The Fog of Fiction

E.L. Doctorow is known to have said that “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I absolutely agree that writing fiction is like that a lot of the time for me.

In my novels, I’ve mostly known the beginning, the middle, and the end, before I start typing away. A few of the main characters I’ll know right away, while others I don’t think of until much later. The story fills in as I get closer into the fog and see the next stretch of road.

This picture is of the castle in Barra which is in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. When I went to Barra, this fog settled in so thick that the castle didn’t appear until the ship entered the harbor. It was really cool to see the castle creeping out slowly from the fog.

Some of my most favorite chapters were written as I let the characters edge the story along to the next step and while I as the writer continued to step gently in the fog of fiction. Sometimes people tell me that they could never write a novel because it would be too hard to make all the connections between the characters and the plots.

I always tell them that the trick is to write a chapter at a time – the next chapter will be easier to write once the previous one is finished. You can get through the entire novel that way. 🙂

Writers Write

Sometimes truths are simple: water plants routinely and they flourish or write consistently and soon the novel will be finished. Writing is a verb and the key to being a writer is to simply write. Gardeners garden, runners run, and writers write. Travelers travel even if it’s within driving distance.

This is a picture of my garden a few years ago. When I first moved into the house, the garden was a train wreck of wild weeds. The change to this lovely image you see now was the result of consistent gardening. I didn’t think that I had much of a green thumb, but the big ‘eureka’ moment came when I realized that as long as I took care of the plants each week, they thrived.

It’s a simple truth that when you water plants routinely, they live. Writing is, in many ways, not that different. My novels haven’t written themselves – they wait patiently for me to type them out over time.

Wherever you might be in your creative process, be kind to yourself and don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet a milestone. Just keep writing or painting, or singing – just keep doing. Keep showing up, even when it’s frustrating. Writer’s block is only resolved by writing. Writers write – I find that if I get stuck on one project then I switch to another writing project until I’m unstuck and ready to return to the other. Just keep going, writers and artists. 🙂

Flashes of Inspiration

As a writer, I think about creativity and inspiration a lot. I wonder about muses. For me, travel is probably my main muse along with a nice break for a cup of tea or coffee. Inspiration can be like the guiding flash of light from a lighthouse on a dark night that guides you to shore.

It’s that flash of an idea to fix a scene in a novel or screenplay, or the exact right turn of phrase that perfects the dialogue. Sometimes I get the idea for something when I’m driving or on the treadmill. (What a great excuse to stop running on the treadmill – I have to get home to write!)

In my writer’s group, we end each session with a flash fiction exercise. Usually we have some sort of writing prompt and we each write for a few minutes and then share with the group. What I’ve learned from those sessions is the value of focus, finding inspiration from a few threads in a prompt, and then just rolling with a story idea that isn’t fully formed.

Sometimes that ‘flash fiction’ prompt will join up with another idea in my brain for something to add to a current writing project or an idea for a brand new project. It’s also good practice for basic creative writing.

Wherever you get your inspiration from, I hope that you follow it and nurture it. If that means you have to stop the treadmill earlier than planned, well, that’s just a perk. 🙂

Enjoying the View

Some of the best views are only found after walking up the steepest hills. I think that’s true in writing as well as hiking. A writer looks at a blank page and builds an entire world populated with (what we hope are) interesting characters, step-by-step, just as a hiker walks toward the summit for the best view.

It takes focus and dedication to keep writing through the dark forest of the imagination, when the path ahead is not marked. Every writer also knows the frustration of a dead-end trail and starting over with a big edit.

Some writers even stop mid-way on the trail, staying so long that they build a house and permanent settlement on the road to the novel or memoir, or other creative project. It can be scary to keep walking through the forest, especially when the trail appears to wind along infinitely. Only the writer decides when the summit has been reached.

Sometimes we get lost in the editing process trying to make the work ‘perfect,’ and even when we decide the project is finished, it’s easy to forget to enjoy the view. I hope whatever project you are working toward that you stay with it until you reach the summit, and most importantly, when you arrive that you enjoy the view and celebrate the achievement.