Remember when you were a kid, and you’d daydream stories to tell yourself as you drifted off to sleep, or lay in the summer grass and stared into the cloudless sky?
Or maybe, like Terry Burns describes in Writing in Obedience, you and your siblings would spend an afternoon spinning a tale between you of some cops and robbers scenario–a make-believe game you had every intention to play.
“I’ll do this!”
“Yeah, and then I’ll do that!
“Yeah, and then something else will happen!”
And then, and then, and then . . . !
You had an idea, and as it played out in your mind, you’d say “and then” when the next scene or action occurred to you. Sometimes it all happened so fast, you’d have the story completed before you fell asleep, and you’d stay up for hours revising it in your mind, or you’d spend the day telling each other the action scenes and never get around to playing them before the call to supper came.
“And thens” are necessary when fleshing out a story. It’s all well and good that you have your characters drawn out perfectly, that you know what you want to ultimately happen to each of them as the book comes to a close, that you have a few gripping chapters already written and a dramatic climax already outlined in your head. If you don’t know how you’re going to get your well-drawn characters to that dramatic climax, you’re dead in the water.
Well, look for me at the bottom of the lake.
Seriously. My “and then” is broken. This is what I’ve been talking about in the posts in which I reveal my fear of being a fraud. I have some killer opening chapters on several manuscripts, and all those manuscripts die somewhere after the fifth chapter because I can’t seem to figure out a series of actions to get my characters where I want them to go.
How does this even happen? What makes imagination disappear, ideas evaporate?
My first thought is that I’ve overdosed on reality. Like it or not, I have responsibilities that weigh heavily on my mind and seem to drain every bit of imaginative thought. Which bugs the tar outta me–every writer has responsibilities. Why aren’t they paralyzed with the inability to come up with a viable series of “and thens”?
One of my Facebook friends, Sylvia Stewart, posts pictures of ideal writing getaways–little cottages in inspiring settings guaranteed to reunite the writer with her muse. I look longingly at those forested escapes, with the brooks babbling nearby, the sun shimmering between the shadows, the birds flitting from limb to limb. I peer into the hiding places of fawn and rabbit and squirrel, and I think, that’s what I need. A place with nothing more to concentrate on but the next “and then.” No distractions. No responsibilities. Nothing that needs to be fed or cleaned or otherwise tended to.
My own home is similar. My desk sits opposite a wall of windows overlooking the pond, the pines, the squirrels and birds at play. The difference is, this is my house, my source of responsibilities. I look at the windows and realize they need to be cleaned; I glance into the kitchen and think of what to prepare for supper; I cast my gaze toward the fireplace and know the ashes must be scraped out.
I need a writing space where I’m responsible for nothing more than writing. I need a writing sabbatical, a month away from everything and everyone.
But since that’s not likely to happen, I’ll have to discover another way to repair my broken “and then.”