Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Voices in my Head

Last fall, I was watering my lawn, admiring my garden when an idea hit me so hard I had to drop the hose and run up to my office and write it down. That uninvited bastard so forced her will on me, she kept me chained to my chair till 9 pm on a Saturday night. On and on she went, for days and weeks. She made me work Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Who does that?

Before I knew it, I had my second novel.

A half-formed embryo of a thing, but a thing nonetheless. Enough to build on.

Then life got hectic. I went to Pakistan for two months. I recovered from that trip for three months. And then I hid from writing because starting a second novel four months after completing the first is like lying in a heap at the finish line of a marathon and being told to lace up, you have five minutes before you start your triathlon.

And then she came back, book two, because she knew I was ready.

I resigned to her will and went to my study to write. Nothing. I jotted down my ideas on post-its. I made a chart of all that I knew happened based on the first draft. Jammed in ideas I had for the second. It was how I’d written the first book. Planned it before writing. Made sure things went my way. But I wasn't actually writing anything.

I was pissed. I was here for book two, why wasn't she coming out already? Though I hadn't written in months, I had been thinking about it the whole time. I knew just what to do.

Still nothing.

Finally, I wrote in my journal: “Why can't I write? Am I scared? Why is there such resistance?”

And then, I wrote perhaps the most useful and helpful of my writing career: "Am I making this all about me? Should I listen to you?"

And then, and I'm not kidding, I wrote: "Okay, talk to me."

I KNOW. I've heard other writers talk about this all the time, about hearing their characters, and knowing them like they're real people. I always rolled my eyes. What a cliché. Not possible. You're the writer. Write. Be in control.

But that day, out of sheer frustration, I gave up control. I listened. And she spoke to me. 

This character started telling me about herself. Things I couldn’t have dreamed of. Things I couldn’t have made up.

I KNOW. I may as well don a drapey dress and tell you your fortune over my crystal ball.

But that’s what’s happening with the characters I met in December- so briefly, like those rain-drenched chance encounters of Bollywood, those instant-connection people you know you’ll be good friend with even at that first meeting.

But it takes time to get to know someone. Long coffee dates. Over months and years.

So that’s what I’m doing. Having coffee. With the voices in my head. The things they tell me! The lives they’ve lead. And though I may have created this world, they live in it, they reveal it to me, slowly, over months and years.

Here's another giant cliché of the writing world that's finally hit home: "Writing is like driving in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see two feet ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way- two feet at a time."

It's the scariest thing I've ever done. No post-its. No check lists. No outlines, no deadlines. 

Just blind faith. 


In the voices in my head.