Writer’s Intuition

By making a joke in my online writers’ group, I caught the attention of exactly the expert I needed—and didn’t know I needed. The morning’s motivational prompt had been a funny one—something about banging one’s head on one’s desk. I replied, “Speaking of head-banging, my work in progress has a plot thread about metal music.” Another writer replied to me: “That’s my genre. Reach out if you need anything.”

I thought I’d done my research, but once I contacted her, I found out how little I’d really learned. Giving a character a connection to metal music in her past was intended to add surprising elements to the plot. Faced with how little I understood about the genre, and how enormous the project of grasping this complex musical world might be, I had to reconsider and ask myself some key questions.

Is the story dependent on this element? Or does it only add flavor? If that’s the case, could another flavor substitute? This reminds me of something my friend Bob said about cooking. When a recipe calls for Himalayan pink salt, if he can’t tell the difference between using it or regular salt, he’ll go with the plain stuff.

The black metal plot thread might be Himalayan pink salt. I’m going to try plain salt and see if the recipe still works. The story is about the characters, their challenges and dilemmas, their desires and obstacles, their lessons. As long as this character has a certain pair of people in her past, their creative output can be an art form I understand better. I never thought my joke would lead to such a revelation, and yet it felt important to make it. When it popped into my head,  I turned my laptop back on and posted it, though I was on my way out the door. The comment was, as far as I could tell, trivial, but my intuition knew better.

Making Mistakes

I’m at a point in my work in progress (Mae Martin Mysteries book eight) where my protagonist feels compelled to both help and confront the antagonist—a person who has wronged her and done even greater wrongs to people she cares about. Then the antagonist, through actions that karmically earned a disaster, is in crisis. Perhaps there’s an ideal path Mae could take, but can she see it? As the author, do I want her to?

In this book, Mae is taking a college course on Eastern Philosophy. She’s doing her best as a beginner to explore the wisdom of the Buddha. The antagonist’s brother and his roommate are dedicated yogis, not just in asana practice but in attempting to live the philosophy. Mae’s summer house guest is an Apache teenager who is training to become a medicine man. In the scene I’m working on, these well meaning, spiritually aware young people are in a situation where the right action is hard to find. Hard to agree on. Is there room for compassion and outrage at the same time in the same heart? At thirty, Mae is the oldest of the group. She’s likely to mess up. I was not very wise at thirty, myself. Wiser than I was in my teens or twenties, but I’d be making a mistake to portray her with the wisdom of an elder.

I’d also be making a mistake if my characters’ errors are unsympathetic. I have to write this so the reader can feel the struggle. It’s not easy to love your enemies.

Surfacing

As I said in my last post, when coyotes crossed my path, I chose to see them as a sign. Disconnect more was my interpretation of the message. More wildlife was showing up when I ran because there were so few other humans. Animals were reclaiming their space, and I needed to reclaim mine. My inner space.

Looking through the aquarium glass of a computer screen at a version of the world skewed by what people choose to share or make important was getting oppressive. So, I declared a timeout from Facebook, even though I knew I would miss friends’ pictures of their kids and cats and gardens, and links to their art and music. I needed a break from the mix of news and trivia that makes up the rest of Facebook. This freed up writing time. Freed my mind from the urge to scroll, too.

Then my laptop crashed. Like the coyote-powered universe was saying, “Hey, you like your time out?  Here’s more.”

And it was good. No news at all. No e-mail. My days out from under the internet allowed me not only to surface from the info-pond but to have a breakthrough.  Writing by hand, I outlined my main characters’ life events during the year and six months between the end of the seventh Mae Martin Mystery, Shadow Family, and the beginning of the eighth one. Then I chose five events in that timeline and sketched the plots of short stories.  Already, I can already see the effect this insight into the “skipped” time will have on my revisions to book eight.

When FedEx delivered the new laptop, after my four serene and productive days, I had mixed feelings about it, especially once I was swamped with the hassles of getting various setups completed. Everything was about the computer.

Now I’m adapted to it and doing my best to have a different relationship with it than with its predecessor. When I venture onto Facebook, it’s only to get in touch with a few close friends and a group of fellow writers, and then I’m outta there. I do follow the news again, but I limit it to listening while I’m lifting weights or doing housework. I’ve finished a fairly polished version of one short story, completed the first draft of the next, and improvised the opening paragraphs of the third. Writing short fiction is great discipline for tightening scenes in full-length novels. And my time without a computer made me keep flowing as I wrote, no stopping to fix and tinker. I’m applying that process to my first drafts now:  keep going to the end. It’s all going to get revised anyway.

Though I’m still one of the world’s slowest writers, I’ve learned how to speed up a little.