Elizabeth: A Long and Winding Road

winding_roadWhat do Elizabeth Gilbert, my boss at work, and a fortune cookie all have in common?   They’re all reasons why none of the words I wrote this week were for The Traitor, the book I’m supposed to be finishing.

And I couldn’t be happier.

I should probably explain.

It’s all about the ideas

Part of the Writer Reboot plan that I talked about last month was to include some fun in my writing life. For the past week or so, that fun has involved markers, glitter, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, which talks about inspiration and curiosity and living a creative life. One point that really stuck with me from the book was when she was talking about ideas and being receptive to them when you get them, rather than putting them off for a more convenient time.

I learned the hard way quite some time ago that, if I get an idea about a story or a character or even a bit of dialogue, I need to write it down. Right away. I always think I’ll remember it “later” or “in the morning” but I never do. So this week, when I had a light bulb moment about how to make things difficult for my contemporary hero Sam, while I was right in the middle of trying to make things difficult for my historical hero Michael, I switched gears and ran with it. As a result, Sam’s life has taken a completely different twist, making his conflict stronger, and I came up with what I think are some good solutions to the “mess in the middle” portion of the story that had been plaguing me. I’m considering that a win.

 “. . . ideas spend eternity swirling around us . . . for heaven’s sake, try not to miss the next one.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Sometimes the path takes a turn

My boss at work, who is a big fan of romance novels, was a journalist at some point in her career.   She knows I’m a writer and we often talk about writing and story – sometimes in relation to work and other times not. During one such conversation last week, I mentioned a random fact about my family and she said, “That’s really interesting. You should write an article about that.”   I thought she was kidding, but she was serious. After some background discussion on freelance writing and some quick brainstorming, I left her office with the beginnings of an article, a title, and a plan for several theme-related pieces.

So, instead of refocusing on my historical hero Michael, I’m writing the article because: (1) it’s different and fun and (2) I’m pretty sure the next time we meet my boss is going to be expecting to see a finished draft and I’d hate to miss a deliverable like that.

Writing Life is a journey, not a destination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Inspiration is everywhere

I thought I’d be safe eating dinner before finally buckling down and getting back to my planned writing for the week, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve been going through a Chinese takeout phase (broccoli-beef) lately and no meal is complete without a fortune cookie (or two). This is the fortune I got yesterday:

“You will step on the soil of many countries”

That’s all it took to make several other random thoughts I’d had recently suddenly click into place. So, instead of finally getting back to Michael and his story I wound up knee-deep in outlining the story for two secondary characters from my NaNo contemporary story.  And of course outlining required the Googling of “many countries” and the watching of a PBS travel show.

So, did I get words on the page this week? Yes.

Is The Traitor any closer to being finished? No.

Am I okay with that? You bet.

This week’s writing has been interesting and different and fun. That’s totally worth having my writing plan in disarray. Michael’s story will still be there tomorrow and who knows; maybe the next bit of inspiration to strike will be just for him.

Too bad I’m out of fortune cookies.

How’s your writing life been going? Any interesting derailments or successes to share?

16 thoughts on “Elizabeth: A Long and Winding Road

  1. I’m pretty much forcing myself to stay on track to finish The Demon’s in the Details. If I get an idea realted to another project, I write down as much as I know about it, then switch back to TDitD. I’m sure Ms. Gilbert is right, but it feels like I’m running out of runway. I need to stop flitting around and focus.

    (Sorry about the negativity. My mother-in-law passed away on Saturday and her funeral is tomorrow. Which probably accounts for my feeling that life is getting away from me.)

    • I don’t think that’s negativity. It’s how you have to work. I get it. I’ve felt horrible lately for giving 3P the boot, so it’s kind of refreshing to come back to it. And I am also penciling any ideas I get for anything else down in my notebook for reference later.

      Sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. My condolences to you and your family.

    • So sorry to hear about your mother-in-law, Jeanne.

      We’re all running out of runway, a day at a time, but sometimes it takes a close personal loss to remind us.

    • Jeanne – sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. That’s definitely the kind of thing that reminds us all how fast life moves along.

      Congratulations for staying focused on TDitD. Apparently I’m more of a magpie when writing – always attracted by other bright, shiny ideas.

  2. I had been working on my new contemporary, too, then had a flash of inspiration for how to clean up the mess that is my second half of Three Proposals, so I’m back to it, only this time, I’m taking a more structured approach and am outlining the entire book first. [I will note that this is kind of painful, because I’m giving myself carte blanche to cut my darlings.] There were scenes I needed to slim down/cut out near the beginning and this is helping me do that. I’ve also decided to take out the Uncle’s POV, so it’s just Susannah and Nate now, and I have to compensate for that a little bit. I also felt that I was revealing too much about the uncle and his plans for Susannah up front, so by outlining, I’m able to see where I need to drop in hints and what Susannah really needs to be faced with when in order to ramp up the tension and put her at the brink.

    So I guess I’m the reverse of you, Elizabeth! Working on my historical, leaving the contemporary alone. And happy with it!

    • Justine – yay! for the flash of inspiration. I love it when that happens. It’s great that outlining is helping you tighten up the story.

  3. I’m still enjoying getting to grips with my new fantasy story. I got some excellent playlist suggestions here courtesy of my Sunday post, so yesterday I downloaded them all and turned up the volume. My ipod’s playing again now.

    So far the new WIP is a melting pot of visuals, impressions, unrelated threads and loose ends, but yesterday afternoon I had an idea that pulled the thing together much more coherently (I even drew a map in my notebook). I think/hope this is a premise I can take forwards, so today I’ve been tweaking the opening scenes to bring them into line. Then hopefully I can try to build on what I have and leave any further tweaking till much later.

    • Jilly – that’s great that you got so many suggestions for your playlist. Sounds like you’re having a fun (and productive) time with your fantasy story. I look forward to seeing what you wind up with.

  4. So sorry to hear about your mother-in-law, Jeanne. The loss of someone close has a way of focusing one’s attention, that’s for sure.

    I’m plugging away on my current WIP. Unlike the rest of you, I have powerful few ideas at any given time, so I keep going on what I have until the next thing turns up. I’m not doing badly on this book—in fact, it’s picked up quite a bit since my initial despair—but after today’s output, I ran out of outline. So tomorrow I’ll be faced with a blank Excel spreadsheet (oh—what did I have in mind for Chapter 11? That’s right. Nothing.) as well as a blank page. Well, maybe an idea will occur to me before then!

    Congratulations, Elizabeth, in having so much fun with your writing this week, and making such good progress. It sounds like a blast.

    • It’s Chapter 11, Kay, so your hero’s faced with Chapter 11? Just kidding. Good luck and hope you get struck by a fabulous idea before the spreadsheet hour dawns.

    • Kay – don’t you hate it when the outline runs out? That’s usually when I find myself going back and reading through what I’ve written so far to see if it sparks ideas for what’s next. Otherwise, I play “what’s the worst thing that could happen to my hero right now?” Sometimes it works.

      Good luck to you.

  5. (-: This is totally tangential, but the 19th century was an age of Lady Explorers who picked up and went to the wilds of Colorado or other exotic places. I’ve always admired (and been envious of) Elizabeth Gilbert, who spent a year exploring herself in three different countries — and found someone to help pay for it, AND wound up with a boyfriend of a lifetime. Sigh, swoon, sway.

    So, Elizabeth Gilbert, magazine writing, and fortune cookies . . . . I would love to pick up and just GO someplace. Maybe this summer. Glad you had good writing. Flexibility really is a gift, isn’t it?

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