Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Writing Frame of Mind

I appreciate Anne Lamott’s advice and Patti’s candor in challenging us to remain inspired and in the writing frame of mind. It’s imperative to keep a notebook nearby. I’ve written before about my handy-dandy notepad that lights up when I pull out the pen. It’s great for those ideas that come at the edge of twilight sleep. I keep a journal with me for my current WIP with lots of lined pages for jotting down ideas as they come and space to stuff a timeline & photos of the characters. It’s messy – I don’t encumber the flow with neatness or organization, except that I may have tabs for setting, characters and plot. I’m the only one who sees the jumble of illegible words. Unfortunately, for me inspiration never comes when I’m sitting with my notebook in my lap drumming my fingers on the table.

You can’t look at inspiration straight on, as Ray Bradbury points out. “It isn’t easy. Nobody has ever done it consistently. Those who try hardest, scare it off into the woods. Those who turn their backs and saunter along, whistling softly between their teeth, hear it treading quietly behind them, lured by a carefully acquired disdain.” (Zen in the Art of Writing) It’s a bit like love. You can do your best to cultivate the possibility but you can’t make it happen.

I hear where Patti’s coming from. I hate to admit it, but pain is a great leveler. So is the realization of your own mortality. I bumped up against both about 13 years ago when I underwent treatment for breast cancer. There were no instructions. Like Patti, I had to look away from the woman I was at times, but through the process I learned to cut myself some slack. And I knew, overwhelmingly, that God cut me slack, too. Every day. So that not long after, there was a very grumpy man in front of me in the grocery check-out who left a bad impression on the checker. After he left, she made a comment, and without thinking, I said, “Maybe he’s in pain.” Did I have insight into his frame of mind or was he really just an old sourpuss? Who knows? But the next time I write about a sourpuss I can dust it with compassion.

I like to think of myself as observant, but I climbed the front steps yesterday without even noticing that the yard had been mowed and the hedges trimmed while I was at work. My husband shakes his head at me sometimes. I was probably wondering what was thawed for dinner as I crossed the threshold, or whether he’d thought to pick up cat litter. The pressures of everyday life can fit me with blinders and prevent me from being present in the moment. And writing in snatches and stolen moments makes it difficult to look outward and stay in the writing frame of mind. But if I ‘steal’ those moments at the same time every day, I train my creativity to click on at that time. If I park myself on a bench at lunch, I can sharpen my observation skills on the people who wander past.

What have you found that cultivates your creativity and helps you stay in the writing frame of mind? We’d love to hear!


Anonymous said...

This has been a roller coaster struggle all my writing life. I have a button I picked up at a Screenwriting Expo that says "Day jobs suck"--and that's what most of my creativity is sacrificed to.

Still, you have to make it work, however, whenever you can in those snatches each day.

I often have paper with me, but not always, but will call myself and leave a msg when inspiration strikes, or send myself an email.

I just recently moved and bought a new shower curtain. It has 10 clear pockets on the outside curtain so I hung the curtain face out and printed out one sentence or phrase on small pieces of paper that encapsulated the 18 novel concepts I want to write. I placed them in ziploc baggies to prevent moisture and put them in each of the 10 shower curtain pockets. So each time I'm in the bathroom, I'm reminded of why I'm striving to maintain that creativity and make forward progress.

That and trying to discipline myself to write unfailingly 5-6 days a week, even if I can only write one sentence. I firmly believe that creativity is improved by writing every day--by keeping that story thread moving forward in your mind. But goodness, it's one of the hardest lessons to get through my thick skull.

BK Jackson

Wendy Paine Miller said...

"You can do your best to cultivate the possibility but you can’t make it happen."

Some real quotables in here!

I paint. I run. I read.

And I also, in my own cheesy right, buy a cute journal for each novel I work on and write anything I want it in related to the work.

As you mentioned, I look at folks with compassionate eyes. That dusting can be so beautiful in books!

~ Wendy

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

BK, I sympathize with the day job. Mine drains creativity, too. It's not the kind of job that I can turn off when I leave the office, but I'm learning to. Your shower curtain system is a great idea. Hope it works for you!
Wendy, I have several virgin journals waiting and hope I come up story ideas worthy of them. I had to stop buying them because it became intimidating to have so many lined up empty. : )

Kathleen Popa said...

Debbie, I love your idea of compassionate writing. I wonder, wouldn't that be the opposite of simplistic writing?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

If I'm not reading enough my creativity suffers. I try to keep my nose in a book, blog post, newspaper whenever I'm able.

The idea of looking into the pain of others is great. I find that fuels much of my writing (particularly on my blog). I just wonder about people's inner workings.

Megan Sayer said...

There's something about pain - not only physical pain - that's a great catalyst for change as well. People respond in the most extraordinary ways to pain, and it's when they are often at their most rich and raw and surprising!
Thar last comment probably sounds like a very clinical observation, it's a writerly and readerly observation, although it's been useful - like you say - in finding compassion for people who are acting strangely or unpredictably.
Kathleen I think you're absolutely right - to write stories without compassion is to write simplistic, throw-away stories. I'd rather wrestle with a difficult situation in a book any day - I can't read for escapism, I read because characters in books illustrate me and the people around me in ways I wouldn't be aware of otherwise.