Friday, February 12, 2010

Writing in punctuated equilibrium

It sounds almost cliché to talk about my writer friends, but it's true... everyone is writing a novel. I have always been impressed by people who write every day. They get up and start writing first thing (or as soon as the kids are off to school), making steady progress on their work in progress (WIP). I imagine such a writer must have the entire story sitting in her head, just waiting to flow out through her fingertips onto the page (or keyboard, as the case may be). It seems as though that is how writers should write, so why doesn't it work for me?

When I try to write every day, I encounter snags. I sit and debate how to approach a particular event, wonder about what the characters will do next, how they will deal with a particular situation. In the end, I just sit and think, ending my writing session with a page just as blank as when I sat down.

This worried me for a while, until I thought about how I have written other things in the past (various theses, my dissertation, research papers...). They never came out bit by bit as I sat in front of the computer each day.  They came out in fits and spurts, with each flurry of writing taking the work to a new level.

I sit and think about my WIP, coming at it from different angles, taking into consideration new pieces of information, molding it and shaping it in my mind until it starts to take on a form that "feels" right. I don't write a word during this process. And it is only when this stage of equilibrium reaches a tipping point that a flurry of writing can occur, bringing me to a new state of equilibrium.

Quite often, my stages of stasis occur when I get stuck on a particular part of my work. The one method I have found to break through to the next punctuated writing session (via an unexpected and often delightful idea of one sort or another), is to put the whole thing aside. Read through the work then go do something else (my best ideas come when I get some form of exercise). Surprising results can come from a bit of rumination, making the creative process perpetually new and exciting.

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