In the past in this series I’ve talked about probably everything under the sun when it comes to things I consider pertinent to writing. From the insecurities that can beset the novice author to the excitement of actually finishing a final draft, it must seem like I’ve exhausted all potential topics.
I know that some of these posts have bordered on navel-gazing, some of you have commented on the state of my belly button lint, and some may consider today’s in that category. But as it’s a key element in my creative process, and perhaps for others as well, I’ll just have to risk incurring some people’s scorn again. Remember it’s your choice to read this, so you can stop now if you don’t want to take the risk of having to read me baring my artistic soul.
The idea for The Paths Life Takes, the working title for my series, came from an historical event. But aside from the premise, everything else was off the top of my head. Unlike other writers who work from an actual occurrence, I decided to either take the easier, or harder, route depending on how you look at it, of not doing any research on the circumstances, but completely invented everything from scratch. Social customs, values, religions and modes of dress all came off the top of my head. In my wisdom I figured this would be a time-saving device, as I wouldn’t have to worry about anything like historical accuracy. Unfortunately, what it did mean was that I had to make damn sure that I was consistent with what I had created.
If I spontaneously had a woman behave in a certain way that I found perfectly normal according to my lights, I would than have to figure out how that could be justified within the confines of her society. Sometimes this meant modifying her actions, sometimes changing the rules of society, and on other occasions just having her be someone who allowances were made for because of her situation. But those were just logistical problems that were easily dealt with by doing checks for continuity, and doing a few rewrites.
What was more difficult was the means I used for creation period. While on the surface it sounds easy, the application can be difficult. I write each chapter in the way I use to improvise a scene in theatre. I have a situation, characters, and information that I need to communicate to the audience. But instead of only having to worry about what my individual character is going to be doing like I did when acting, I have to be aware of the motivations and desires of any and all folk taking part in the chapter.
But even before I get to the writing stage, I need to be able to visualize the scenarios in my head so that I can plot out what’s going to happen. It’s sort of like the storyboards that they use in film, where they depict the shot they ideally want to capture for a scene. But instead of drawing them out, I only have to imagine them in advance to be able to write it out. In order to do that I have to almost enter a trance-like meditative state, in which I’m able to watch a film of the action in front of my eyes. You could almost call it constructive daydreaming; in fact that’s a really good way of describing the process because I’m fantasizing about what my people are going to be doing.
The problem is that I haven’t been in school for 25 years and the circumstances for daydreaming seem to be harder to come by out in the real world. You would think that as someone who is disabled and doesn’t have to deal with the workforce that I’d have plenty of opportunities for it, as I’m at home most of the time. I should be able to just sit back whenever I want and visualize up a storm. Do you remember the circumstances in school that contributed most to your ability to daydream? For me it was usually in what we used to call double periods, where instead of the usual 45 minutes in a class we would have to sit for an hour and a half.
There is nothing more conducive to daydreaming than sitting in the back of a classroom, listening to a teacher droning on interminably while the rest of your classmates are in various stages of stupor. There was nothing like listening to a monotone voice to induce the dream state I use to find. It was even more effective if it was an afternoon class, especially right after lunch when your body just wants to kick back, digest food, and not be bothered with the real world.
Among certain native tribes in North America it used to be that the only time of year that the traditional stories could be told was winter. In some places in North America you just don’t want to spend a lot of time wandering around out in the snow and ice. Sitting around the fire listening to stories sounds like a much better idea than going for a stroll. There’s also a stillness that winter brings on, where it seems like the whole world is a lot quieter. Even today you get that feeling, on those really bright, calm days where it’s so cold that everything seems frozen solid, into absolute quiet. It’s no hard thing to sit and stare out a window on days like that and cast your mind into imaginary worlds and create.
But when summer comes it’s a totally different story. Maybe it’s the neighbourhood I live in, I don’t know, but you’re lucky if you can ever get any quiet at all. First of all from first light to dark somebody, somewhere in the neighbourhood is out mutilating their garden with some power tool or other. That might not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that they all seem to be using gas powered equipment that is 20 years old that when turned on bear a striking resemblance to a jumbo jet warming up for take off. Than there are all the do-it-your self types who sound like they’ve never used a hammer, let alone a power tool, before in their lives.
I can’t think of any noise that can yank you out of a pleasant daydream quicker than the sound of a screw being stripped by a power drill. Except for the sound of a power sander being skipped across a surface, an angle iron bouncing along some decorative wrought iron, or the dulcet tones of a circular saw’s blades cutting sideways against the grain. Of course they are just the accompaniment for the constant orchestra of weed whackers, chain saws, hedge trimmers, leaf blowers, and the newest offender on the block, the power washer.
If someone really wants to they can be outside for a good part of the day using their power tools the whole time. They can start with a little hedge-trimming, (some bright lights in my neighbourhood use their chainsaws for this task) then it’s time to cut the lawn, followed by trimming the edging, followed by blowing away the clippings with your leaf blower, and finally watering your drive way with the pressure washer.
If the noise of the power tools isn’t bad enough there’s the gathering of the men and their beer to watch and comment on the process of the job. They’ll stand and yell at each other so they can be heard over the sound of power tools and materials being tortured. Even when the tools aren’t in use they yell because they’ve become used to that as their means of communication.
There is not even any relief with sundown. That’s when the tire squealers and drunks come out. (Who knows: they could be the same folk? I hope not.) We live about a block behind a franchise donut shop and all night long people are gunning their engines as they go in and out of the parking lot. They peel rubber at every intersection for at least a mile either coming or going.
On a good night we will only get the occasional gang of idiots returning from the bars talking really loudly and maybe singing out of tune at around 3am. On a bad night there will be at least one party that’s been going since a barbecue started them off around dusk, and the music and voices have gotten louder as the evening has progressed. I we’re really fortunate a fight or domestic dispute will round off the night.
It’s gotten to the point that even when there are occasional oases of silence I end up spending half my time waiting for it to be rudely interrupted. It’s making it impossible for me to even contemplate writing ‘beyond posts to blogs etc.’
Out of silence ideas are born. There is so much noise on a continuous basis, or at least there exists the threat of its occurrence that I can’t relax enough to daydream and bring my character to life anymore. That hasn’t stopped me from trying, but I’m having a harder time being happy with whatever results I am able to produce.
Without silence how can we ever find a place of stillness within ourselves that will allow us any sort of peace of mind? It’s bad enough have to deal with the stress and anxiety of the world’s circumstances and not let it affect your writing. But if you can’t even get a couple of hours peace and quite in your own home because of people inflicting their obsessions on you, what hope is there for genuine creativity to take place?