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The things that go into stories

Most days I am a firm believer in the ass-in-the- chair school of writing. Even if I have not yet been paid, even if I never am, it is work, like any other work we choose to do, or must do. Nobody talks about waitresses-block, or the bricklayers muse. (Maybe Ben Jonson had one of those though!)

But if there is a semi-mystical thing that we should try not to poke at, it is the force that takes ingredients, things we notice, or know, or feel, and makes them into a whole. That part is more like cooking maybe-- the goopy inedible stuff that bakes and becomes something consumable. Or maybe it is like pregnancy, a messy private action that leads to something we can eventually take to the store..  I don't know how that works in me, or in anyone, (The writing I mean, I am fair conversant with the other two,)

There is something sneaky and mysterious about the way research leads to false branches-- and an almost visual 'not that way, not that, that's it.' I love prompts, and how we can all take the same structure and everyone makes their own thing.

Today I am working on something-- and it involves a search for English 18th century house-paint, and a long ago trip to the Nantucket whaling museum, and an old woman who made me a pair of mittens in 1975, and the memory of my hopeless crush on red-haired Owen Jones, who was in 3rd grade, and too grand to notice a 1rst grader.  (Besides I was afraid of his sister.) Also, a terrible tragedy that happened almost 200 years ago now.

So that is all in the pot, we shall see what we get.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 21st, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
This is a beautiful post! So poetic.

The diff between straight up biography and story telling through composite is the first thing I try to explain to newbies because it is the most fascinating. My characters have my memories or memories of things that happened in the news. They might have my skill for guitar playing(which is weak and limited), my mom's ability to bake, and my cat's feisty spirit. I love that, and it's the part that I think is more miracle than hard work.
Aug. 21st, 2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
Oh, mine too. Or things I overhear on the subway.
Aug. 21st, 2013 09:47 am (UTC)
Yes, this!

One of the traps I feel new writers fall into is not taking stuff seriously. If you say you'll send a blog post by x date, or be at a chat on y day then you don't do it (forgot, double booked self, whatever) then you're just playing at being an author. Rant over.

The semi-mystical point is well made. I often let my subconscious work on a plot point - go off and clean the floor or something and Voila! the idea comes into my head. And so often what I needed is already in the mss in some form, almost waiting to be used. If that makes any sense.
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC)
I felt a quite primitive fear even talking about the process, how floor cleaning leads to writing, (or dishes, or dog walking, or sleep. I sort things in sleep a lot.) I had the feeling that looking at it too directly would make it veer away and desert me.
Aug. 21st, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
I think thing sometimes coalesce quickly and at other times they need one to be doing other things to process them

if the search for house paint can be helped by modern web sites
I recommend Farrow and Ball and also the Craig and Rose 1829 collection websites - if you just want to look at shades but I think they are British companies so if you mean to purchase I don' think they will be any use to you
nice pics though :)
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:42 pm (UTC)
Owen Jones made me think of you. Perhaps there was one in your childhood too-- mine was a Massachusetts boy though, to the bone. I wonder if he had relatives in Wales.

His father was some kind of crazy polymath. Good at everything. Once made a submarine in his garage, and dared to sail in it and did not die. Amazing. They kept goats too, like 50 of them. We did not breed to theirs, my mom said they were inbred.

Owen's older sister was named after a sloop.

I know all this because of my unrequited crush. I can still remember wanting to touch his freckles!
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:50 pm (UTC)
I think we didn't have an Owen Jones in my class or year but we had an Owain Morgan and a Gwillym Jones - both of whom were red heads and fiery wiht it; the latter being our doctor's son.And a second Owen Morgan spelt the English way who was a very quiet lad
Aug. 21st, 2013 09:23 pm (UTC)
I would recommend not looking at the Farrow and Ball website. It's dangerous. I looked at it once and, before I knew it, I'd spent almost £300 on wall paper! To say nothing of all the paint I've shelled out for....Dangerous I tell you!
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:01 pm (UTC)
I agree. You can't beat that magic moment when, after changing things, stirring them up, leaving them to stew, you suddenly think 'Yes, that's how it should be!'
Aug. 21st, 2013 02:34 pm (UTC)
I was in the thick of it last night. Writing until 2 am. It was delightful.
Aug. 21st, 2013 09:27 pm (UTC)
Yes there's definitely some sort of mysterious process at work and it's often one I feel I have no control over. At least when it comes to writing fiction. Though sometimes academic writing can be just as mysterious.

It's really interesting the metaphors and imagery we all use to describe the creative process. It's perplexingly hard to put it into words isn't it? To me is seems more like crystallisation than mixing (I'm a rather begrudging cook I'm afraid). All the threads and images and dialogue slowly coalesce and then it's my job to polish the rough edges off.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )