Thursday, August 17, 2006

The energy of writing

Last night I sat down with a notepad and a computer, and began the initial serious research on my historical bad guy, his family, and the castle that will be the location for parts of the book. An hour passed before I realized it. "Just a couple more things to check," I thought to myself, "and then I'll go to bed." Next thing I knew, another hour had passed, and I tore myself away from the research. I had about 3 pages of scribbled notes, a few more ideas with regards to the book (but not too many), and I was exhausted.

Research is tiring work. It's a brain-numbing black hole that is sometimes difficult to pull yourself away from. I remarked to DH that it was overwhelming - and not a little daunting - because there's so much to know. All the family connections, cousins and distant relatives that might be good to know in case they come up in the story. All the little details of minor battles, major battles, and who allied with which monarch in which minor battles and major battles. It's somewhat smothering when you get into the thick of it. How to write a fictitious novel and still contain and be contained by all this information? And then there's the stuff I need to know to make it realistic - names and clothing and customs and cultural beliefs. There's a ton of that, too, and to make my story believable I have to be knowledgeable enough about it to work it into my story seamlessly.

Really, though, any time I use the real world it seems to smother the creativity that comes with writing. I can take names, places, and situations from the real world and make good use of them. But if I get too reliant on the real world for details, if I inch toward the line of nonfiction or personal narrative, then it seems like a wet blanket just drops over my head and blinds me from seeing what my characters are doing. That, I think, was the cause of my first funk last week. I was concentrating so much on real life that my creativity was cut off. And then I saw all the creativity the other writers on the forum were pouring out and it discouraged me.

But for all this talk of how overwhelming and tiring research is, you'd think that actually writing would be that much harder. You have to take everything you've researched, imagine characters and settings, come up with a story, and walk your characters through the story while figuring out what they'd do in certain situations, describing the setting, and incorporating all your research. And you have to come up with about 100,000 words to do it, otherwise your story is not long enough for a novel and you've just written a nice short story that will be very difficult - if not impossible - to publish anywhere. If just looking up information is mentally draining, then surely creating information would really tap you out.

Surprisingly, not so. When a scene comes to me, there's an energy flow that comes with it, enabling me to focus and let the words pour out. I'm actually usually pepped up and energized at the end of it. Which seemed odd to me. I was discussing this with DH last night, and he made an observation that suddenly made everything clear. He said it seemed to him that the energy that came with writing a scene/story seemed more like the energy from reading a good story than then energy expended in doing research.

And that's when it hit me. The energy flow is very similar. Because when I write, I am reading the scene out of my head! It's almost as if I'm settled down with a book in hand and seeing the situation come to life off the page. Except there is no page - it's in my mind. Like the great artist (Michelangelo?) who said they looked at a block of marble and saw the statue inside, somewhere up in my head is a complete novel that I just need to access and read. Once I've read it, I can transcribe it, and hopefully other people will read it too. I'm reading it out of order, and only a few pages at a time, but I have to trust that it will all come out eventually.


Jon said...

I wish I had some energy for writing.

Maybe when I get the apartment completely organized.

At least then I'll have to look for another excuse.

Cindy said...

Dear Jenny:

>>any time I use the real world it seems to smother the seems like a wet blanket just drops over my head and blinds me from seeing what my characters are doing <<

Exactly! (g)
I found the actual history to have a smothering effect on me, as well. So I pitched it, and now I'm doing much, much better. I still have the clothing, food and lifestyles to deal with, but without real characters I don't feel like I owe anything to anybody, in terms of Getting It Right. I found the whole thing really intimidating.