The Gap is Gone

For many years, writing filled a gap in my life.

When they came into my life, the characters kept me company in the dark as I tried to fall asleep in my new apartment, totally alone for the first time.

Later, my brain explored their world as my body did physical tasks long since gone mindless.  Their conversations kept me entertained through the boredom of lines, their adventures gave my mind a place to wander when it had nothing else to do.

A lack of challenge, a shortage of stimulation, led me to writing.  A hobby soon grew, becoming a passion, and I was hooked.

For the past year, I’ve barely written.  Blogs are sparse, characters are quiet, and it’s been perplexing to me.  These are my children, this world one of my own making, a place I am always welcome.  There are still lines to stand in, still quiet moments in the dark, still tasks that don’t require my brain.  Where has the story gone?

This week I realized – the story is not gone, but the gap is no more.  Those empty moments are now occupied with work, with stress, with the many things to which I’ve committed my time and energy.  The chatter that filled my mind now dims in down moments; what was once a fairly level din is now peaks of intensity followed by valleys of quiet.

In searching for and finding a more challenging job, I fear I’ve reduced writing back to an occasional hobby.  I’ll have to decide if I want to pursue ways to bring it back; perhaps I’ll find quiet moments again, as this job becomes more routine, and the characters will speak once more.

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Dissecting vs. Reading

I like to think that I’ve gotten reasonably good at understanding the basic mechanics of stories and recognizing common motifs.  That’s how I can break down story elements, like the different ways that you can interfere with a romantic relationship between your characters.  It’s also why I have blog-related reactions to familiar movies on television.  Of course, this skill would have been much more useful in high school and college, when I had to write papers analyzing poems and novels, but I won’t toss the knowledge out of the window just because it came to me later.  (If this is a skill you’d like to develop, I highly recommend How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster.  That’s where I got started.)

Dissecting a story, be it written or filmed, is something I have to do after the fact.  It’s one thing to be able to distill the essence of a character in a blog post, or to find commonalities between familiar tales.  It is something entirely to do it while I’m in the moment and enjoying the story.

Yes, some things become predictable.  I am rarely surprised by movies or television any more, at least in the genres that I enjoy, and when I am blindsided by a twist it is worth noting.  (Recent examples are the 100th episode of Castle and the movie The Tourist.)  This is much less common for me when reading.  Even when the relationship trajectory is clear to everyone, I am still painfully in suspense when the hurdles appear.  Will they get back together?  What’s going to happen?  That’s why books can still prevent me from sleeping – I just have to know what happens next.

After I finish a novel, I can recognize those similar themes and characters that run through many books.  When I’m done, I can look back and see how the author set up certain things, and how actions at the beginning led to results later.  If I’m actually absorbed in the story, however, forget asking me to explain it.  I’m too wrapped up in what’s happening to make those connections.

The Power of Suggestion

Tonight I am watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Want to guess why?

That’s right!  While I was writing yesterday’s post, the quote about the pirate’s code being guidelines rather than rules occurred to me.  Then Mike Coville mentioned it in his comment about the post.  Those two things combined made me realize that I haven’t watched the movie in a while, and the idea of having a little movie night got caught in my brain.

It turned out that (as usual) there wasn’t much on television on a Friday night, so movie it is!

It’s always interesting to think about the human mind and where ideas come from.  Usually they’re hard to trace, especially if the end result has been percolating for a while or combines many experiences and sources, but every once in a while there’s a very clear line from initial spark to final thought.

We’ll end with a fun quote from the movie:

Will: “This is either madness or brilliance.”
Captain Jack: “It’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.”

Why I Blog

A friend asked me the other day about the purpose of my blog.  “What does an introvert get out of a daily blog?”

My first answer addressed the introvert question.  Introverts are fairly common on the internet.  We’re not hermits, after all.  We want social interaction, just in a careful way, and using a keyboard and screen as a buffer allows those of us who are introverts time to compose our thoughts and feel in control of the situation.

That response didn’t fully answer the question, however, so I started thinking further.  What do I get out of this blog?  What is the purpose?

It turns out the reason is two-fold.  In part, the blog serves as my writing journal.  Even if what I’m writing isn’t often practice for my novels, it is continuing the habit of writing and honing my ability to turn thoughts into words and sentences.

The other reason the blog is helpful for this is accountability.  Now, obviously I don’t know many of my readers personally, and it’s not likely you’re going to come after me with pitchforks if I miss a day or two (or more).  It isn’t really true accountability, not in the same was as reporting to a superior or collecting a paycheck.  In my head, however, it works just as well.  If I don’t want to disappoint my readers, I need to post something, and that’s a good enough reason for me.

Unfortunately, I’m the kind of person who needs the accountability part to keep the beneficial “good for me” part going.   Fortunately, a blog provides both!

A Bad Habit

If you’ve ever read advice for writing, you know that most authors and writers (and English teachers) recommend that you write every day.  The idea for this is to get your brain into the habit of writing.  It can be a struggle at first, but the more you do it, the more your creativity is primed when you sit down.  This is (partly) why I blog.  I can’t just journal daily; without some sort of accountability it won’t happen.  Blogging introduces the concept of readers, thus bringing accountability, be it real or imagined, into the equation.

For the same reasons of habit and priming, it is a very bad idea (at least for me) to blog late in the evening.  All this week I’ve posted after 10pm; in a couple of cases I just squeaked it in before midnight.  So tonight, when I tried to write at 9pm, I got nothing.

When I hit panic mode at 11:30pm, no worries.  The ideas just flowed.

I don’t want to write after 10 every night!   That’s bedtime and reading time, both of which are highly valuable.  This means I now need to add a time requirement onto my daily blogging requirement.  I must post before 10pm!  There’s less accountability, so there may still be late nights, but if I try it for a week it might reset the bad habit I’ve developed.

1000!

This is officially my 1000th post on this blog. 🙂

Thank you to those who’ve been following since July 2010.  Thank you to those who have joined us since!  If this is your first time, welcome and thanks for visiting.

I feel like I should do something cool for post #1000.  I don’t have anything new or exciting, but I do have an excerpt from Dragon Pendant for you.  Enjoy!

***

“Hey, Mom sent you something,” Carrie said, mildly surprised, as she tossed a padded envelope across the table.

Ann made a face.  “What on earth would she send me?”

“I don’t know.  Open it and find out.”  Carrie slit the top of an envelope with her manicured nail and pulled out a bill.  Ann watched for a moment before brushing an errant strand of hair off her face and turning over the padded mailer labeled prominently ‘Fragile’.  Pondering it as she passed it between her hands, Ann finally shrugged and stuck her bitten-off thumbnail under the flap of the envelope.

Once she tore it open, she pulled out a folded note.  As she skimmed through the contents, Carrie asked lightly, “What does it say?”

Instead of answering, Ann pushed on the folds of the envelope and carefully poured the contents onto the table.  A pewter pendant on a long chain gleamed dully back at them.  The two sisters looked at the dragon, wings outstretched, a perfectly smooth golden-colored gemstone grasped in its claws.

“It’s Grandma’s necklace,” Carrie said, her eyes wide.

Ann nodded and passed her the letter.  “She wanted me to have it.”

Carrie cleared her throat and read aloud using her ‘court voice’.

“Dear Ann, Hope you are well, blah, blah – okay, here’s the good part.  When your grandmother was ill, she made me promise to give you this necklace once you were old enough.  It was an heirloom from your grandfather’s family in the Old Country, and he had asked when you were born for it to eventually pass to you.  I had set it aside with her other belongings when she passed and just rediscovered it in the box of her jewelry while clearing out the closet.  As it is yours, I am sending it to you.  Please remember that it is irreplaceable and take special care of it.”

Ann snorted at the last line.  “She really doesn’t trust me with jewelry, does she?”

“Because you never wear any,” Carrie replied with a hint of scolding.  She set down the note, leaving the remaining words unread.  “Are you going to try it on?”

As Ann lifted the pendant off the table, she felt a slight pulse run through her hand and arm.  She glanced down at the dragon resting in the palm of her left hand.  The translucent stone seemed lit from within.  Delicately she touched the jewel with the very tip of her right middle finger, concerned about the glow but suddenly drawn to the necklace as if it was a missing part of her.  The stone seemed to pull her in; she couldn’t take her eyes off the pendant.

Without warning, Carrie snagged the chain and pulled the dragon out of Ann’s hand.   Ann instinctively growled low in her throat and tried to snatch it back.

“Calm down,” her sister said, oblivious to the depth of Ann’s violent reaction.  “I’m just going to fasten it for you.”

Ann felt a sudden point of warmth against her chest, keeping her from replying.  Carrie settled the dragon and fastened the chain. A weight Ann had never known was there suddenly lifted from her shoulders.  She breathed a deep sigh of unexpected relief, feeling for the first time as though her world was aligned, as if some key piece to her puzzle had fallen into place.  There was more to this family heirloom than she knew, but Ann was certain she would never take it off again.

Blogging After Midnight

As I was leaving my apartment yesterday for my birthday evening plans, I realized that I had not yet blogged for the day.  For half a second I thought about writing something, but my process takes a bit more time than I was willing to commit when I was already leaving later than planned.  (Thanks for breaking at the best possible time, kitchen sink.  Nothing like cleaning up a giant wet mess on your birthday!)

One of my friends suggested that I just write when I got home.  While I acknowledged the suggestion, I knew it wouldn’t work.  Why?  Partly because it was likely that I wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind for writing after celebrating, but mostly because I suspected I wouldn’t be home before midnight.

If you post something after midnight, it counts for the next day.  Thus, even if I had been in a writing mood when I got home (which I most definitely wasn’t – I was in a crash and sleep mood), it wouldn’t have helped anyway.

So I made it 9 days into my goal before I missed a day.  Today I’ll post two (again, doesn’t really count, but it’s good practice) and do my best to avoid missing any more!

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