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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Care and Feeding of the Romance Writer

Whether it’s in an interview, a live chat, or an author’s corner, there’s one question I get asked more than any other: “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

Most writers have their answers, ranging from dreams to song lyrics to spontaneous explosions in the frontal lobe. Really. For myself, there is no set answer, I often free-associate. I’ll see an image, that leads to a thought, which leads to another thought, and then a scenario begins to take shape.

I used to think that I had a pretty rich imagination, till I entered the world of speculative fiction. Now I’m humbled on a pretty regular basis, and even further humbled that I speak to many of these brilliant people on a daily basis. So needless to say, blogging about creativity feels a little wrong. But there are a few things tossing around in my brain.

So, you want to write a story. You have an idea there in your head, but it hasn’t come to fruition, or you simply have that pent-up, frustrated need to say something…to express yourself. Where do you look for inspiration? How do you convince the Muse to whisper in your ear, to light that spark in your heart?

Hmmm…good question.

I’m feeling pretty dry these days. October was its usual brutal self, reminding me that all the really awful things in my life happen in October. November just reminded me that the holidays are coming and I’m broke, because of some awful thing that happened in October. And December…don’t you just want to kick her jolly red butt?

Hey…there’s a story there somewhere…

I pried the January novella from my hard drive and sent it in, now I have to come up with something for my March slot. I’ve got the beginnings of three novellas and none of them want to fly. I’m frustrated, angry. I’d spit at my screen, but in all likelihood, the goober would run down and short out the laptop. I yell at the dog, who decided that the laptop is simply and extension of my lap.

I give up and go lie down, pull the covers over my head and try for a nap.
Paydirt. There it is, the missing element to that Vamp novel. Right there in Technicolor and surround-sound. But it’s not my priority right now. I get up and take notes, my nap aborted by my imagination.

Back to the computer, and instead of writing, I go wandering around the stock image sites. Again, paydirt. There’s my werewolf, looking at me with ominous splendor. Quick as a wink, his personality quirks come into the picture; his character sheet begins to fill out. He wears black silk shirts and a bolero hat like Stevie Ray Vaughn used to favor. He was a high school music teacher, but lost his job because the girls (and some boys) couldn’t deal with his potent pheromones. He’s macho, virile, and so very shy. The principal’s daughter hid in his car after school, showing up in his house later that night.

Good thing he plays the guitar.

Back to mental wandering. I go out and take a walk in the newly frigid air. We’re having a cold snap, and it feels good to stretch my legs and look at the changing landscape. How did people cope with Redding before air conditioning and central heating? Brutal hot summers and wet, miserable winters. I think about my family before they came to California, when they lived on the reservation in Washington, and how during the winter, the baby’s wet diapers froze on the clothesline inside the house.

I swear to everyone that a day doesn’t go by when I don’t write something. Well, that’s true, I’ve written two blog entries today, but I haven’t worked on a story for quite some time. That’s because my creative self needs a re-charge now and then. Just because I’m not writing doesn’t me that I’m not creating. This week has been personal. My daughter called from St Maarten with the stunning news that she won a huge, international culinary competition. In between Googleing her pictures and talking on the phone, I cobbled together a book video, spent time at a chat, and made some jewelry while watching Ghost Hunters.

While all this is going on, a story is growing at the back of my mind; characters are taking shape, dialogue bubbles through my awareness. In a day or three, I’ll be back at the keyboard, completely oblivious to the annual misery of October and the dry spell that followed. March’s novella will go in; I’ll meet that April deadline, and continue to develop my workshop project.
Do you sort of see where I’m going here? Writing is a discipline. Most arts are. It’s hard work. You will not accomplish anything unless you put your hands on the keyboard and start.

But there is also an element of creativity, when you simply must unleash your mind, turn it loose to wander and process and scramble things around. You must feed your mind, as surely as you feed your body; exercise your brain, or that muscle will become weak. Nurture your soul as the precious treasure that it is. Tend to your body, feed it well, take it for walks, (or work-outs) and get enough sleep.

So here is your tip for the day: Take fifteen minutes every day that is “between time.” On your way home from work, stop at a park or somewhere else that inspires you. Simply sit and be alone for those fifteen minutes. Read a bit of a book, write some poetry, pray, meditate, or do whatever eases your soul.

If you work from home like I do, leave. Go out and get away for a few minutes. I like to go to the lookout over Shasta Dam, it’s close to home, safe, and the view of the Three Shasta’s is beautiful.
That’s it. Fifteen minutes of between time. A little daily gift to yourself.