorry Lynn, Allegiences going elsewhere. Especially if your characters keep me awake again!!! :-)


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