Holding Lightning / The Big Bang


Before you think I’m nuts (I am, but I get paid for most of it) the following blog is mostly tongue in cheek. Sometimes readers forget that I write fiction, and that means that I have a tendency toward hyperbole. Not that I did that here. Nope. No way. (grins)
Blog starts……..now.

I like writing. I mean, I do it for a living, so it’s important that I like it, right? But a lot of the process of writing isn’t exactly fun. A lot isn’t exactly creative. Some of it is problem solving, some of it is technical, some is search and replace, some is relationship building, relationship destroying, boring, exhilarating, foot-stomping fun, tedious, and let us not forget, some is exhausting. Most of the time it doesn’t pay well enough.

Then there’s the more personal side of the job. Strangers give me advice on my hairstyle, clothes, appearance, my love life, my religious life, and my home life, because they think I *am* my characters. People in jail write me love letters. People want to sell me their great ideas. Or better yet, give me their ideas, have me write the books, and put their names on the covers with mine. Fans and other writers (no one here, thank God) fall in love with me, send me love letters, and want to suck out my brain with a straw. No, I am not drunk or stoned. It’s true. Misty, stop laughing.

Even with all that, I still love my job. All except one, tiny, miserable part.

But let me backtrack a bit. David wrote about getting ideas. The idea part of writing is fun, because it’s sorta like a treasure hunt, but there’s no map except one I am seeing inside my head, and the treasure, well, it’s in the same place, but I can’t always get to it from here. I have to go somewhere else to start. It is like being crazy, hallucinating weird things, hearing voices, seeing parts of plays no one ever produced—letting my brain freebase on creativity. You know—the most fun part of writing.

This blog is about the next step in the creative process. The *I-got-an-idea-now-what* phase. I’m in it. Oh, baby, am I in it…. I had tea with a writer pal Monday and discovered that she is in that phase too. We compared notes…. And here, for both of us, is where the nutso, head-banging part of being a writer lives and breathes and walks the earth and terrorizes small children and dogs and scares our families. I am totally serious. This part of writing is, for me (and for my pal) hair-pulling, sleep-stealing, nerve-grating, and just plain freaking awful.

Why? In my case, it’s because: I. Don’t. Know. What. To do!

All my life I have needed to know what to do next. As long as I know what I can do to help or fix a problem, I am content even if the fix and help is painful, exhausting, and difficult. But when I am in idea-land, an idea in one hand but no clue how to control it, where to take it, or how to make it into something wonderful people might want to read, well…I am lost…. And half crazy with the excitement and the potential and the possibilities of both utter disaster and complete triumph. Holding onto the idea is like holding  lightning.

I have an idea and it is churning inside me like a dervish, like a demon on crack, like a Chihuahua on meth. It fills me with explosive energy, and the energy has no outlet. NONE! NO OUTLET! It is stuck inside me, and I don’t know what to do with the energy-idea. I can’t sleep until I have a direction, a conflict, a character, and a plot that fit together like skin on a drum. It has to resonate and have rhythm and life and it has *feel right*. And for me, it is the worst, most painful part of the creative process. I’m in it now. I have an idea for book three in the Jane Yellowrock series. Just an idea. And it has me in its grip and it is shaking me like a rat in the maw of a fox. Even my skin feels electric and agitated and awaiting…something. I lie down to sleep at night and can’t because it’s racing around inside me, bouncing off the walls of my mind.

But I am not alone in this crazed phase. My writer pal and I shared about this creative-phase. (waves to writer pal) She too goes through it—no sleep, no rest, just this *IDEA* bouncing around inside, looking for a conflict to ride or a character to conflict. It made me feel so much better to know I am not alone! You have no freaking idea. My writer pal says it’s like a burning bunny tearing through her, around and around, dropping flames everywhere, starting fires, spreading and growing and nowhere to go with it. Knowing I was not alone with this particular crazy phase was a huge relief. (Though my family may accuse me of running at the head of the pack when it comes to being nutso.)

This is the Big Bang part of writing. Got a seed, an atom, a whiff of the future. Need some nourishing soil or a cyclotron or a crystal ball. An idea, just waiting, ready to sprout, humming with the potential for conflict or violence or romance or catastrophe. Back when I first started writing, I would have a glass or two of wine to help me live with the insane djinn in the bottle of my mind. That looked to be getting out of hand, so I gave it up in place of just living with the crazed phase, knowing it wouldn’t last too long. And it usually doesn’t. I keep reminding myself of that.

So. Anyone else ever have a crazy-demon-idea riding them? What did it feel like? Did it go anywhere? Did it ride you into a story, a book, or maybe a bottle of pills or Jack? If it took you someplace creative, where did it take you? What did you get from the manic phase of writing?


40 comments to Holding Lightning / The Big Bang

  • Beatriz

    Fabulous post, Faith! It’s sorta comforting to know that even pros get that feeling of not knowing what’s next– the limitless possibilities can be scary.

    Off topic– will you be coming to faire this season? If so, I plan to have my straw ready!!

  • Faire! I forgot all about it! I could! What’s dates?

  • I could have more than one idea in a day. I already have my entire series planned out and I’m just writing the first draft. The ideas and fleshing them out isn’t the difficult part for me, it’s the execution. Am I doing this right, does it suck, etc…

    Seriously, people approach you with love letters, asking you to collaborate, etc. I’m not sure how I would react to that. LOL.

  • Yeah, every new shiny does this to me, but I have to admit that I relish this part of the process. That new creative energy is like single malt, chocolate, and sex all rolled into one. So, yeah, I know what you’re talking about and I remember a wave of new excitement for my Winds of the Forelands series carrying me literally through a book and half of my first trilogy. I struggled with those second and third books and at times wanted to throw up my hands. But the promise of being able to work on the new story once I was done pulled me through.

  • Fans and other writers (no one here, thank God)… want to suck out my brain with a straw.

    Eeeuuuww! Gooshy! 😀

    The Carolina Renaissance Faire begins October 10, and runs every weekend until November 22. Hours are 10 am to 5:30 pm; to get your money’s worth, it’s best to spend the whole day. And if you happen to want to see a certain belly dancer performing, I have it on good authority she’ll be dancing the following days:

    Sunday, Oct 11
    Saturday, Oct 17
    Sunday, Oct 18
    Saturday, Oct 31
    Saturday, Nov 7
    Sunday Nov 8
    Saturday Nov 14
    Sunday Nov 15

  • Tyhitia, I totally understand that series-long creative process, whre it’s all there, exploding out at you. What fun!

    David said >>That new creative energy is like single malt, chocolate, and sex all rolled into one.>>

    David, I wish it was lovely like that for me, all the way through the process. I only start to feel *that* the moment I have a direction. In the Big Bang concept, that lovely sensation you are describing is (for me) the millisecond after the bang starts. That is when the idea takes its first focus, and grows from painful to fabulous. But when I have the about-to-explode atom in my hand, and nothing is happening at all, except pressure is building, it is not so much fun. I can’t sleep. Can’t rest or have fun or relax. Give me a week though! Then the fun part starts.

  • Yeah Misty! I have them on my calendar! You guys should see Misty dance at least once in your lifetime. It’s like — she’s like — molten lava, powerful, sensuous, hot, and dangerous. (grins)

  • Ooh, I’ve always wanted to be dangerous! 😀

  • Kim

    Hi, Gwen. Tea was therapeutic. Thank you.
    It’s everything you said. I have an idea, but I see the holes in the logic, the lack of sparkle in the corner, and something missing. Until I find the missing something that will make my editor and my readers eyes sparkle and a chill slip down their spine, I don’t sleep well–too many ifs floating around demanding to be tried on. When it falls in place, it’s the best feeling. This one is going to take a long time to develop. I can’t wait. 😉 –Kim

  • Thanks, Kim. In case you guys missed it — the burning bunny comment was Kim’s…. (see the bunny of her avatar?)

  • I have those moments on occasion. The most brilliant (in intensity, not intelligence) came from a dream. I seldom have markedly vivid dreams, but this was one of those that I woke up from and new it would have to become a story, somehow, some way. Oddly it was little more than a place and this strange, undead thing I saw there, but what was so unusual about it was that when I woke from this dream I knew what this strange place was called. The Bare Dirty. How could I not creat a story that used this? Such a cool, unusual, and striking name. It took almost a year, but I finally came upon an idea to use it, and it is now my current wip. Of course, now that my other book has sold, and its two sequels as well, it will get put onto the back burner for a while, but it will be my follow up. It has to be. I can’t say no to it.

  • Faith, what would your idea mean for the world if it could be implemented in real life? Who would it help? Who would it hurt? Is the helping necessarily a good thing? Is the hurting necessarily a bad thing?

    Now here’s an idea I got just now, triggered by your post, the questions I just asked above, and the trials and travails the people of sub-Saharan Africa are going through.

    Idea: The elves have decided to integrate into human society, but they’re having a hard time with it. Some do-gooders are working to help the elves transition, but with their help the elves are doing worse than before. In addition the elves have become dependent on the aid, and as a result their fortunes are becoming worse at an accelerated pace. Can the elves wean themselves from their dependency? Do they want to wean themselves from their dependency?

    Caveat: The elves can’t separate themselves from the humans; for while they are dying as it is, they were dying at a far faster rate when they kept themselves separated. Can they integrate themselves into human society and prosper, or are they doomed to extinction?

  • Jim, first, kudos on the sale. I personally would like to see a blog here about how you got the sale, the process, etc. You know, a *How I sold a book in today’s market* kinda thing.

    Next, I totally love the Bare Dirty. (I think you mentioned it here once?) And, I too have the rare book that I can’t say no to…

  • Alan, I love it when a fantasy book concept can parallel real life. You doing it? I think it’s great! You can add in a disease that came from their land, has a treatment (not a cure) but the elves can’t afford it and it’s destroying them faster than anyone else. And the natural resources of oil and gold and diamonds the world wants contribute to the destruction of them too. It’s “Out of Africa” meets Urban fantasy. Great idea!

  • I have two of those right now, and so I have the added problem of not knowing which one to build on first. Where do I go with these ideas? I don’t want to lose momentum with either one, but I haven’t decided which direction on either of them to go with. *sigh*

  • Becky, I know exactly what you mean. For 4 years I wrote a fantasy *and* a thriller/mystery each year. It was awful to have two great ideas. I felt electrified way too often!

  • Botanist

    Sometimes I am so grateful to be only a technical writer. Science by serendipity and chaos rule my world, but not conversation in my mind, or mania.

    It’s confusing to me, but I appreciate the fruit of it. I worry about the liberal use of antidepressants nowadays and how that will affect our future arts and literature.

  • Botanist, I have to agree. Mood-meds (alcohol included) have long been abused by artistic people, perhaps as a way to control the creative mania. Or maybe creative genes are closely related to dependenccy genes. I’d like to see a study on that. And it would make a great book premise. (grins)

  • Hi Faith, great post! That totally happens to me. It’s nice to hear that I’m not alone in the insanity 🙂 What is wose is when it happens in the middle of a project and I just *have* to stop that project to get that new idea down before the characters in my head threaten to trash the place. Sometimes that idea will have to simmer, which makes me nustos, usually I just let it all go and will get down chapter sna dchapters untill the idea will let me rest enough to finsh what I was working on, or what I need to get done (but not always, lol). It leads to alot of bouncing around and needing to sit down and focus, lol. Now, where is that focus spray…

  • Wow. You have focus spray???? I need some of that! (grins)

  • Rebinkc

    Oh my goodness. You explained it. My husband said I kept him awake whispering in my sleep working out my ideas and seeing it in my head, but not able to put it all together. I started writing it, but now I’m stuck trying to figure out how to get to the hows and whys… I have an idea now how to get there.


  • Excellent, Rebinkc! I remember the days when I kept a lighted notepad by the bed to jot down night-dream-thoughts.

  • Honestly, I enjoy the entire process of writing. It seems to give both sides of my brain a bit of a workout. Though it is maddening if I get the spark of an idea and can’t explore it till later. Kinda like now. Got other things to do and can’t get back to writing and it’s starting to irritate.

  • Daniel, I enjoy the whole process much better now, with a few novels under my belt. Now, it’s just a few days (early on) that drive me insane. In fact, I am now out of that phase, and into the *Holy Crap! This is gonna be good* phase of this particular book. It lasted about 7 days.

  • Sarah

    I love that stage actually. I get chills and massive insomnia and I dart around the apartment waving my hands and talking to my cat, but I love it. It’s like a new cosmos just opened up inside me and I feel god-like. Then I have to do all the hard, horrible work of making it come out right on paper – that’s when I start to weep and bang my head on things, somewhere after the initial brilliance, when I realize that I am not God and that the step between idea and reality is going to be hard, hard work and it’s not going to come out perfectly. But it’s still massively satisfying.

  • Botanist

    I should mention, Kim Harrison sent me here. She sent a bunch of us over…probably to harass you.

    From one of the men who probably helped mold me, or make me moldy…

    There is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized or even cured. the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private and where food can be poked in to him with a stick.
    Robert A. Heinlein

  • Faith @ 5:47am

    That gets to close to a trope that would get people fixated on the wrong thing. There are parallels with real world matters, that is true; but, you don’t want too many parallels.

  • Let’s say you have two great ideas. Do you have to reserve them for separate works? You have Great Idea A, how would Great Idea B affect it?

    An example of this is Faith’s Rogue Mage trilogy. Great Idea A; God returns and puts everybody on probation. Great Idea B; his agents—the cherubim and seraphim—are a bunch of 8th graders. So Humanity is in the hands of a bunch of young adolescents and all their mental and emotional hangups.

    It then becomes a matter of integrating the two, making them work together to present a coherent whole. How could you integrate your two Great Ideas into something that makes sense, entertains, and keeps the reader coming back for more?

  • Since I’m writing…

    Elves are convinced they run the world.

    Humans run the world.

    Dragons, being kindly and thoughtful creatures, let elves believe they run the world, and let humans run the world.

  • Sarah, it sounds like our *I hate this phase* are two totally different parts of the creative process. I hate the initial directionless phase, and you hate the one just after. But I totally feel for you in the *I am not God* reaction. The amount of work and emotion and angst that goes into a book is pretty awful. And wonderful.

  • Botanist, I had no idea Kim sent you. Sweet! And I have always loved that RH quote. My hubby has, upon accassion, dragged me from the PC and forced food at me. I think it was in a bowl, with a spoon, rather than on a stick, though, feeding what was left of my childlike physical abilities after the story took everything else away.

  • Alan, I like the *take two and make them one* approach. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing, when the things most opposite come together, like in a boxing ring, but they have to learn to survive within the confines rather than fight. Humans are not very good at that at all. Most of the people in power would rather fight to the death of the planet than create peace.

    You said >>Dragons, being kindly and thoughtful creatures, let elves believe they run the world, and let humans run the world.

    Um. Dragons would be lazy and not very bright in letting humans run the world. Of course, that is what a lot of folk think God did … gave it to humans to run. Which is why the RM books worked on that level, but from the standpoint that when we had screwed it up badly enough, God sent someone to stop it. And us. And then seemed to forget about us entirely.

  • suzanne lazear

    I wish focus spray was real, lol. It’s a joke on movie sets (for focusing the camera) and they’ll send poor, unsuspecting interns all over LA to buy more cans of it. The movie equiptment stores play along and will be like, “we’re fresh out, but so-and-so still has some.” I’ll get frusterated and tell my husband I need focus spray, and he’ll like “how many cans, I’ll send an intern for it tomorrow.” LOL (he doesn’t actually tho, no interns are harmed in my writing, lol)

    Happy Weekend!

  • I am having one of these moments. But I’m not a writer. I am a boring IT person. But I read a lot, and enjoy the crazy escapism that books allow. So I had this idea about an online community. I figured for sure someone, somewhere was already doing what I was longing for. I scoured the web and I found nothing. They weren’t! Anywhere! It floored me and now is consuming me to make such a community for myself and others. I don’t want to make money or anything with it, but I want it to be “just so.” And I am not a creative person or a web designer. But this idea is just keeping me from focusing on anything else, because I want to make it happen. And I don’t know what to do next! 🙂 So I completely understand and it actually happens occassionally outside the writing world as well.

  • Suzanne, That’s a riot! I love it! If you make some up and design a lable for it, I’ll buy a can and keep it on my desk next to the farting dog, the Apache tears and the angels. It would be perfect!

    B-ster, my mom is an artist and she gets creative nutso too. She’ll get up in the middle of the night, scrounge up a canvas, and paint till dawn. And then call and wake my lazy butt up to come see! So I guess I get it honestly.

  • *sneaks in late hoping no one will notice*

    This post was great. I have that sam “crazy” phase in my writing process. Happens pretty much every time I have a new idea–which has been pretty often lately. It’s especially annoying when I have another project going on at the moment, which I always do.

    I’ve tried the mixer method, but sometimes I just cant it all the ideas going on in my head into one story. Even if I shove four in one box, there’s three mo I have to put somewhere else.

    I’ve got a continuous stream of bangs, and even once I sort them out, they don’t like to stay where I’ve put them.

  • Faith,

    My dragons delegate authority. Humans want the hassle of running the world, they can have the hassle of running the world. Gives dragons time for their hobbies. 🙂

  • Atsiko, I don’t do the mixer method well either!

    Alan, I would be scared to ask about dragon hobbies…

  • Lily

    Whoa that is so weird, it’s the complete opposite for me. I get an idea, and I can’t let it go so other ideas start popping into my head to help it. And before I know it, I have an entire book just waiting to be written!
    My problems are:
    1.I get too many ideas for other stories while thinking of ideas to help the idea that I just got. So then I have to elaborate on those ideas and I have all these stories waiting for me! I can’t write two novels at once, it just doesn’t work.
    2.I have no idea how to start my stories off. That’s where I get really stumped. :S

    Thanks for the post!

  • Hi Lily, that is part of the manic phase of writing for me — discarding the ideas that don’t work with the new-shiney-idea. Focusing all the ideas that will work onto the new concept, and letting my crazy creative mania phase put them into the proper order. I don’t have a lot of control of the process at this point. It is deeper than that, actually, but the focue *is* happening deep inside. The only conscious part is me saying, “No, that won’t work. No, that won’t work. Oh yea, that’s good! I’ll keep that one!” Like that.