by Kathleen Bradean
For those of you who don't live in the western United States, it's hard to explain what this drought has meant to us. I live in Southern California, which either stole, swindled, or skillfully negotiated water rights years ago that make us the villains of the west (See the movie Chinatown for a glimpse into this). Northern California suffered far worse in the drought than we did simply because we'd been sold the rights to the rivers up north. They had to eat of paper plates for several years rather than run the dishwasher and limit showers to once or twice a week, again, for several years. We simply turned off our irrigation in our back yard and let everything back there die, but were still able to avoid penalties for over usage when we continued to water out front (albeit on a reduced schedule). But then, it started to rain. Northern California got the brunt of it first and came out of drought months before we did, which seemed only fair. Now, it's pouring outside and several times this week I've had the rare (for LA) pleasure of falling asleep to the sound of rain spattering on the patio.
Metaphorically, that's pretty much what happened to my writing the past few years. I simply couldn't write. I wanted to. I had a manuscript due, but there was nothing that could drag those precious drops of creativity from a dry well. Then, finally, something happened and I was able to write again. I wish I could tell you what it was. Nothing in my life circumstances changed. The horrible things are still dragging along, and the good things are also unchanged. For those of you suffering from writer's block, I wish I could offer you some magical solution, but I rally don't know what made it possible to write again.
Okay, maybe I do, but it's no magical bullet.
I forced myself to write. It didn't matter how crappy it was. Things can be rewritten, but only if there's something to rewrite, right? It wasn't a smooth return. I would write a sentence or two then take a month to get back to it. I took a stab at several opening chapters and discarded all of them. (This is, unfortunately, my writing style. It's wasteful and slow and awful and I don't recommend it to anyone.) Then I went to visit another writer and she gave me an amazing idea that I ran with for a while until I decided it wasn't going to work, but when you know something isn't going to work, you have to have a vision of why not and that's as close to an idea of what I wanted to do as I could find, so I tossed out those two chapters and began over again. Now I'm on the threshold of chapter three. It's a dam bursting in slow motion, perhaps like the infamous Great Molasses Flood in January 1919, only not nearly as quick.
It's relief to be writing again. Only now that I'm wading back into the waters, I'm remembering things about writing that I'd conveniently forgotten. Writing a novel is a hell of a thing. Every character is a moving part with their own motivations and personalities. It's not so easy to shove dialog into their mouths and make it seem natural, and they never seem to naturally do what they need to to move the plot along. Unless, of course, you've created the right character, in which case of course they're going to say and do those things you need them to. That means backing up and recasting parts, which is also a slow painful way to write that I don't recommend, so try to start out with the right characters.
The main thing I'd forgotten is how long it takes to write action. It's a quick little movie in my imagination that takes maybe ten seconds to play. Describing it in words takes forever. For-ev-er. But I hate it and I love it in ways that no non-writer could ever understand. It's like a rain storm after eight years of drought. I knew something was missing, but I didn't remember until the tortured drip-drop of words began to form lakes on my pages.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
by Kathleen Bradean
Posted by Kathleen Bradean at 12:00 AM