|Amber, my own petulant cat, |
and resident 'mews'.
I recently read through a wonderful series of mystery/crime thrillers by Canadian author, Louise Penny. Her Chief Inspector Gamache books are unusual in that the main character isn’t full of angst. He doesn’t drink to excess, smoke or sabotage every relationship he comes across. In fact he’s well adjusted, loves his wife and recites poetry, although this doesn’t stop his whole world from collapsing on occasion. The books are fabulous. But I digress.
I read three of the series while scrambling to complete NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) the goal of which is to write 50 000 words in one month. Now Nano (as it’s affectionately called) doesn't tend to allow time for reading. Usually the pile of books beside the bed, or in my case the line up on my Kindle, grows or at least remains static, as every ounce of energy is pressed into writing copious amounts of prose.
But … I was stuck.
I’d spent the lead-up to Nano on another project. I had a vague idea in mind and thought I’d try out the pantser rather then the plotter approach. I began okay. I wrote a few thousand words but then they dried up. I felt as if I was writing rubbish and I hated it. I tried starting in a different point of the narrative. Yes, I could write pretty prose but my sense of story had deserted me. I panicked and jumped into another project and it flowed for a few thousand words but again my inspiration vanished. Throw in a flare of a chronic illness and I was not a happy writer.
My muse had deserted me – rotten thing – just when I needed it most.
Now I don’t personally think that The Muses, in the classical form of nine Greek goddesses, inspire the arts and sciences. As a Christian I believe that my ultimate muse is the Holy Spirit and he never leaves me. But for whatever reason my creative spark had been extinguished and I couldn’t figure out how to reignite the pilot light.
Now each time I’ve attempted Nano, it’s been more about my writing process than completing a usable novel in the time period. I’ve learned a lot about what helps and hinders my creative process. This time was no exception.
One friend suggested that I should think of my muse as a petulant cat. You can’t make a cat do anything. You have to cajole them and rub them around the ears and tickle their tummy. Then they might comply. So I tried to relax, put my feet up, do a bit of reading, which happened to include Louise Penny’s, The Long Way Home.
Essentially the plot follows a search for an artist, Peter Morrow, who is missing. As the detectives, Peter’s wife, and some friends look for him it becomes apparent that he has been on a quest in search of his muse, the creative spark that will set his work apart.
I won’t tell you the ending as it would spoil it and I highly recommend you read the whole series from the beginning as knowing the people (um, I mean the characters) well adds depth to the story. But the book made me think about my creative process. Peter was searching for a way out of his stuck-ness and essentially that involved deconstructing his perfectionist technique and finding the heart and emotion in his work.
I certainly struggle with perfectionism in my writing. I have an overactive inner editor who wants me to ‘get it right’ or not do it at all. I find it difficult to embrace the freedom that allows me to write a chaotic, messy first draft. But I believe it’s important to find that freedom. In fact I think it’s mandatory if our writing is to have the creative flair that sets it apart from a thousand other well-written stories.
This, for me, is the value of NaNoWriMo. You can try things you wouldn't normally try.
In the midst of my stuck-ness I found that I had 8000 words to write and two days to go. I thought it was impossible.
‘Can’t do it,’ the inner editor said. ‘Just watch the cricket and be done with it.’
But something happened. I locked the fiend in a soundproofed cage and wrote. Even if I thought it was rubbish, I wrote. The result was a new approach to a story and a much more original main character. And I made the words easily. Whodathunk?
NaNoWriMo might not be your thing but I’d like to know how you tame your inner editor. What strategies do you use to silence her/him when writing a first draft? How do you ignite that elusive creative spark?