Monday, August 6, 2007

Writing When You're Not Writing (Fermentation)

This weekend I chatted with John at work about his book (and nagging him to come to Springs to meet everbody - to which he declined, again). He said he wasn't really focusing on the book right now because 1. he wanted to give it some time to sit and 2. he was focusing on a new workout routine. This got me thinking about Deb.

Deb has talked about how sometimes she can be really productive with her writing when she's not actually writing. She'll go on a walk and do pre-writing in her head, plotting out the next chapter or solving a narrative problem, etc. Then, when she gets home and sits down in front of the computer, her writing goes that much faster because she already knows what she wants to do next.

So, I wonder, even though John's not "working" on the book, is he still working on it?

It's fermentation time, baby.

I'm always amazed at how stories can work themselves out when we leave them alone. By directing our energy somewhere else, whether by physically doing something, or mentally letting the story sit, we can solve our writing dilemmas more easily than if we sat there in front of the computer, hands on keys ready to go.

My hypothesis is that the key to fermentation is freedom. When we've hit a problem and can't get through it we sometimes get to the point of trying to walk through a cement wall. We keep pushing and pushing, thinking "I have to get through." Then, we go for a walk, lift some weights, or do the dishes. Suddenly, the realization comes - it's time to climb over the wall.

When I worked in the kitchen at the bar, I got a lot of fermentation done. So much of what I was doing, like washing dishes, needed no brain power at all, so I got to let my mind roam. The kitchen is where I solved the problem of whether or not Gwyn should die in Oracle, and a dozen other logistical quandries.

What about you? Does getting active help you write better? Does cleaning the house improve your prose?

1 comment:

Whittaker Luckless said...

It's weird. You say that thing about the dishes and I go "yeah! I loved washing dishes at work! Was the best! Thinky thinky!" But you ask about cleaning the house, and the answer is almost definitely no.

Some activity helps me. Some distracts me. Like if I take a walk, and I look at stuff--how the trees are changing or the cars going by or quirks in the buildings--I can't think about writing almost at all, except to sometimes think of settings in which to put scenes sometimes. But if I stare at the sidewalk while I go then trouble spots just cycle through my head, and I've figured out really hard things that way, sometimes almost losing track of where I'm walking.

But not everything does this. Sometimes reading gets the creative juices pumping, which is annoying because I can't keep track of the story in the book AND the story in my head.

Playing music redirects my attention entirely. I can't think of anything while I play piano. But sometimes that's a good thing. To step back, empty your mind, regain your focus, and let things ferment.