Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Writing in Chaos

Terry here: This week's question is about muses and happy places to write, and writing inspirations. I’m not sure I’ve ever drawn such a blank when facing a blog subject. Probably because my writing life is in a shambles. An explanation is in order: August 1, we moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles (yeah, I know, everybody we tell that to is dumbfounded). 

But we didn’t move into a permanent house; we moved into a temporary rental until we can find a house to buy. For various reasons it was a TEMPORARY temporary, a two bedroom, two bath house of about 1100 square feet, for six weeks. No desk. No way to get away from “anyone else’s (ahem)” rantings. 

And that’s even if I had the time to write. Instead, every day we are riding around, looking at different areas of LA to see what suits us best. We also have to decide what kind of fantasy life we’re willing to entertain. Are we willing to downsize drastically in order to be near the water? Do we want a traditional house, like we’ve had for years, or do we want to go all-out modern? Are we willing to buy something that needs work?
There’s more. A week after we moved into our rental, our dog Lucy got gravely ill. She spent three days in the hospital and came home dazed and gaunt and in need of lots of special care. The muse fled, except to weep with me at night. There’s a happy ending, though. Even though Lucy has cancer, her overall health has improved and she’s like her old self.
There’s nothing like having a sick dog to make you long for the comfort of your old home. 

 That doesn’t mean I don’t write at all, but these are stolen moments— I sneak in an hour here and fifteen minutes there. As any writer will tell you, that is not the ideal writing life. Muse? S/he is missing in action, horrified by the chaos. That said, I do have moments when I feel itchy not writing, and that’s because my muse is goosing me, via my characters. “Hey,” one will say, “where are you? I have something to tell you.” Or something like that. Whatever it is, I start feeling restless and need to get my brain in the groove with whatever I’m working on. 

 My most successful character collaboration has been with Samuel Craddock as muse. He isn’t much like my grandfather in temperament, but he does have my grandfather’s sense of humor, his feeling of responsibility, and his motivation. When I sit down to write about Craddock, I feel as if I’m seeing through his eyes—or peeking over his shoulder while he goes about his business. I’m close to him in the same way I was with my grandfather. It’s a little like magic. It usually seems easy and straightforward. In fact, the people who populate Jarrett Creek come to me with ease, including their names. I almost feel guilty when I sit down to write a Craddock book because I see the scenes, actions and interactions so clearly. 

 Alas, that isn’t the case for other characters. I struggle to hear their voices, to know their backgrounds, to “see” what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. I suspect a lot of writers go through this.
I’ve tried the techniques touted by writing coaches—writing biographies, selecting stories for the characters, thinking about their backgrounds. But somehow that always feels inorganic to me. Phony. in the end, the only thing that seems to work is to put them in a setting and watch them go about their business. And then edit, again and again until I begin to get into their skin. 

 How does this tie into the original question? Only in that, for me, except for Samuel Craddock and his gang, there isn’t a particular muse. Or, these days, a happy place, or a particular inspiration. In the best of times It’s all grinding hard work to discover who my characters are. Even as they call to me, when I sit down with them, they often play peekaboo. I’d love to have someone or something I could use as a touchstone, but that hasn’t happened lately. I’m ready to find my happy spot.


Brenda Chapman said...

Terry - You have a lot on your plate and I hope you soon find that perfect new place to live. I'm glad Lucy is doing better as I know how difficult it is to have a sick pet. Writing and the muse will come again once your life settles down!

Terry said...

Thank you, Brenda. It seems like it's taking forever, but I know you're right.