Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Laundry Gambit - Distracting Our Thoughts to Let Our Creativity Work

I've begun work on a piece of short fiction, a sort of steampunk-automaton-Underground Railroad-Quaker piece for The Shadow Conspiracy III, through Book View Cafe. (And if you haven't read the first 2 volumes, they are a treat.) My inner Difference Engine is somewhere in the post-novel doldrums. Nonetheless, aided by some research into 18th and 19th Century Quaker writings on the abolition of slavery, the general idea of a story has emerged. (Notice the passive voice - it really feels like I have nothing to do with it.) It's riddled with vagueness, gaps, and illogic, not to mention placeholder figures instead of characters. From experience, I know not to worry; this is normal and transitory.

I also know that if I try to "muscle through" this phase, I'll likely end up with useless, misdirected, and rigid drek (as opposed to fluid, creative, and eminently-revisable drek). For one thing, I'm not ready to crunch out words. I can't emphasize how important it is to be aware of my own rhythms of energy and creative focus. It's a bit like surfing (or how I imagine surfing, as I've done only a little body surfing) - the wave supplies the motive energy - pay attention, be ready when it comes, then swim like mad, but otherwise don't waste your strength.

For another thing, the story itself isn't ready. It will be; it's gathering shape and energy, but it isn't there yet. If I leap over the vital step of giving the story time to develop, then I will cut off those tender shoots before they can sprout. Sometimes this flowing process (I'm full of botanical metaphors today) results from a conscious effort; research is a good example, or plotting things out in the Magic Notebook. More often, it happens when I'm not looking. I don't mean to completely expunge the story from my consciousness. On the contrary, thinking about it frequently, jotting down notes, and chewing ideas over with a trusted friends are all good ways of nudging that "back burner" part of my brain -- Hey, this is what I need help with.

Hence, laundry. Sometimes, if I'm stuck, I'll do something I loathe: instant motivation. Laundry is not one of those things. It's summer, and I hang the clothes out to dry, the drying area being adjacent to the herb garden. I love the physical activity, the sense of putting things into order (I'm a bit obsessive, hanging all the socks up together, that sort of thing). Plus the gentle morning sun and the amazing fragrances of the herbs. I soak in all this sensory gorgeousness; I move rhythmically, my body relaxed and happy; my mind is likewise content as line after line of clean, properly sorted clothing emerges. And somewhere in that process, doubtless prompted by the recent gentle direction of my thoughts to the story at hand, something unexpected and utterly wonderful pops into my mind.

In this story, it was the missing third act, the knockout punch. But it could be a character coming to life, niggling in my ear as I reach for an extra clothespin with which to secure a pair of heavy jeans. Or a glimpse into another world, perhaps catalyzed by a marauding squirrel or a bee in ecstasy amid the clover.

The last piece of this process is to not let too much time elapse before jotting down whatever inspiration comes to me. I want to reward my inner muse -- Good Muse! More! More! -- and I want to remember.

In the winter, well... the socks still need to be sorted...

The image, Janis Miglavs, Clothes line dream, 2004, is licensed under Creative Commons.

1 comment:

  1. Doing the washing and housecleaning are acceptable alternatives but nothing beats a good bicycle ride ... with notebook and pencil - pens hate me - handy.