Writing in a vacuum

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(That subject line makes me think of huddling in a Dirt Devil, dust and muck and bits of cat fur whizzing by me as I try desperately to drown out the noise and type witty things. My mother says I have a weird mind. :))

People are forever saying to writers, “Where do you get your ideas?” My friend Lilith Saintcrow has just made an absolutely wonderful post about this sort of thing, although it’s not what inspired me to write about it today.

What inspired me was trying to finish up my last short story for Fiction Week over on my blog. I was chatting with my mom and said I was stuck, explained where I was in the story and what I needed, and she helped me come up with an idea that worked. I’d been *almost* there, but I hadn’t quite gotten far enough, and she gave me that extra push.

It is true that writers get their ideas everywhere: from watching strangers at the restaurant, as Lili did; from applying what if? to a scene or situation; from dreams and from mash-ups and from looking out airplane windows. I think that gets talked about a lot.

I think what gets talked about less is being 3/4ths done with a book, say, HANDS OF FLAME, and knowing what the final scene is, which you’ve known since you wrote the original synopsis for the series five years ago, but suddenly realizing you don’t know how or why it happens.

It is at this moment when, filled with panic and despair, you turn to your friend Trent and say, “I need a question that the vampire wouldn’t want answered,” and Trent, without missing a beat, says, “Where are the bodies buried?”

Then the miracle occurs. Trent is still mumbling about how he doesn’t know why he said that, and he doesn’t know what it would mean, but in *your* mind everything is tumbling in to place. The conversation you had (with Trent) three months ago about aspects of the Old Races–a conversation that was really cool but seemed to have no practical application to the story–weds itself to this question, and the story unfolds in such obvious continuity that you can’t imagine how you didn’t think of that yourself.

It’s brainstorming, obviously, and that *does* get talked about, but it’s so often talked about in terms of workshopping or critique groups. I don’t workshop my books or have a critique group. I have a handful of beta readers (Trent included, so he had a pretty clear idea of what was going on when he asked that question), and I spend a surprising amount of time wandering away from my keyboard to find my husband and say, “I need your brain.”

I honestly have no idea what I’d do without people to bounce ideas off of. Write different endings to the trilogy, probably, and perhaps be less satisfied with the results. For me, having these people to talk to is vital. Not always: my husband knew the general plot of THE QUEEN’S BASTARD because he lives with me and I talk about what I’m doing, but as he said, “That one was all yours.” Some of the books are. Others, not so much. For the not-so-much ones, those Q&A sessions are critical.

Yeah. Even when I think that writing is a solitary occupation–and it is–there are moments that make me realize just how much I’m *not* writing in a vacuum.

And that’s good. Getting that grit out of my teeth is just a pain. :)

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5 comments to Writing in a vacuum

  • Catie said, “(That subject line makes me think of huddling in a Dirt Devil, dust and muck and bits of cat fur whizzing by me as I try desperately to drown out the noise and type witty things.”

    I am currently having to monitor a testing lab, and I almost hurt myself just now. Ever tried to hold in a belly laugh? Oweee. *grin*

    I love to use my husband’s brain on long car trips. I can neither read nor write in a moving car, but I can brainstorm. Todd always seems to offer the one idea I just couldn’t come up with on my own.

    It’s so much better than being in that Dirt Devil all alone. 😀

  • YES! Catie (not Katie who is a character in my WIP), you got it just right. That brainstorming is vital. Even if it doesn’t result in immediate answers, just lifting the rug so the dust gets out helps to find the answer sometimes.

    Thanks for this. Wonderful post. And I just discovered Lilith SaintCrow and adore her work.
    Faith

  • Beatriz

    “I love to use my husband’s brain on long car trips. I can neither read nor write in a moving car, but I can brainstorm. Todd always seems to offer the one idea I just couldn’t come up with on my own. ”

    You know I have only one thing to say about this, right?

    Little. Rummer. Boy.

    Word to the captain, yo.

  • Great post, Catie. I do this with Nancy sometimes; I also find that I can recreate that brainstorming conversation alone on a keyboard if I have to. But bridging that gap between being mostly done with a book and actually finishing it can be harrowing.

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