The last couple of weeks have been amazingly creative.
Some of you may recall my mentioning that I was writing out a piece long-hand, in part to break with my usual procedures and freshen up my brain. Well, the story kept getting longer and longer, but now it is done. Make that “Done in rough draft.” I’ve been told that my handwriting is pretty much illegible to anyone except me or a very patient cryptographer. Therefore, I will need to type it all up if I want anyone else to read it.
That’s all right with me. I found the return to writing long-hand (something I used to do much more often) a wonderful experience. I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.
However, that project had me so completely obsessed that I nearly let a deadline slide by.
Therefore, practically before the ink was dry on the handwritten piece, I launched myself into a new project. The story I’d been asked to write was for an anthology of stories in which a gun is an element. The editor (Gerry Hausman, with whom Roger wrote Wilderness) made it very clear he wasn’t looking for stories that were pro-gun or anti-gun; he was just tossing the topic out and waiting to see what would come in.
Since – as those of you who have read my short story collection Curiosities know – I’ve been wanting to do another story set in the West with my character Prudence Bledsloe, I decided this was the perfect opportunity. After all, guns and the Wild West go together like chocolate and peanut butter.
Funny thing was, once I started trying to narrow my ideas down, I discovered that finding the right story was a challenge. As we drove around doing our errands, Jim and I bounced ideas back and forth. We came up with two that were interesting in terms of the character and setting, but not right for the topic. Then, when we were home and unpacking groceries, I had a flash.
Frequently, my reaction to having an idea for a story – no matter how much thinking I did to get to that point – is to think “Well, everyone probably is doing the same thing.” So, leaving Jim to cook dinner, I rushed off to my office to e-mail Gerry and make sure no one else had taken that angle. He got back to me quickly, encouraged me to go for it, and I started filling in my research.
I finally started actually writing the story last Wednesday. I finished a draft on Friday. Jim read on Saturday, and I turned it into Gerry on Tuesday. (That’s yesterday…)
As a side result, I have two more stories about Prudence I’d like to write and that handwritten piece to type. Since I wrote the story long-hand and in notebooks of widely varying size and style, I have no idea how long it is, but I suspect I’m going to need to set time aside over the next couple of weeks.
What’s really interesting to me is that last October, when I decided to start the handwritten project, I was feeling a bit “dry.” My days were full, but something was missing. As I started thinking about Christmas gifts, some of which I almost always make by hand, I realized that what was missing was time for crafts, for using my hands for something other than typing.
I decided that making that time was crucial – and not just because I needed to get gifts done or they wouldn’t be there to give. I started by resuming beading. I got out my polymer clay and addressed the challenge of making a camel for a Nativity set I’ve been making for my sister – this without any pattern or guideline or training at all in sculpting. The day I pulled that one off I could actually feel my hands tingling, as if new nerve connections were being forged.
Even doing the story hand-written felt like a craft project. I wrote on papers with different textures, drew little doodles on the pages to help myself visualize, and in general did everything that I could to loosen up.
Oddly enough, even with all the time spent with beads and clay, pen and ink, I found myself writing more – not less.
I’ve just taken on a new brain-stretching exercise. For many years, I’ve wanted to learn to do origami. Despite looking at numerous books and various techniques, I discovered that I am very, very bad at it. After a while, I began to feel guilty about the paper squares that were being sacrificed to my attempts, and let origami slide.
However, when shopping for a new office calendar, I came across a page-a-day calendar that features instructions for making a variety of origami figures. The calendar pages are square, printed on one side with patterns just like “real” origami paper. Even better, the calendar was marked seventy-five percent off… Even I couldn’t see this as a “waste.”
So I’ve been struggling along, giving mountain folds and valley folds and all the rest a try. I’m doing miserably when it comes to origami, but as far as stretching my brain, I can feel the tingle.
Over the last ten years or so, more and more emphasis has been put on the need for older people to do puzzles or other challenges to keep their brains limber. What my experiences over the last few months have taught me is how important it is for a writer to keep the brain limber. What may seem like a waste of time in terms of word count and productivity may be exactly what is needed to become even more creative!