Monday, January 14, 2013

The Best and Beautiful


The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.

Helen Keller

 

 Having resumed work after a year long sabbatical, I’m newly conscious of the creative process. Until I was dealing with burn out, creative process wasn’t anything I really thought about. I just wrote.

 
I don’t say that I wasn’t conscious of craft, or that I wrote the way I did when I was a kid or even a fledging pro. I could crank out five thousand words a day if I had to – there were days I did eight -- but naturally the longer I wrote, the more I understood about craft and what I was doing, the more time and care I took. The words came more slowly, but they were better words.

 
It wasn’t until the desire to write anything at all – ever – faded that I knew I was in trouble.

 
Oh, I still thought of stories – I have a notebook full of story ideas I jotted down during my sabbatical. I even outlined a few of them. But the desire to write them, to apply that intense and extended concentrated focus for the length of time it takes to produce a story of any length…no. The idea actually filled me with dread.

 
And yet I missed writing. I thought about writing all the time. Everything I watched, everything I read, practically everyone I talked to was viewed through the lens of potential fodder for fiction. Writing is a strange profession. It’s not one of those jobs you can switch off at the end of the day when you turn off the office lights.

 
Being a writer isn’t just something you do. It’s something you become. It’s your way of viewing and, more importantly, processing the world.

 
In my case it was also my livelihood, so my inability to write had alarming implications. Even though I couldn’t handle the idea of writing, I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do with my life.

 
But that’s the beauty of time off, time without pressure. The months passed and slowly but surely the desire to write returned.

And so I’m writing again, but this time I’m conscious of the creative process, the mechanism of inspiration – and how fragile and finicky that mechanism is. I find myself jumping from project to project as the urge takes me, and I’m surprised at the things that spur the desire to write. Music, in particular, has a powerful effect on me. Not merely in sparking the story telling instinct, but letting the emotional tenor of the song even influence the development of the story.

 
Case in point. Right now this song by Lifehouse seems to define the main character in thriller I’m working on. The story is about an FBI agent who teams up with a small town sheriff to try and catch a serial killer. But it’s also a story about finding your place, coming home…even if it’s to a place you’ve never been before. The song has become a kind of talisman for the story.

 
 

What about you? Out of all the potential ideas for stories that occur to each of us each day, what inspires you to choose one? Do you find yourself choosing a particular item as a kind of charm to represent your project?

 

      

16 comments:

Helena said...

I love the line in the song: "wherever you are is where I come from". I do find music very powerful, so much so that I cannot have it on as a background to reading reading or writing. It distracts me, and I find I'm hearing the lyrics or enjoying the production (the piano sounding just right at a certain point, or the drums) and not concentrating on what I'm supposed to be doing. So I can understand how it infuses your writing, and affects it.

As to your question - I love expanding on a line or two of overheard dialogue, and imagining the backstory which culminated in it - and where those characters might go next.

Clare London said...

This post spoke to me very keenly, because I'm at that stage - where ideas and projects strike me all the time, but my enthusiasm and energy seem to fail when it come to writing them :(. I can only hope a rest or change of approach refreshes me. I'm very glad to hear yours has worked!

I need quiet and solitude to write, I admit, so music doesn't work for me. And I'm more likely to find inspiration in a phrase in a book, or an overheard conversation, like Helena.

What keeps me writing sometimes is a scene of dialogue, spoken from the heart. I'll often skip to a writing a scene like that to cheer me up and spur me on.

Kathy Ivan said...

Ifully understand where you're coming from Josh. I had a period a couple of years ago where although I wanted to write, I was driven to write. I didn't have that overwhelming urge to get the words down on the page. I realized I was burned out . . . but not washed up. Taking a break, stepping back from writing as a whole and just letting myself enjoy the words again made a huge difference.

Glad to see you're getting that enjoyment feeling again. Makes the writing sing.

Toni Anderson said...

Josh--isn't it sad that when you reach the 'unconscious competence' stage, something else throws a spanner in the works? I can appreciate where you are coming from. A break is very important and I'm glad you feel like writing again :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Thank you for sharing your experience, Josh, and that it helped to take a sabbatical. It's funny, but each time I tried to give up writing (at least for a bit because I was tired), something would pull me back in...a call from an agent, winning an award, getting a book contract. It was like life didn't want me to take a break.

But yeah, some days I feel the need to feed that well. The ideas are fun, but putting hands to the keyboard is a struggle some days.

Rita said...

Wow! I don't know what to say. I'm having a rough day today. You know one of those whay am i doing this days? Like Clare I have sooo many ideas but the fun has been leaking away. It helps to know I'm not the only one.

site angel said...

I find the biggest deal is to have a character that really jumps into my mind and makes the story come alive.
I generally have one song that represents the story, but I have to have silence to write. I listen to the song in the car and let my mind wander through ideas.

When getting stuck, I look to trigger another sense, like smell or taste. On the last MS, I use a fragrance insert from a magazine. From there on out, every time I smell that cologne the character pops into my head.

I imagine it could be that way forever.

Good post, Josh.
Cheers, Kelly :~D

Jenna said...

Hiya, darling! I'm SO happy you're feeling better! xoxo

As for how to choose what to work on... I'm usually so stacked with deadlines that whenever I have an idea for something new - and I have many - it's always at a time when there are two or three or four projects ahead of it in line. By the time I've cleared the deck, and it's actually time to work on one of the new ideas, it's whichever one is still so insistent in my mind that I haven't been able to let go of it during the time when I've written the others. I have ideas for books and series that would be fine books and series if I had time to write them, and I have ideas for books I *have* to write because the characters won't leave me alone until I do. Those are the ones I work on. Because they have that extra little grab-you-by-the-throat-and-won't-let-go that tips the scales. :)

Josh Lanyon said...

Helena, hearing that line crstalized the theme of my story and gave me the ending!

Josh Lanyon said...

Clare, I wish I had learned to pace myself a long time ago. It's still a struggle, but I think it's the difference between being able to continue writing for years or complete burn out.

I used to not be able to write to music at all! Sometimes I still can't have anything with words.

Josh Lanyon said...

Kathy, I'm always reassured when I hear stories like yours!

Josh Lanyon said...

Toni, I guess it just wouldn't feel like a real job if these challenges didn't keep cropping up. ;-D

Josh Lanyon said...

Anne, one of the strangest things is to go back and look at the projects I was writing on when I burned out. There was no hint in the work that anything was wrong. It was fine! The problem was clearly inside me. So it is possible to go on and on and on even when you should pace yourself and take a break.

Josh Lanyon said...

Rita, as much as I love writing, and though I can't imagine going back to doing anything else for a living, it's still a job and it's still hard work. Of course we all get tired and drained and burnt out. Just because you love what you do doesn't mean you don't need a break now and then.

Josh Lanyon said...

Kelly, fragrance is such a great idea! It really does shake loose memory and emotion both.

Josh Lanyon said...

Jenna, isn't that one of the most frustrating things about writing? The fact that some of the most exciting ideas for new stories occur when we're hip deep in the current project!

Of course, as you say, we're always hip deep!