Yesterday I sank deliciously into a scene I was writing, came up for air to watch a cartoon and run on my mini trampoline, then migrated back to my computer and mused about what to blog about while I finished up my delicious scene. Thinking about blogging made me think about the sheer proliferation of author blogs, and how this has inevitably led to a sheer proliferation of writing about writing. About plot and arc and dark moments and HEA’s and every little aspect of the process. Which led me to think about my own process, which is seldom a good thing for me, because in so many ways, not thinking about my process is my process. It’s kind of like…it’s kind of like that time in high school when my friend Corinne had a hermit crab for a pet. One day it was just sort of sitting very still in its tank for a long time, all tucked inside its shell, and she began to worry that it might have died, and so she got a little stick and lifted the crab out and began sort of poking at it and—
Well, suffice it to say, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. If the crab was alive when she began poking at it, it wasn’t when she was done. It was probably just in there minding its own business, just being a crab, when it became a kabob instead. Ahem. Forgive me—perhaps I should have warned you I was going to use a macabre metaphor. But the motto of this story with regards to my writing process: If you poke at it too much, you could kill it.
It’s not that I do it mindlessly, mind you. Writing, that is. It’s just that when I write I…am it. The other thing it reminds me of is when I was in a band, of those few final minutes when we’d sit together just before a show began. It was tradition for our singer to throw up from nerves before a show (he claimed John Lennon did, too), and after he got that out of the way, we would all be thrumming with nerves and that peculiar combo of delicious excitement and dread, all of us utterly, almost painfully, focused. I really didn’t want to talk about the show at all. I was so acutely aware of what was about to happen and my role in it that I was entirely comprised of arrow-sharp anticipation. And of music. Talking about the show before it started seemed redundant and grating. We knew how to play, so we went out and played.
The funny part is how deeply, passionately I love all things analytical, like databases and spreadsheets and the like. I can get lost in admiration for the processes of other writers, the ones who use flowcharts and colored post-its and index cards. I think my flowcharting, as it were, must happen internally, and I respond to the dynamic needs of the story sort of organically as I go along, the way you know a song needs a bridge when you’re writing it and so you produce it sort of instinctively, or that the soup you’re making needs…oh, perhaps a dash more lime. (Um…lime? you ask incredulously? I made Tom Ka Gai, my favorite Thai soup, from scratch this weekend, and it was so divine my eyes practically rolled back in my head with bliss. There’s lime in it. And coconut milk. You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up. Hee! Well, there's other stuff in there, too.)
I’ve also come to realize that I need certain things to prime the inspiration pump. When I'm working on a book, I search restlessly for wonderful, can’t-put-it-down writing in other genres and eras (I almost never read romance while I’m writing a romance), because it becomes the background music in my head, in a way, as I write. I picked up Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, because I enjoyed White Teeth, but I knew a few pages in it wasn’t what I needed. I put it down again. I’ll come back to it later. And then I discovered Laurie R. King’s books about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes set just after World War I, which I bought on a whim, and I’m reading them with pure glee. I love them. Intelligent, brisk, unique, wonderfully written. Somehow, they’re precisely what I want to be reading right now. Another discovery that I came late to is…well, the other night I was watching The Ghost Whisperer, which I’m embarrassed to confess I love, and despite the fact that Jennifer Love Hewitt acts primarily with her eyelashes and her breasts and the pathos is built into the premise and not necessarily earned, I fall for it every time. And every woman should have a husband as sweet and bizarrely understanding (and smokin’ hot) as her husband on the show. But this wasn't my revelation. I had just finished watching it when I switched it over to PBS, and caught Prime Suspect. Holy—!! How have I not watched any of these before?? What is the matter with me? It was startlingly brilliant. Helen Mirren blew my mind. The writing, the acting, the characterization, the plotting—masterful. It was soul nourishment. And though I’m not writing this kind of book, it’s this kind of pure excellence I want to soak up, to have playing as an undertone in my mind when I’m writing, if that makes sense.
So hope you guys had a lovely, lovely holiday, and that no paramedics, divorce lawyers or cops were called at any point during the meal. LOL. How about you guys? Let's talk about hermit crabs, the Ghost Whisperer, Prime Suspect, or things that thoroughly inspire you, whether you're a writer or not. LOL. Do you have a guilty Ghost Whisperer-type pleasure? Any recommendations for something thoroughly brilliant that I ought to be watching?