Dead Time

Sometimes not writing is more productive than writing. As someone who likes to accomplish things, this drives me crazy. (Case in point, I am writing this on a bus while traveling because I have not spent a weekend at home in over a month and at least on a bus you can get stuff done.) When I have a book idea, there’s that first delicious thrill over the idea, excitement for the concept and crushing on characters I’m just getting to know. I’m filled with vigor and just want to start writing. The important thing for me to remember is that this isn’t love, it’s infatuation. I don’t know these characters yet. I have no idea where the story is going, what my themes are, or what the bones are that I’m going to build on.

I was trained first as an illustrator and then as a writer and I think most of my process comes from my illustration training, in which one must research, develop a concept, and do hundreds of sketches before committing to refined sketches or a final. I’ve learned that this process is comparable to what I have to do when I write. After the initial ideas, I need to research: read, experience, create charts and doodles. With this period comes a gestation period, a time when I have to let the research and the story seeds sit in my brain. Walks, sitting on buses, listening to music….not writing becomes important. During this period I’m tempted to take a sprouting idea and run with it, but I can’t, I have to wait, to give the idea time to grow and mature a bit. If I start writing too much now, I’ll be committing to half ideas, concepts and themes that have not been pushed far enough. I respect myself and my readers too much to commit to these half ideas, ideas that are more likely to be cliched.

The image above is a sketch from the conference and the first appearance of the character currently growing in my head- she's had five names in six weeks. Image copyright 2016 Marika McCoola.

The image above is a sketch from the conference and the first appearance of the character currently growing in my head- she’s had five names in six weeks. Image copyright 2016 Marika McCoola.

I attended a conference earlier this year at which Chris Tebbetts talked about the creative process (I use this broadly, because I think there’s a lot of crossover between writing and other arts). There are two states to the process: will and grace. Will is sitting down to work and pushing through drafts. Grace is allowing ideas to come, it is  accepting change and inspiration. Each work is some combination of the two, though not always in similar proportions. Grace is the part of the process we idealize, the muse coming. Will is the part that makes this work. I see the dead time of not writing as a marriage between will and grace, a period in which I have to be mindful, in the moment, holding back my will to work and accepting the grace without acting. Yes, it’s infuriating, but it also holds so much promise. At this point, there’s so much potential in the concept and it is certain to grow and change into something I can’t yet conceive of. Yes, it’ll take so much work, much of which will be painful, but right now, I can’t quite see that yet.

by Marika McCoola, 2016 Ivan Gold Fellow  

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