Picking Up the Thread of the Story

It’s hard to jump back into a WIP cold-turkey. Even if it’s only been a day, the expectation of the blinking cursor just staring at you to pick up where you left off is intimidating. It’s like diving straight into the ocean without a chance to get used to the cold. While sometimes you’ve just got to swim for it, occasionally it’s more productive to ease yourself in.

I have different tricks to break myself into starting to write again for different projects. For the Book of the Dead (my current project), I either listen to part of my playlist for the book, flip through my notebook that contains all of my research, or re-read the last chapter or so to entrench myself back into the narrative. Three visual or auditory triggers that push my brain back into the mode. But other projects have different cues that I use. For one project that I’m titling World Tree for now, almost every time I begin research/writing, I draw out the diagram of the universe I’m working with, actively placing myself into the world I’m about to write about.

It can be as simple as stacking the right books and pens beside the computer or a stricter progression of events done in the right order. Anything to jolt my mind and fingers back into the right story mode. Especially the right story, instead of the one I really want to work on. Anyone else have similar tactics?

story threads

Pictured above: Multitudinous story threads. Make sure you pick the one you’re supposed to. No, not that one.


Just Keep Writing

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We all experience the high that comes from beginning something…and the drop when you have to finish it. If I had a penny for all the starts in my drafts folder, I’d probably have, like, a dollar. But the show must go on through the murky middle of a novel, and here are a few ways I keep myself excited about the long slog.

  1. Playlists: I can’t listen to music while I write, but I make playlists for the story/characters/relationships to listen to before I start writing in order to refresh my inspiration/motivation.
  2. Looking Back: Often when I feel like I’m walking through a swamp, I’ll pull out my planning notebook, which contains all of my research and plotting and doodling for the current WIP, and flip through it, reminding myself how I got to my current point, and why exactly I should carry on.
  3. Exercise: Go for a run. Go to the gym. Don’t listen to music, don’t listen to anything. I just let my brain float for a while. It deserves it.
  4. A New Cup of Tea: If I’m stalling and my mug is cold and sad, I break for the ten ritual minutes it takes to prepare a cup of tea. Back at the computer, warm mug in hand, I’m rejuvinated.
  5. Just Push Through: It must be done. The bottom line is always that if I don’t finish it, it won’t be finished. Chant it like a mantra. Write it on your ceiling above your bed. You must finish in order to truly begin.

✴This has been a queued post, as I am currently in the Amazon with no Wifi. Returning next week!

More Barn Than House

“When a house is completed it is such a disappointment. No rafters. No mysterious hollowed-out shadow spaces above them. And nothing to hang the hammock onto and swing–which is why we like barns and sheds and find unforgettable that house raised twelve feet in the jungle with a palm-thatch roof and only two walls, open to the forest, complete in its incompleteness. (Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?)”

I just finished I Swear I Saw this–Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own by Michael Taussig, in an effort to wrangle some inspiration from someone I deeply admire (and whom I have already written about) for my own fieldwork, which is fast approaching. However, I was unable to completely separate my mental categories for ‘fieldnotes’ and ‘fiction novel’, because about as much effort goes into each one. With a little mental twisting, though, Taussig’s ideas for fieldnotes absolutely apply to the creative process of plotting and writing a novel.

It’s a wonderful little book about those moments when drawing supersedes writing in your fieldnotes–moments of such high intensity beneath which an iceberg of depth lies, a world of meaning in which only a drawing–visceral, corporeal, immediate–can evoke, etching the artist into the moment as writing cannot. Taussig takes a turn towards evaluating the entire fieldwork notebook, weaving together bizarrely disparate examples and people in an enactment of the very subject of his writing–fieldnotes as the halfway products, the undersides, of chance and fate.

“Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?” As I read this wondering in chapter four, I underlined it, then added a star, and then a heart for good measure. Little markers to myself that I had found something truthful on page thirty-three. A novel that is too complete is boring. I have always loved best those with room for interpretation, and been struck by how, if no room is given, I (or others) will make room for interpretation–the growth of fandoms is certainly testament to that.

Completed houses are white painted walls, working plumbing, fresh tile or carpet, and price tags. Barns are lofts, hay bales, little streams running beside them, the smell of animals, a horseshoe nailed above the door. Novels begin by the exchange of a house for a barn–mundanity for adventure.

So I will keep in mind that a good novel has cracks in it. It has squeaky hinges and rickety ladders and places for ambiguity. Places to hang a hammock.

Surrealist Writing Games

Sounds kind of like Reindeer Games. But detailed instructions to surrealist writing can be found halfway through André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which requires at least two hours and a strong cup of tea to make any kind of sense.

Essentially, the goal is to tap into your subconscious. Sit, clear your mind, and begin to write–not focusing on what you’re writing or what you’ve written, only moving forward with the flow of the act. Writes Breton, “the first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard.”

A friend and I tried the practice out: It’s absolutely harder than it sounds, equally fun, and I invite anyone to try it out. We certainly had fun laughing at our results. Below is my most viewable piece.

Slashing and violent do the urges come to us, the authors, creators, merry-makers, weaving lost threads under the suns of our ancestors: what is sense? But the moment to moment daze, understanding flashes of white, of the apples which bloom beneath our feet to perish and make merry the ebullient tomatoes of servitude, sorrow, reminiscing. Do not but fear at the faint thought of the scavenger, whom to all else is nothing. Let carnage strip from beaks, flesh from feathers that reach the night. Every thought is fluttering, passing, self-aware. It hurts!


7 Things Found in My Grandmother’s House

My grandma’s house is full of treasures, wonders, and oddities. A large part of my aesthetic sense came from her, which is why my friends often find bizarre what I’d call cute. Her house is a good place to write: I can glance up and see ten to twenty strange or interesting things at any moment, from any place in the house.

1. Monkey man with cymbals

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His face suggests that he knows more than he lets on.

2. A rainbow-winged wooden pegasus

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One of a hundred unicorns and pegasi to be found around the house.

3. A glass bowl of babies

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I don’t have a comment for this one. They speak for themselves.

4. A trip of mushroom friends

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They’re either witches or in a band, or both.

5. A Green Man hanging on the wall

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As far as I know, no one in my family is wiccan.

6. A copy of the Tao Te Ching

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Found next to a figure of a reclining laughing buddha.

7. A tiny model of a flintlock pistol

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Found very near the monkey man. Coincidence?