I’ve been sitting here for over two hours trying to write this morning’s blog post. The reason I’ve been finding it so hard is not that I have nothing to say or that I’ve forgotten how to use my words all of a sudden – it’s because my brain is flipping from one topic to another, zooming around faster than a speeding burrito (which is, of course, the fastest thing in the known universe), and finding it very difficult to settle.
Shall I write about the wonderful online writing workshop I watched at the weekend, I ask myself? Perhaps I should tackle the annoying fact that I can no longer watch a movie without anticipating the storyline and ruining it for myself and anyone who watches with me? Or maybe I should unpick some of my inner demons – the ongoing and ever-present fear of rejection; the difficulty of accepting (at times) the subjectivity of this business, and the fact that not everyone is going to like your work as much as you do; the almost superhuman challenge it is to just… keep… going – or perhaps I should just go back to bed and forget I started any of this.
I think this phenomenon – the zippy, flippy brain – is a common feature of Monday mornings, particularly Monday mornings which come after a weekend spent away from your WiP. My brain is like a particularly active toddler finally let loose in the playroom after a weekend spent wrapped up in a suit and bow tie and being warned, repeatedly and through gritted teeth, to be on his best behaviour. Right now, it’s running from one corner of the room to the other, screaming all the way.
Having said that, I had a wonderful weekend, spent with family; it feels really unfair of me to describe those happy days as being akin to being locked out of the toy box. I don’t mean to say that I’d rather have been working than having lunch with my parents, or helping my friend to bake a cake for her father’s birthday party, or watching a film with my husband, but when you’re working on something like a book, it feels a lot like your brain isn’t fully ‘there’, at any given moment. Inspiration, ideas, solutions to plot problems, bursts of clarity about your characters, realisations that one of your imaginary people is acting in an unnatural or ‘forced’ way, and the ever-present corrosion of doubt have a habit of exploding into your mind at the most unwelcome and unexpected moments. I’m pretty sure they wait until you’re at your most relaxed before they mount their attack, just to make a larger and more distinct impression upon you. Trying to keep these ‘attacks’ under control is a lot like trying to avoid the ministrations of a particularly energetic and affectionate puppy – you’re fighting off something you’re not sure you should be fighting off, and trying to quieten a voice you’re afraid will one day fall silent forever if you don’t pay it enough attention.
Sometimes, though, it would be nice to take a rest and actually feel like you were taking a rest, to go home feeling, when you put the key in the door, like you were really going home, to a place where nothing can follow you. Even reading, these days, feels a lot like work (that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop, though, of course.)
When you’re learning to type (or, at least, when I was learning to type, over twenty years ago now), you’re taught about the ‘home keys’, where you’re supposed to rest your fingers between words. I still do this, and I find I do my best thinking while my fingers are sitting on ‘ASDF’ and ‘JKL;.’ I spend a lot of time with my fingers on those keys; it looks like wasted time, but it’s the furthest thing from it. Sitting my fingers into those familiar grooves sends my brain into a spin of plotting and planning, almost like flicking a switch; it’s like there’s a direct correlation between ‘at rest’ and ‘thinking’. Perhaps, then, whenever I’m away from the computer and my brain tries to settle into ‘rest’, my writing brain thinks of it as another form of ‘settling onto the home keys’, and starts to rev up the plotting engines.
The main problem with that scenario is, of course, that I’m miles away from my keyboard when this happens, and can’t do anything with all this effort. I wish, in some ways, that I could just turn it off. I guess once you stoke up those fires, though, it’s a dangerous and difficult thing to dampen them again.
Over the weekend, whenever I had a moment where I wasn’t actively engaged in doing something else, my mind was on ‘Tider’. I was thinking about it, picking it apart, pulling its plot threads to see if they held, dissecting its characters, their actions and reactions, their relationships and motivations, and trying to think about ways to edit the word-count while adding layers of subplot and interest. The book is almost where I want it, but there’s still something not quite right. I’m hopeful draft 5, set to begin today, will help me polish this story until it gleams, and root out anything that’s pulling the book back from being as good as it can be.
I hope, when this draft is finished, that I can use my home keys to let myself into a place where my brain can have a rest, instead of where it does its most intense work. Here’s hoping, right?
Happy Monday – I hope you’re holding steady.