Friday, May 11, 2012

Dry Places

I'm in a dry place at the moment, creatively speaking -- and pretty much every other way if I'm being honest. It's the Sahara of dry places to be more specific. I've been writing for 26 years, and in all that time I've never been without a story. Always, by the time I'm 2/3 of the way finished with a novel I'm writing I have another story emerging from my subconscious. I have to keep the new story at bay so that I can finish the work in progress. I don't silence the voices calling to me; I keep running notes of the emerging story, but I don't give in to the excitement of the new one until the old one is finished. And as you know, it is exciting to consider the possibilities of new characters, setting and plot. It would be easy to yield to the newness, certainly easier than pressing on with the current work, dealing with plot problems perhaps, and characters who won't cooperate.

That's where discipline comes into play. Where you make yourself keep at it until every loose end is resolved, every plot point completed, and you know in your heart you've done the best you could possibly do with the work at hand.

But for the first time in 26 years I've not had to restrain eager characters who can't wait for their story to be told. Yes, I have a new novel in mind, but I've had to dig deep for every idea, every character, every everything. And that's a little bit scary.

Why this dry place? Well, all 6 of us at Novel Matters are going through tough times. Illness, death, economic difficulties, publishing woes. We're all in a hard place. While I'd love to be delivered -- and eventually will be -- I've learned enough over the years to know I should pay attention while I'm in the pit. I need to keep a good record of my feelings, both bad and good: what that churning in my stomach is like in real words, or how a long sleepless night adds to the anguish of my situation; but also what soothes my soul in the midst of despair. Because those are the things, good and bad, that help me "show" and not "tell" which Bonnie wrote so beautifully about on Wednesday. I especially loved this paragraph:

Showing isn't really about an explanation of the action occurring in a novel --
it is an exploration of the people themselves. It is taking the characters, laying them flat and rolling, like a scroll, their essence. Recognizing the
inadequacy of our efforts, we, the writers, pull out what it is to experience
the story we are telling. We examine a facet here, an angle there, all the
while weeping for the parts we cannot tell within the limitations of the medium.

How I love that last line: "weeping for the parts we cannot tell within the limitations of the medium." And yet, because of our own experience, our extreme highs and desperate lows, we convey what there aren't enough pages to capture, sharing a sense of intimacy with those we'll never meet, because of story. If we do it right. It's that connection that gives me the greatest satisfaction as an author, the nearness that occurs between writer and reader, no matter the age difference or the physical distance that separates us.

That happened to me last week. I received an email from a woman who was reading Lying on Sunday. She told me how and why she related to that particular story, about laughing all by herself at 2:00 in the morning (on a work night!) as she read. She emailed me twice more as she made her way through the book, and said she'd love to have lunch with me because she knew we'd get along so well. She said we would probably laugh so hard they would kick us out of the restaurant. And that would be just the remedy for my dry soul. Too bad New Jersey is so far from California.

Laughing with friends is one way I survive in the Sahara. Music is another. Music touches me in those troubled places like little else. I suspect it touches you too. Here's one of my favorite songs to listen to when I need my soul to be soothed: Rescue by Jared Anderson. What's it like for you in those dry places, and what rescues you while you're there?


V. Gingerich said...

I see you know my Sahara.

But the best thing about Saharas is how icy the rivers, how lush the grasses, when you finally push through the dust and find those green spots again. It's worth the dessert, every time.

V. Gingerich said...


Megan Sayer said...

I understand those dry places. Especially when they're long, and you can't see the end in sight. None of it is easy.
But isn't it funny how we find ourselves writing about them, knowing that they'll be useful? It's like what Latayne said the other day about how writing redeems the loss of those precious times for us - it also gives us meaning in the hard ones. I found myself on my own in a hospital waiting room the other day with many more questions than I had answers, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: pulled out a notebook and started writing about it. It made the feelings useful.

Praying for you all tonight.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Time outside & time with God. Those are two of my biggest rescuers.
~ Wendy

Dina Sleiman said...

Long walks outside, dancing, cuddling my kids. After a long dry time, I'm finally seeing some welcome clouds on the horizon :)

Nicole said...

Prayer and tears. Tears and prayer. Telling the Lord to bring it because I must need it. Spiritual warfare.

Anonymous said...

Wanderer, thank you for the beautiful visual. I'm holding out for the oasis.

Megan, I pray all is well with you, but I know that you know nothing is wasted in God's economy. I'm reading your manuscript. Wow.

Wendy & Dina, amen! So glad for those clouds, Dina. Let it rain!!!!

Nicole, one of the things that means so much to me is that my tears mean enough to God that he saves them. Prayer and tears. Tears and prayer. Yes. Amen.

Patti Hill said...

When I'm trudging through a desert, I'm very much like the lost legionnaire putting one foot in front of the other, desperate to reach the oasis or the hills where water may seep in a ravine. I do what must and should be done, hoping that the small reward of accomplishment and/or obedience will accumulate into joy.

As a writer that means going to the computer and pounding the keys until I've met my daily word count.

Thanks for your lovely, honest, encouraging words, Sharon. I've purchased "Resucued" for my iPod. We'll sing it together the next time we meet.

Bonnie Grove said...

Can "next time we meet" be soon? Please?

Patti Hill said...

The sooner the better, honey!

Kathleen Popa said...

Sharon, what hope there is, in taking notes because one day this will all come in handy. Thank you for your beautiful post.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Deserts to me has a lot to do with the worst-case scenario, and it doesn't help to have OCD when the scenario strikes. The "What if it never ends?" question always freaks me out a little, but I have this inner drill sergeant that slaps the quailing me and says, "Put on your big girl panties and walk on!"

God's my main go-to guy, and as many times as I beg him to take me out, I always praise Him once I'm free (partially because I never even saw the liberation occur) and look back and smile at the progress. I find dry places are the most fruitful. Out of the struggle comes hard-worked fields and rows that deepen with each furrowing, giving more space for better and juicier things to grow and flourish.

Music is huge for my deserts. And long conversations with my two most favorite folks in my life, where we laugh and joke and even quarrel a little. (I find conflict stimulating beyond proper conveyance) Because I've had a hard life, I've learned to cry--and through crying, rejoice--as I tread the dusty dunes of the deserts in life.

Bonnie Grove said...

Thanks for that great comment.

For the record, I"m totally walking on in MORE than my big girl panties. Totally putting jeans on. :D

Anonymous said...

SF Foxfire, what a great comment. Thank you for sharing your wisdome. I agree, the crucible is vital if we want to grow up in God. It's never fun, but it's where the growth occurs.

Yes, girls. I would SO love to get together with you all again. One of these days . . .

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Broken hearts and cracked pots and crushed grapes and the plow furrowing the field. Reconciliation, light, wine and sprouts.
God is good in the offing.

These last three years have seen two intimate deaths and a season of near insanity. Hovering on the brink of giving up is a throbbing place to encounter God - a thin place where the veil heaves. But the characters in my book have greater dimension, they feel seriously and act nobly from within that pain that I experience. The story is written in fits and starts and is therapy to me as much as it is freedom to the characters.
I have a friend who makes no adjustment in her life for other people. She has no responsibilities except for herself. She is very content. I could not live that way.
Robin Mark has a song "Jesus don't you keep me from that storm, I want to walk that sacred ground."

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Sharon, your post made me a little teary. I could blame hormones (always a useful excuse), but the truth is you touched a nerve.

I feel for you in your dry place 'cos I know what it's like. I'm there too. I'm really wrestling with what I can and should be accomplishing in this particular season of my life. REALLY, really wrestling. Like... should I even keep writing? Should I put these silly little dreams aside for a season and focus on my kids? Maybe I just don't have what it takes. etc etc......

I haven't yet reached any conclusions or found an answer. No words of wisdom from me. But... I feel for you because I do understand. I pray that somehow we'll all find the times of refreshing we need.

Anonymous said...

Henrietta, my heart goes out to you. I get a deep sense of your pain. I pray that God redeems this season in many ways, and that you experience the fruit of it.

Karen, I pray the Lord shows you exactly what is right for you at this time in your life, and that He uses you as He desires. Thank you for your honest heart.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Thank you, Sharon. Your prayer says it exactly right. x