Waiting, or the Rhythm of Writing

13 Dec

It’s exhilarating when story ideas come like a flood. My mind fills with images or questions. I grab the nearest available paper and writing implement, and let the words flow like water undammed.

Notebook pages, flimsy napkins, sticky notes, old envelopes empty of their junk mail. Whatever the paper, it fills with words, arrows, circles, asides, squiggles, boxes. The result often looks like a disorganized organizational chart, or a scribbled mess of lecture notes. If those notes are very, very lucky, they are typed neatly and placed in a three-ring binder, or copied longhand into a more orderly progression in a notebook.

I used to toss everything into a box and tell myself that I’d know where to find it. Sure, all the notes were in the same box, but they were notes for different stories, and in no particular order. So, at some point a decade or more ago, I filed related notes in manila folders.

Better. Not a process I consistently maintained, though.

I admire writers who can keep neat journals and tidy files. They must have tidy minds, too.

I’m a messy thinker. Stories don’t come to me chronologically. I approach from the side gate, the window, the attic stair. The end result might look like a house (ahem, a story), but it may not come together in the conventional way.

A recent move from one state to another, a thousand miles away, prompted a further change. As I sorted through belongings to decide what to throw away, what to sell, what to donate, and what to keep, I found scattered remains of manuscripts and ideas. In the organizing and re-reading of old notes, I found a new love for abandoned stories.

Time had given me distance. I could see clearly what was weak and needed to be tossed, and what had potential and should be kept.

There was a time I hated editing as “not creative enough”. I hated waiting because, well, it’s waiting. I’ve come to value them both, however, as integral parts of the creative process.

There’s something to be said for pausing, reflecting, letting the ideas stew a while. Plot holes reveal themselves, dialogue weaknesses come to light, and character “thinnesses” reveal themselves.

Also, after the first flush of excitement over new material, waiting allows a step back, a calm evaluation:
Does this story have a future, or is its premise / world / plot / science unsustainable?
Do I like these characters?
Am I having fun writing this, or will hard work become drudgery rather than challenge?
Is this story what I think it is, or–like a relationship built too quickly–will it reveal itself to be something else entirely?

This morning, as I was thinking about something mundane but urgent–personal finances–a plot hole in the current manuscript came to mind: I’d set up the main characters as the suspects in a crime, yet failed to enhance the suspense and the action in a scene where a policeman casually crosses their path while attending to a different matter. In this age of instant communication and video-sharing, what happens in one state is known in another in a matter of minutes, even seconds. That officer with a friendly warning about the impending curfew for minors after dark might do a double-take, and realize he’s found a couple of folks wanted for questioning by the FBI.

That scene was originally written almost a month ago. The plot hole is obvious. Now. I didn’t see it when I wrote it.

Just as in music there are rests and adagios, accelerandos and allegros, there’s a rhythm to the writing process.


It’s the necessary quiet before the next flood.


c2013, KB


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2 responses to “Waiting, or the Rhythm of Writing

  1. Peter R Stone

    December 13, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Great post, and sounds like me. Various aspects of a book I’m writing or planning come to me in random order, and at any conceivable time. (Thought especially when I’m trying to go to bed…) I’ve made notes in my mobile, note books, emails, word docs… and then comes that process of trying to put it all together. Do you honestly believe there are any writers who can keep neat journals and tidy files?

    • Keanan

      December 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      Are there writers with tidy files? Weeeellll, I don’t know if there are as many as might be projected from conference and seminar speakers who give newbies “how to” lessons in organization. I think there are some folks who want us to believe they have it together when they’re just as haphazard and scribble-y as the rest of us.

      I subscribe to the notion that that guy with the messy desk is the guy getting things done, but that’s not universally true. I no longer have a desk, which has forced me to be mobile, which in turn has forced me to be more organized. All these recent moves from place to place have done what years of living in one house and luxuriating at a massive, awesome desk couldn’t do.


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