Every Thursday my writing group meets at our favorite coffee shop. We crowd around little round tables, in wooden, straight back chairs and shoot the stink eye at the losers taking up space in the comfy chairs – our comfy chairs.
Okay, maybe that last bit is just me. Damn you knitters and internet daters!
We sip our poison of choice, nibble on something that is not at all diet-friendly, and commiserate. We complain about our process or lack thereof, offer encouragement to those feeling disparaged, and argue over such things as alternating points of view and plot twists. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week.
A few weeks ago, one of our members mentioned that the piece she brought for critique was inspired by a dream. This sparked a lively conversation about how dreams influence a writer’s work and the best way to capture these little fragments of inspiration, in the dead of night. I sat quietly as the group debated the benefits of a bedside notebook versus a mini voice recorder. This is a conversation I’ve heard before. Indeed, the first time was in Patricia Burroughs’ Basic Novel Writing class five years ago. As I did in class, I listened with a sense of wonder, a lot of confusion, and a dash of self-doubt.
I have never been influenced creatively by a dream. Ever.
I rarely remember my dreams and when I do it’s usually because I’ve done some mentally exhausting activity right before bed and my mind is unable to let it go. When I was in the homestretch of a hellish four semester math marathon, I frequently found myself solving quadratic equations or finding an inverse in my sleep. Last semester, I had a night of fitful sleep after I made the mistake of studying the Reformation and the Renaissance together, right before bed. It was a weird, yet interesting dream, but not worthy of an earth shattering storyline – well unless I was working as a consultant on the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure movie.
Eek. I shudder at the thought.
The conversation at the coffee shop started the gears in my brain turning and once again I began to question my ability. Is there something wrong with me? Is this something I need to be worried about; something I need to work on? Then, Agatha Christie whispered in my ear:
“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”
I don’t plan a book, or a scene, or a blog entry while doing the dishes. It’s not my chore anymore, but I do find that I am the most creative in two places: the shower and the gym. When an idea strikes, I am either soaking wet and naked or in the middle of a workout without my trusty notebook close at hand. Unfortunately, my memory is shit, and even more so if I am having one of those over-stimulated days. I’ve lost some pretty brilliant stuff that way.
Get your mind out of the gutter – not that kind of over-stimulated.
I’ve been chugging away on my novel. I’ve set a weekly goal for myself, and so far so good. Because of this, my story is on my mind a lot. I’ve been slowly working through some early plot problems and character development. Things are taking shape, but I’m not all that far into it. Maybe a little more than one-third is down on paper.
So, Monday afternoon, I was trucking along on the elliptical, sweating like a pig, silently seething because not a single television in my direct line of sight was tuned to anything worth a damn. I guess I could have gone to the perky little girl behind the desk but…oh wait…what was I talking about…squirrel.
I was plugged into my digital music library, listening to one of my favorite live albums by The Police – only the greatest band ever. Don’t judge me. The song King of Pain began to play. It’s one of my favorites, especially when performed live, and it never fails to effect me emotionally. So, I suppose it’s not too surprising that it was during this song that the little idea troll in my brain decided it was the right time to reach out and give me a good slap to the back of the head (Gibbs style for all you NCIS fans).
Bam! I had a vision. It was as clear as if the scene was unfolding right in front of me, between the row of elliptical machines and the recumbent stationary bikes. A catalyst scene – a point in the story where one character does irreparable harm to another – and one I’ve not spared one thought beyond a few scribbles in the margin of my rough outline. But suddenly there it was, a vivid picture in my mind’s eye, the echo of their dialogue reverberating through me, their tension palpable. All of it just begging to be written, to be cast out of my head, and down onto paper.
Who am I to argue with such clarity?
I spent a good half an hour hunched on a bench, in the gym locker room, surrounded by women with no sense of modesty, scribbling away in my notebook. I couldn’t chance it getting away. It was too powerful. Too real.
Of course, I spent the better part of my evening trying to decipher my chicken scratch so that I could incorporate this new, pivotal scene into the work in progress.
I suppose the point of my nonsensical rambling is that there is nothing wrong with me. At least, not where this is concerned. Everyone is inspired and struck by ideas in different ways, be it in a dream during the dead of night, or in a vision at the gym while listen to The Police. We are merely slaves to its creation.