May 22nd, 2011


In Which We Court The Elusive Muse (& #ROW80 Check-In)

Or, A Study In Ninja Kat Behavior


I like timed writing for many reasons, the primary of which is the Dread Infernal Editor has no time to jump into the backseat and attempt to drive. A close second is the fact that, because it requires intense focus, it begets intense focus. Intensely, or something.

In Wild Mind, Natalie Goldberg advises the wary, weary writer to observe a cat the next time something catches its attention. Considering I have two Ninja Katz in residence, I’ve done just that. They like to perch on the top shelf of my desk that’s meant for a variety of other options, but is now apparently a cat observation shelf. From here they like to watch the birds, the squirrel that taunts them from the nearby tree, owners walking dogs and dogs walking owners, and the occasional alligator, this being Florida. Natalie is right. It’s not just their eyes and minds that are focused, it’s every fiber of their little furry beings. Every predatory instinct is on high alert, tails rhythmically twitching in preparation for lift off. If I foolish enough to tweak one, I would get my hand ripped off and have a helluva time retrieving it.

The same could be said of the writer during timed writing, as this is the kind of focus required to hand sprint for ten or fifteen minutes of uninterrupted scene making bliss. I say bliss, because when I reach the finish line, I’m either still writing, not willing to stop, or I’m so endorphin-rushed that the monitor vibrates slightly as I enter the work into the computer.

I begin with spinning down the page in tag lines and dialogue blurbs, leaving lots of white space, until I have the makings of a scene or scene sequence. I might do this a few times as idea keep coming to me, or I’ll use the left over white space for notes. I highlight anything that might resemble an object, and any images or objects that repeat as potential symbols. I dig for subtext in dialogue and movement. Check or mark up the big actions.

Now it’s time to write a discovery draft of the scene in a timed setting. I generally use fifteen minutes. Forget grammar and punctuation. Write long-ass sentences. “and then, and that, and this other thing, and ooo, don’t forget about that . . .” Don’t worry, if the Infernal Editor is beginning to catch up with you at this point he will eventually stomp off like a temperamental toddler as you continue to ignore him in favor of chasing the jazz (excuse the A-Team reference). This is the time to spill all the racing images and adverbs in your brain onto the page. It may be messy. Don’t sweat it. Your brain may even cough up one or two things you didn’t manage the first time around. This is a precious, precious gift—don’t deny the Muse when she speaks up, she may get mad and go away. And take it from me, surrender is divine.

Eventually you will get to the end. But don’t worry, it’s not over yet.

Get up. Walk away. Do the dishes or the laundry. Watch TV, something mindless. You’ll be running hot as a car engine, and if you don’t let your brain settle you’ll lose it. Seriously. Give it at least a half hour to avoid mind implosion. For the same reason avoid alcohol and caffeine at all costs.

When you’re ready, you back and read what you’ve got so far (provided you can read your own writing at this point). Make notes. Again, highlight/circle repeated objects and images. Tear through exterior to pinpoint subtext. I also make note of which plot threads are represented, so I can track them on my Spreadsheet of Ultimate Plotty Plot Plotness. Then I put it into the computer and track the word count. Stray ideas may find surprise you at this point, but, again, go with it. We’re still in the discovery process here so there are no wrong answers. Now it’s okay to enjoy a hard-earned banana daiquiri. In fact your brain will probably thank you.


In the regular Weekend Novelist scheme of things, it would be time now to begin work on a rough draft of Act One, but as previously mentioned I want to continue key scene work as I’m ahead of schedule, program-wise, and dead on timing-wise for ROW80. I’m really excited for the work ahead of me this week as I get to work on my opening and closing scenes. As in The Beginning and The End. I see both fairly clearly, image-wise, and a few beginning words are already percolating with promise. That will give me a week to work on Plot Points 1 & 2, and then a month to complete a rough draft for Act One before this round ends.

When you have a moment, be sure to send an encouraging call-out to fellow ROW-ers, thusly.