Point A to Point B

My thoughts are jumping all over the place today. I’ve been thinking a bit about the Oscars, about film-making, about the NPR series on movie-set jobs, and about the recent death of Maria von Trapp, one of the daughters of the famous family of singers whose story was told in The Sound of Music.

These thoughts led me on to new places…like this admittedly bad joke — which happens to be one of my favorites:

AcornWhat did the little acorn say when it grew up?

“Geometry!”

Uh, yeah, for the humor-challenged, that’s “Gee, I’m a tree.”

Are you seeing any patterns here? No? Good. You’re not supposed to see any patterns. There are none.

From geometry, my mind skipped ahead to Arthur Zulu, an ambitious fellow from Nigeria whose creative mind allowed him to bypass the usual letter-scam routine and promise millions to be made from writing best-sellers. He’ll tell you precisely how to do it in an amusing little book, How to Write a Bestseller.

Yes, I read it. Hey, it was free! And I do enjoy a good laugh, otherwise why would I appreciate silly riddles about acorns?

What? You’ve never heard of best-selling author, Arthur Zulu? Don’t feel bad. Nobody else has either, so apparently he’s failed to follow his own advice.

qm

Question: Is it wrong for me to poke a bit of fun at this enterprising fellow? Probably so. But, he’s the one who stuck his neck out and claimed to have the answers. 

The process, Zulu tells us, is simple, indeed. A best-seller needs a good title, so choose one wisely. Next, consider the beginning of the story. Something to “hook” the reader would be good. Write that down. Now, think of the ending. Great! You’re making excellent progress. All you must do now is fill in the rest of the story. It’s that easy.

In fairness to Arthur Zulu, he does include some information about the publishing industry, biographies of many best-selling authors, and a staggering array of facts and figures that made my eyes glaze over. He’s thrown in some motivational words, as well. You can do it, he says, if you really believe in yourself.

By now, you can probably see how my mind tends to skip around, bouncing from one thought to another, ping-ponging between seemingly unrelated ideas, and wandering far off-course at any point from A to B.

That’s what this is really all about, you see. Point A. Point B. The distance between them, and most of all, how to get from one to the other.

Back to, yes, geometry.

Geometry

Oh, by the way, I just read a fascinating article in Discover magazine about art and mathematics, and maybe you’d like to check it out.

Mathematical Masterpieces

All right. Back to writing. Point A. Point B.

Storytelling truly is a simple process of getting from one point to another. Most writers, I think, believe the best way to get from beginning to end is a straight-forward, linear course with each scene written in a logical sequence according to its chronology within the story.

In other words, you can’t write a love scene between Bob and Mary until they’ve met. You can’t write about the hero locating the hidden treasure before he’s given the map. You most assuredly can’t write that fateful scene where your heroine renounces love and swears to run away to the convent before you’ve done that crucial scene where she sees the man she loves in the arms of that awful other woman…can you?

Sure, you can. I do it all the time.  Especially at the start of a new project, when I have thousands of uncharted words to explore. All possibilities are open, and my imagination is free to wander.

Much like a film director who shoots scenes at one location — regardless of where they fit in the story — then moves to another, I jump around in my scene-writing.

Of course, I have a general outline to guide me. I know who my characters are and the problems they’ll face. I have an understanding of how they will grow and change at each stage of the story.

Armed with a list of potential scenes, I’ll sit down and start writing — in no particular order. I’ll grab a scene from the middle of the story, take a deep breath, and plunge in. No, I don’t know exactly what’s gone before. I have no idea what will go into the scene directly before it, but at the first-draft stage, I don’t need to know.

Or, more to the point, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to place any restrictions upon my thoughts. I don’t want my imagination to be confined to what seems logical. Instead, I want freedom. I want to throw in whatever ideas come into my head. I want to pull out all the stops and wring out every last drop of drama without some nagging voice inside my head saying, “Wait, that’s not going to work. That doesn’t fit. That doesn’t make sense.”

When I’m free to write as I please, my characters are free, as well. They can unleash whatever emotions are churning inside of them. They can speak their minds. They can do whatever they must.

Later, of course, comes the task of assembling it all, putting it into order, and making sense of the jumbled mess.  As crazy as it all sounds, it’s really not so difficult. The huge, dramatic points I’ve created serve as guideposts, showing me the proper direction the story should take. I arrange and re-arrange, I shuffle, I tweak. It comes together with a depth of emotion that I don’t believe would have ever been possible had I simply written the story is a logical, one-scene-after-another method.

In truth, yes, I sometimes find myself with great scenes that don’t fit anywhere in the story. When writing Summertime, set during the early days of World War I, I had a heart-wrenching scene where the hero, Ed Ferguson, learns of his brother’s death. Good scene. But it didn’t work on a number of levels. I threw it out. It happens.

The emotions, however, remained with me as I wrote these lines in the “final draft” process:

He kept staring after Johnny, kept waiting for him to stop, but his brother walked on, splashing through the rainy morning, his bulky figure getting smaller as each step put more distance between him and Ed. Finally, he stepped beyond the horizon into the clouded gray day.

Ed swallowed, hard. No man could ever know the future with any certainty, but something in his gut told him he’d never see his brother again.

People are often aghast when I describe my “hit and miss, here and there” writing style.  I’ll admit, I once thought all stories had to be written one scene after another in logical, linear fashion. How could it be otherwise?

But, thank goodness I trusted the workings of my muse and allowed my imagination to wander. Getting from Point A to Point B isn’t always about following a single, straight line. Sometimes the creative power we seek lies in the little detours along the way.

Get off the well-walked road from time to time. Shake up your writing routines. Give yourself the freedom to write your story in any order you want. After all, maybe that logical, straight-forward story you’re trying to tell isn’t meant to be quite so logical and straight-forward. Maybe when you shuffle it all around inside your head, you’ll see new ideas emerging that will make your story fresh and new.

Have fun…and happy writing!

Mindfulness and Creative Pursuits

Recently on Facebook I was “tagged” by a friend for the little game of “Random Facts”. I was asked to share fourteen things about myself.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to share them here…except for one item on the list.

9. I’m weird — I love to iron.

Yep.  Many years ago, ironing was a necessity. You did it whether you liked it or not. Not so, today, of course. With all the fancy wrinkle-free fabrics and permanent press washer/dryer cycles, who needs to iron? Not too many people, to tell the truth.

Ironing

If you’re the observant type — more on that later — you’ll notice that this illustration shows a very old-fashioned flat iron. 

Growing up, I used an iron like this. By choice. Being left-handed, and this being back in the day when irons had cords that were rigidly attached to one side, I was always getting tangled up in the cord and burning myself. It was painful.

But still, I ironed. Then, however, I discovered the old flat-iron tucked away in my grandfather’s cabinet. I’d heat it up on the stove, iron, and smile.

So what it is about ironing that has such appeal for me? Is it the warmth? The smooth, finished, wrinkle-free results of my work? The tickling sensation that comes from spray starch?

None of the above. Oh, all right, maybe all  of the above have some appeal, but mostly what I love about ironing is that it takes me off into a creative space. My mind is free to wander while I stand ironing. Even as my hands perform a mundane task, my imagination is off pursuing glorious adventures. It’s a time of mind-less-ness. Conscious thought doesn’t stop altogether, but the rational takes a backseat to the fantastical. To put it simply: ironing is creative.

So, too, is dishwashing and floor scrubbing. Any routine, repetitive, mundane chore that allows me to remain relatively still as I work gives me the opportunity to retreat inward, to climb inside my head and visit with all the characters who reside there. It’s a quiet time when I can listen to their stories, hear their voices, and return to my world refreshed, energized, and filled with ideas.

I think these times of mind-less-ness are important to writers, to artists, to musicians.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, of course, is mind-ful-ness, a state of hyper-awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings. A Zen master might describe it as attaining oneness or being in the moment.

Part of developing creativity does involve mind-ful-ness. It is important for us to use our senses fully as writers. To do so requires first that we use our senses fully in our own lives. How can we accurately describe the texture of a thick, woolen sweater if we’ve never taken time to notice it? How can we share with readers the subtle changes in light and color as the sun rises each day unless we’ve experienced it ourselves?

Stop right where you are now.

Can you feel the back of your chair? Is it hot or cold in the room? Are you aware of your own breathing? Is there a taste in your mouth? What sounds do you hear?

Mindfulness means paying attention. It means being observant. It means taking notes — mental or otherwise — about our experiences. Creativity requires mindfulness as much as it thrives on mind-less-ness. Both are important.

I know I too often lean toward the mind-less end of the spectrum. My task is to remind myself to pay attention, to become more aware of my surroundings, to sometimes get out of my head and back  into the real world.

How about you?