Saturday, 2 August 2008

To Write or Not to Write by Penny Dolan

When is it right to write? When’s it right not to? I’ve just spent a few days on a writing retreat.

It was in a fine setting: an old stone house with gardens worthy of the National Trust and meals plentiful and delicious. I’ve just completed a batch of smaller work projects, and was looking forward to sharing this sweetly familiar place with writing friends, and Being Busy with Writing.

However - unlike some of truly busy people there - my hours didn’t burst with real writing on the page. Why? Because it’s too soon! I’m starting to dream up a new story, and am at that magical stage where you can almost glimpse the plot and characters, but they are still revealing themselves. It’s a time to be open to ideas and possibilities, and this week felt way too soon to be nailing several scenes down with a mass of chosen words.

But I did find a "firm foothold" - an imagined sighting of a dropped object, a sense of a person left behind. Maybe the moment I need to grow my plot around, like the thread in the crystal and jam-jar experiment. I came away with just over 400 imperfect words, but they feel like the first baby steps forward.

I’ve also come away carrying a “precious”, a wonderful idea from a friend that feels powerful enough to link a couple of my own ideas and move the story into another dimension. If I’d spent the day writing loads of words instead of lsitening, maybe my plot would already be too hardened to welcome this new idea? This waiting stage is just so exciting!

Also exciting, in a writing process way, was the walk along the Ridgeway, towards the ancient earthwork of Wayland Smithy. This time it was under bright blue skies. A few years earlier, the walk had brought us to the same site in a torrent of rain. We stood there with the wind lashing the circle of trees, and the sky cracking with thunder and lightning. Standing there this week, I suddenly saw a subconscious link between that stormy trudge and a scene I’d put into in my current “tome-with-the-publishers.” The memory of that real-life storm had waited inside my head until it was needed, until it was tome for it to be written down.

On the other hand, too much idle waiting can be just that. The trick is to know when to write & when to let the ideas and words brew.

2 comments:

Candy Gourlay said...

Really identify with your piece. I'm just starting another story and it's like forcing myself to dream during the daytinme! I feel the added pressure of the possibility that my agent will send my most recently completed ms back to me for revision just when I get into the swing of things!

Penny said...

Thanks. The "dreaming-up-a-story" images seem like photographs being developed - in the pre-digital way - but without that essential fixer to keep them in place for long - epsecially when or if that urgent Do It Now phone call comes.

So maybe it IS notebooks by the beside time for this particular plot - for example, that dancing bear in the distance may be just what I need. Good luck with your daydreams, Candy!