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Cathy: Writer’s Stone Soup

Last week was a challenging one creatively since we had house guests, a big 4th party, lots of extraneous appointments, lots of back pain to heal and lots of sleep deprivation to go along with it all – thanks to baby C’s night nursing. After a recent burst of creativity, it was a bit of a let down for me, but I am aware that my creativity has a tendency to cycle like that. I think one of my major challenges in creativity is the fact that even if I try to schedule or plot myself or my writing, it ain’t gonna happen that way. My best laid plans often go to waste. The best response for me in that event, is to take a deep breath, exhale, and not give myself another reason to live in the land of stress and guilt. Sometimes, the worst thing I can do is sit down and “try” to write.

However, I still felt creative, because I stayed in touch with writing by – you guessed it – reading. When I don’t read on a regular basis, something besides all the articles on autism, aspergers, etc. every week, my brain starts to atrophy. I get really grumpy, too, and that’s bad for everyone around me. I think if I stay in touch with imagination by reading fiction or poetry, I can hear the voices in the back of my head rise to the surface. Instead of just picking up the cereal box in the cabinet, I am narrating the beginning of something that may never hit the page, but at least I’m having fun thinking, “As she removed the cereal box from the cupboard, she looked again at his body where it lay on the kitchen floor. Waiting for the police to arrive, she poured the corn flakes into the bowl then read the ingredients list slowly before looking once again, at the growing blossom of red around his head.”

Now, to be honest, most of these thoughts never make it to paper. If they do, I edit and re-edit and scribble it out and try it again, half a dozen times. These thoughts do not rise to the surface to make it even this far, unless I am enthralled in someone else’s writing. Right now, I am re-reading for the several-ith time Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which Lisa Damian would recommend right along with me, I’m sure. Anyway, because I am so excited by his writing, I find myself almost in competition with it. Now, I rarely write thrillers of any kind, but I love his language so much, that the thriller aspect of this book leaks out of my head as I entertain myself by swimming in the collective writer’s soup from which we all drink. If we just realize it and know that about each other and ourselves, even when it feels a little plagiaristic, I think we might all end up writing a little better or a little more often. If I can have fun wandering in my head in between moments of engaged writing, it leads me down better paths toward doing so in the moments when I am hit with inspiration like a truck and actually write.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Cathy, I totally agree that reading is a primary method for keeping the well replenished. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve been able to read these past few weeks — just in snippets here and there, despite the whole newborn/five kids/job thing. (Many people who say they don’t have time to read DO manage to find time to watch TV. Turn off the boob tube, or at least ration yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Of all the women I interviewed for my book, those who were the most satisfied creatively watched little or no television. Sorry — didn’t mean to hijack your post for an anti-TV rant.)

    One of my favorite lines from any book, ever, is from Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things.” Describing rain, Roy writes: “Slanting silver ropes slammed into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire.” What could be more evocative, more original, or more dead-on in terms of description and language? I LOVE her. So great to read things that you know you may never quite reach in your own work, but that inspire you to push, push, push.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    July 8, 2008
  2. ah, yes, tv. not only a time vacuum, but a brain bleeder, too. i have a love/hate relationship w/it myself. thankfully, i can only get the red sox games occasionally down here in va, and lately, i’ve been turning it off a lot more than during bedrest pregnancy. i was a junkie til a couple of months ago. so i am happy you hijacked for anti-tv rant!

    in fact, yesterday afternoon, i lay down with baby c, nursed her to nap and watched a t-storm w/rain just like that, instead of oprah! beautiful line. i also love garcia marquez’s rain description in “one hundred years of solitude” where you really get the sense of it drenching the village, the walls inside the houses, and the cows and furniture floating down main street.

    July 9, 2008
  3. i think you can read it in short story form as “the rain in macondo” in any of his collections, too.

    July 9, 2008

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