Sunday mornings I rest; no talking, no movies, and no human sound. Once the dogs wake me, I lie on the bed and stare upwards. Last Sunday, I counted 337 holes in the ceiling tile around the light. So far the number hasn’t changed. Over the past few weeks, sounds seem richer. Birds share greetings and I can hear the leaves slapping against each other. Bees hesitate among the flowers and I swear the hedge hides a family of crickets.
This morning, I heard a slight whistle. Not a loud whistle, but more like your grandma dozing in an overstuffed chair. A light pat-pat interrupted the sound followed by a pause and then a single pat. The pats punctuated the sucking in an infrequent but regular manner and seemed to come from above me. I needed to investigate it.
The bumper ahead froze and he slammed on the brakes. In the rear view mirror, he watched as a red streak narrowed the distance. He turned to Candice and said, “I’m sorry.” She lunged forward in a violent snap. His head cracked on the dash as bits of metal flew by him.
The image froze and he watched the wreck from above. He saw all the angles. He saw his BMW stop and the Mustang coming faster. He marveled at how the BMW’s trunk rolled up. The Mustang crashed and its hood bounced over its top. He watched it again from the mirror. He saw the red hood coming up fast. He looked over at Candice. She lunged forward in slow motion. He wondered if she was okay.
He rolled the images back and repeated the accident. He was about to start a replay again when he heard the voice.
“The Mustang failed to stop.” it said.
“Yes,” he thought. It just came up fast. He watched it again hit the back of his car. The trunk rolled up again and he froze the scene. Candice’s head stopped in mid-lunge. He reversed the accident until Candice was sitting upright and smiling. He looked at her face. She was calm and happy.
I hoped for spark as I watched the new version of the motoring show Top Gear this weekend. It reminded me of a visit to Pittsburgh.
Outside a downtown cheese steak and sandwich shop was a sign with a huge rooster promising spark with copy which read in essence, “This is the hottest chicken sandwich you will ever eat. Hot. Hot. Hot!” Recently removed from Texas, where I had eaten my share of hot food, and now living in Las Vegas, where hot food can be found, I of course was very interested in eating the “hottest chicken sandwich in Pittsburgh.”
I ordered and waited for the challenge.
It seemed to take longer than my friend’s cheese steak and I visioned the cook dipping it in extra hotness and spices before it was cooked. Special hot requires special handling.
Soon my number came up and the cook promised, “You are going to like this one.”
The plate was hot and steam was coming from the middle of the chicken. It certainly was hot and it smelled promising.
My mouth watered in anticipation and I prepared for the blast of Pittsburgh-inspired heat.
It was bland.
The cook was smiling when I returned to fetch some Red’s Hot Sauce.
“Are you sure? That is one hot sandwich!”
I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a Wendy’s so I could down a spicy sandwich and cleanse my pallet.
Returning to the new Top Gear, the show missed spark. It was bland.
Not so much because of the missing trio of presenters – Clarkson, May, and Hammond – although I missed their banter. It was more that it seemed like someone forgot how to write small talk. The hosts were off.
In fact, the spark came during the off-road desert test of Matt LeBlanc. I thought perhaps I was being an Americanocentric snob when it hit me: this piece worked because of excellent writing. The writers really knew how to spice it up.
Whoever wrote this really knows how to make the rocks fly and the wheels jump.
The writer captured the excitement of flying through the desert and made it fun. Adding the evil British villains was a clever play on the outsider American on the car show. Overall, the writing engaged the viewer and kept me past 40 minutes of the program.
The rest I am not sure about. My son brought me a video titled “DHL box challenge (No 4, medium)” which gave me back some of the spice I missed.
All I can say is I have been writing, reading, writing, and reading, in no particular order. I just have not updated my blog.
After years of pantsing things to roughly 20,000 words, I have decided to outline, research, and think about my projects. Honestly, the reason things tended to drift was I ran out of things to say. With just a little research, I could write easily another 50,000 words. My fiction would read like Wikipedia, but I could go on and on.
K.M. Weiland offers a wonderful set of educational books, if you lack motivation to plan and afraid of letting pantsing go. And if you think of each chapter as a scene, i.e. James Patterson, you might be able to get to the pinch and plot points without much effort. (These authors helped me focus on ideas and I am not selling their courses.)
No offense to pantsers, but at least with an outline I have a road map of where the story is going. I can still let a character run with it, but I also can reign them in and head back to the plot. It is a relief, actually.
Honestly, outlining takes quite a bit of pressure off. At least you know where a character is going when you decide to pants-it.
I grew up trout fishing. But I will never be able to capture the river like Norman Maclean.
I once toiled as an innkeeper. But my experiences were nothing like described by John Irving.
Inspiration Comes From Experience
I am a product of the American West and my inspiration comes from those people. I take inspiration from their stories and those subjects are close to my heart.
When Tom Booker stopped at a remote four-corners somewhere between Nevada and Utah, I was there. Nicholas Evans reminded me I had been at that crossroads a few times. I understand the loneliness of a desert valley surrounded by a ring of mountains.
I have this great idea for a novel set in Paris, but I have never been there. I struggle to place my characters at a corner cafe I have never set foot in. The story lies flat because I can’t put any description into the place.
Irving wrote about the feeling he had as a child. The deeper context comes from the adult. Maclean also wrote about his family, his childhood, and the pains of adulthood. All wrapped up in these stories are bigger images, but the writers mined subjects close to their hearts to arrive at the wider story.
It is better to stick to subjects you understand and attempt to create deeper meaning. Your experiences fold together to create a grander tapestry. Would it be impossible to write the Paris story? Likely not, if I visited the Arrondissements and smelled, tasted, and wondered.
Stories come easier when the milieu can be seen by the author. Otherwise, a lot of research must be done. Inspiration comes when the writer can just tell the story. Place is easiest arranged when the writer already sits there.
My mother’s family was from Ireland. Although I think she would have a cringed a bit at these limericks. Isn’t a Limerick supposed to be bad?
For My Girl From Texas
There once was a girl from Texas
Who often spoke fondly of her exes,
Tall ones and short ones
Cowboys and oil barons
Too bad they can’t all buy her a Lexus.
I spied an old mule in a field
Fighting a bee that wouldn’t yield
He bobbed left and right
Shaking with all of his might
If only he had a bee net to wield.
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh
St. Patrick’s Day courtesy of Pixabay.com
So here I sit with the fragments of four great ideas and as a result four unfinished projects. At this point, I see them taunting me.
“Come on. Finish me. I dare ya.”
Honestly, one only needs a rewrite. Only needs a rewrite. Like that is something I want to do. Coming up with the idea was one thing. Actually having to get down and dirty for the rewrite is a whole other matter.
Another project has morphed into a mess. I allowed the pantser in me to bash the plotter over the head. And of course, I now have two fairly good ideas. Only, I started with one and I don’t have the energy to sort it out.
Does my pondering sound familiar?
Likely, it does if you are the type of writer who has a pretty good knack at creating fragments of great ideas but a fairly rotten track record for getting anything done. As Ali Luke, writer and coach, asked a few years ago, “Do you have a bunch of first chapters tucked away in a drawer – for seven different novels?” 1
And so it goes. The Muse Dilemma, or How I Managed to Let a Bunch of Good Ideas Become a Pile of ****.
Writers should write everyday. Not the shopping list, but a long descriptive piece about the day, a thought, or an impression. Sometimes ideas come from these small jaunts. Hemingway said to get started a writer must, “write one true sentence.”2
“I’ve been lately thinking about my life’s time.” – John Denver
John Denver was a songwriter you wrote roughly five songs when he became a success. Some of the songs came easily. Others took their time to incubate.
“When asked if he had a specific method or approach to writing songs, Denver replies that he is a very unstructured writer. “I don’t sit down every day and try to write a song. For some people, it’s like a job and that’s what they do. They go in and try to write a song,” he says. “For me it quite often begins with a phrase like ‘leaving on a jet plane’ or ‘follow me’ or ‘back home again’ or ‘sunshine on my shoulders’.
“What’ll happen there’ll be a phrase or line that I’ve come up with. When I’m driving I’ll start writing the song in my head. Then when I get to a guitar, I’ll sit and play it on the guitar until the rest of the song comes. Some songs come very quickly. I wrote “Annie’s Song” in 10 minutes one day on a ski lift – that’s how I know it was 10 minutes. Then other songs like “Rocky Mountain High” took about six or seven months to write.” 2