Thursday, 6 October 2011

The words in the air - Abi Burlingham

Have you heard them lately, the words in the air, floating around unseen? They can be quiet, discreet things and go unnoticed if we don't listen. Then, when they know they have your undivided attention, they will SHOUT OUT! Before you think I'm completely mad, let me explain. In fact, here's a question: have you ever been struck by a sudden thought or idea, an image maybe, or a word or two, not at a time when you were trying to think of something to write about, but seemingly out of the blue, when you weren't even thinking about your latest WIP (work in progress)? I would imagine the answer to this is a resounding YES! So you'll know what I mean by the words in the air.

The thing is, lately I haven't been listening very much. I've been far too busy getting on with proper writer type things, like editing, writing new things, plotting, re-writing old things, blogging, promoting, keeping my accounts in order so that I don't go upsetting Mr VAT, that type of thing. And, because I have immersed myself in all of this, because I have been a woman on a mission, pre-occupied with word counts and what I have and haven't finished, I have made no time for the words in the air. In fact, they seemed to have stopped appearing altogether, and what is worse, I didn't even notice!

Then, I reached a sticky point - the woman on a mission hit a brick wall (metaphorically speaking) a few thousand words into my current WIP, my first YA (young adult) novel. I had managed to get past a similar sticking point earlier on in the novel by using index cards to help my plotting, but now, as the dramatic action was supposed to increase, I found myself drawing a blank. After a lot of angsting and huffing and puffing, none of which was the slightest bit constructive, I decided to put it to one side. So, plot plan, chopped up cards, sketches, notes, were all dumped on top of a cupboard and left. I have to tell you, I was grumpy about it. After all, I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to get on with it. But it just wasn't happening for me, so I abandoned it, for three weeks.

A few days ago, two things happened on the same day - rather a coincidence. A fellow writer and friend visited a disused mine and tweeted a picture of it. My reaction was a sharp intake of breath as the image reminded me of my deep-rooted fear of enclosed spaces. The same evening, while reading a Famous Five book to my little girl, one of the characters discovered a staircase leading to an underground tunnel running under the sea. Suddenly, there it was. The answer! The missing piece in my puzzle. Why had I not thought of it before? But there's the rub. If I hadn't stopped to look at the photograph and taken an interest in somebody else's experiences, if I hadn't taken time out to read to my daughter, would I have found the answer? Probably not. I may have found another one, but it's unlikely that it would have been this one. To add to this, the idea of a tunnel, earth, sand, water, triggered another idea connected to the elements. Some of these already featured in my story, but suddenly, I realised that I could do something extra with this, something I hadn't planned at all.

It seems to me that being a writer is not always about the amount of words written, or getting the job done, although of course, these things are important. It is about being open to all sorts of things, about using what comes to us. We are opportunists and need to take time out from the physical action of writing to be inspired and to experience what is around us, to soak up what exists, sometimes to just be. Because the words in the air will come, and when they do, we need to be ready to reach out and pull them in.

Do you take time to listen to the words in the air?

Abi Burlingham

20 comments:

dansmithsbooks said...

Nice post. Without experiences (ours or other people's) we'd have little to write about. Difficult to write about love, hate, joy if you've never felt those things. Difficult to write about being trapped in an enclosed space if you can't put yourself there and imagine what it would feel like. And yes, too much of our time is taken up by all the little things. Remember the way technology was going to make our lives so much easier and so much more fulfilling? And now we worry about our blogs and Facebook and Twitter and Google+ accounts . . .

Wendy Storer said...

I couldn't agree more. Inspiration comes from so many unexpected places and often at such unexpected times. Thanks for this reminder :)

Malaika said...

Interesting post... and spookily, I was just thinking the same thing - or something very similar anyway.

Anne Cassidy said...

Words in the shops more like. My problems are usually solved walking round Marks and Spencer's.

catdownunder said...

I know what you mean - a piece falls into place. Sometimes it is so obvious you cannot understand why you did not think of it before. I think the answer to that has to be (for me) "you weren't ready for it before".

JO said...

Great post - and yes, I get the best ideas while tramping round Savernake Forest. it's amazing what lurks behind trees, or creeps out of puddles, or hissing at me from the depth of the blackberry bushes.

TeriT said...

Great post, and so true: I look at it like this. Your creative self needs time and space to do its thing. If you fill every moment with 'stuff', it hides away. It has to be tempted out with a wandering, wondering mind

Joan Lennon said...

Moment of recognition stuff - so cool and sometimes so random!
Thanks for your post!

Marnie said...

Great blogpost, Abi. A fallow period is always helpful, even if it's just one day.

adele said...

Very interesting post! And quite often that does happen, doesn't it? Unexpected things.

Alison Staples said...

Cutting out the noise, coming up for air and making the connections which give stories a new direction are the most exciting bits. If I get stuck, I try not to dwell or force it. The words are out there, we just have wait for them to find us.

Thanks Abi.

Julia Munroe Martin said...

I so agree that I never know when an idea will hit me -- and what may trigger it -- and the truth is like all writers I'm writing all the time, in my mind if not on paper. And I'm a naturally a curious, if not nosey person, so I get grouchy if I'm cut off from new ideas! And it's so important to just step away now and then (I say this as the first draft of my current WIP lies untouched all over the dining room table -- which of course also makes my grouchy!).

Martin Day said...

Thanks for this Abi. Fascinating to hear how your processes and inspirations work (and those of some of the other commenters too).

I have an old-school Palm that I have with me at all times and will jot down new ideas when ever they occur. Most never get used but, like a box full of screws or a shed full of wood, when I need something I can sometimes root around and rediscover just the right shaped thing.

I've noticed that there is much cross-fertilisation in art. Sometimes I think I don't have any new ideas but am just a translator from one medium to another - that's a thought that even made to the intro on my website home page.

Emma Pass said...

What a wonderful post, Abi. As you say, allowing ourselves to be open to inspiration whenever and wherever it appears is so important. Yet it's easy to forget that, as much as we need to put in the hard graft to actually get the work done, we also need quiet, some might say lazy periods to allow our 'ideas well' to refill.

I always find the harder I *try* to think of a solution to a plot problem, the more elusive that solution becomes. But if I try not to let myself get stressed out about it (MUCH easier said than done), something always turns up in the end.

And as catdownunder says, that solution is usually so darn obvious I then spend the next few days kicking myself for not having been able to see it earlier!

Martin Shone said...

Wonderful post, Abi. I've always believed in the universal brain theory. There are words up there that other people find but are too busy to use and so they drift along until they reach someone who can use them.

Please drift to me, you lovely words.

Martin

Lucy Coats said...

Great post, Abi - congratulations on a fab entry into the world of ABBA blogging! Yes, the words in the air are very important. I sometimes think they hear our need and come to us in a kind of special writers' serendipity. When I had a plot problem a month or two ago, and was having a conversation with my son (not about the plot), he said something completely random about locations, which caused me to go and look it up on the internet. There was just what I needed, in the place I needed it to be. I love the way unexpected things act as triggers for stuck creativity.

Abi Burlingham said...

Thanks so much for all your lovely comments. It's so reassuring to find that we all work and think in roughly the same way. Thank you again :)

Liz Kessler said...

Great first ever ABBA blog Abi! I love it when something totally unexpected suddenly unlocks a bit of my story. It's part of the utter magic of the whole thing, and one of my favourite bits of being a writer.

Lizx

Katherine Langrish said...

I loved it too, Abi. We do need space to allow the story to grow - as John Keats said 'as naturally as the leaves to the tree'. Actually that might not happen all that often, but it's something to aim at!

Savita Kalhan said...

Great first post, Abi, and welcome to ABBA. It's a great feeling when the words in the air unlock a scene, a moment, a thought or a feeling. I've got an allotment where I find lots of words hidden amongst the vegetables, other words drift by all day, but it's catching the right ones that makes my day.