Saturday, February 26, 2011

Riding That Mental Train

For the past few days I’ve been using my creativity in other ways than writing. Most of all, I crocheted. That doesn’t seem like much on the surface. In a very real sense it was time well spent.
Not only did I end up with a beautiful, hand-made gift for a writer friend of mine, but during those hours with yarn and hook, I worked out the primary outline for an adult novel. I learned the complete backstory of the main character, some of the secrets held by secondary characters, decided whether the book would be a mystery, romance, basic mainstream effort, or something else. That's a good couple of days.
Letting the Juices Flow
I consider that working. Others may disagree. When characters come calling, though, I tend to listen to their pitches at least. I can always say “yay” or “nay” later to any proposed project.
This one kept my interest without even trying. A woman trained to be subservient and expected to remain in her role is old hat, I know. What if that woman leads a separate and secret life? That’s the premise of the novel. Add a death and the writer—me—has something that can go in several directions.
That’s why I crocheted. That singular activity allows my mind freedom to roam the prospects of plotting, character development, etc. while still producing something else at the same time. Sewing can’t do the job; too much concentration and focus required.
Crocheting, on the other hand, can be as mindless or focused as a person wants to make it. It equates to plotting in the shower for me. And every writer knows that the best ideas come while your head is under water.
Don’t You Already Have a Project?
Why, yes, I do Thank you for remembering.
How many writers do you know who only work on one thing at a time? Not many, I’d wager.
Since this project is a total change from the others on my current list of projects, I can use it for a focus breaker. When I need a complete mental shift in gears from working on a short story, queries, articles, or the camping book, I’ll use this project. The focus is different, the characters unique and engaging, and the storyline, for now, remains close to my surface thoughts.
This novel can act as a trampoline of sorts. I hope it will act as a springboard of ideas for use in auxiliary projects that are already on my list. That’s how my creative mind works most of the time. Working on one story triggers ideas for bits of business on others.
What Now?
I’ve already begun the characters studies. Most of them are finished and waiting for use. Putting together chapter outlines comes next. I wish I knew exactly what was going to happen in the middle. Since I haven’t figured out that part yet, I’ll just have to wing that section for the moment. It will come clear soon.
I will use this creative time to get done what is already flowing on this novel. In a week or so my Muse will return to the travel book, a few queries, some submissions, and scheduling for the rest of our time here in Oklahoma. I have quite a bit planned for the next several weeks.
There you have it. That’s how things work for me on occasion. I’ll start one thing and something entirely different will pull me away from it for an indefinite period. The odd part is that when I do return to the original project, I have renewed vigor to work with it, new ideas or insights, and a tighter focus.
It’s almost as if my mind needed that vacation to rid itself of a niggling distraction so that it could concentrate on the big WIP. I could try to control it. The problem lies in the fact that when I do that, it takes over my dream life and I don’t get restful sleep. And I need all the restful type sleep I can get.
So when that steaming mental train of yours decides to take a spur line for a hitherto unknown destination, go with it for s while and see where it takes you. You might just find yourself in marvelous new territory.
Until we come together again, enjoy your life and write to your heart’s content.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Staring Into the Face of Possibility

When will that other shoe drop? Will it be today, tomorrow, or next week?
Have you ever wondered when that death knell was put on the cosmic time chart?
What about that axe? When will it fall?
So many sayings, so many questions. Why do we use them? We all know what they mean, don’t we?
The writer in me got to thinking today about these adages and others like them. I asked myself these same questions and a few more. At the end, I asked one other major question—a question directed solely at the writer in me.
Before I get to that I’d like to ask a few more leading questions. They’re pertinent, I promise. How old are these sayings, and why do we keep using them?
Everyone I’ve ever known who were older than me used these lines. Kids today learn their meanings early in life, too. Such sayings seem to have been around for as long as man in one form or another.
The reason? Paranoia exists for a reason, too, you know. These sayings appear to fit that mold quite well. I mean look at that one line; when will the axe fall?
I’d think that comes from the time of beheadings for political purposes. That reasoning makes the line centuries, if not thousands of years, old. Ask any turkey if there’s a reason to be paranoid about axes.
The shoe dropping? That might be a bit more difficult. How about this purely personal definition—listening for the other shoe to drop tells the kids shivering with fright in their beds exactly when their brute of a parent will be by to pound on them again? Too dramatic? Maybe, but it fits the feel of the saying, don’t you think?
The death knell is something else again. I asked that question from a purely spiritual education perspective. It’s still a good question.
The writer in me asked the questions for a specific purpose. Any of these old adages can be taken apart, redirected, reasoned, and used as the nugget of a plot for stories, whether for children or adults. My last and most important question concerned how I could use these kinds of adages to build stories. I’ll show you what I mean.
1.    If we begin with the premise that the death knell saying is based in a Fate-driven cosmos, the possibilities become endless. If that’s the case then my very first question has an infinite number of answers. The reason is that I like to think of that infinitely large time chart hanging out there somewhere with an appointment for said pealing to begin.
2.    I can take the stand that my character’s name was written in stardust somewhere in the Orion constellation around the time of its formation. At its creation another tiny notation was made close to earth that at a certain instant in the future a small impact would happen on the Moon, which would set it to ringing. As soon as that ringing began the character’s heart would explode in his chest.
Now that’s drama! Okay, it’s a bit over the top but dramatic nonetheless.
What about that shoe?
1.    What if a boy waits each night to hear that shoe drop to the floor after his mother gets home from a second-shift job? He knows she’s tired and probably hungry after so long on her feet. To help her he’s left a plate for her in the refrigerator that she can put in the microwave. At least she can have a hot meal before relaxing with the late news.
2.    And what if that boy placed a hand-made Valentine’s card in the refrigerator beside the plate so that his mother will know just how much he loves her? He’s waited for a couple of hours to know that she’s safely home, getting the meal he left her and the card that he made after school. He can go to sleep now knowing that she’s aware of his feelings and his caring.
That scenario puts a different spin on the saying, removes any paranoia, and releases some warm fuzzies into the reader’s moment at the end. Not bad for a quick try-out for a story, don’t you think?
We have hundreds of such adages at our command every day that we can use and reuse, according to the spin we put on them. No writer has to go without a plot. They stare us in the face like so many worrisome little nuisances with nowhere to go.
Why not make them work for us for a change. If we can’t use them for the clich├ęs they are, let’s at least use them for building something unexpected for the reader to ponder.
Lots of writers have done the same thing over the years. Agatha Christie is a prime example. Think about “Ten Little Indians” and see if you don’t come to the same conclusion.
In the meantime, take care, all, and enjoy your time on this fascinating place we call Earth. Read Hemingway and find out why. His titles alone should shout his reasoning process.
Until later, have a great weekend.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Experiencing Life As A Dream

Sister Jo and I began our sojourn two months ago. It feels like many more months than that, which got me to thinking. I’ve always known that one’s sense of the passage of time is relative to the experiences within the timeframe being referenced. There’s a very valid reason for the phenomenon.
Back in the 1970’s researchers at either the University of Michigan or Michigan State University did a long term study on time perception. They found that there is both “real” time and “mind” time.
Time Differences
The researchers found profound differences between the two types of time.
“Real” time was defined as the passage of time as recorded by a clock. Such time is a man-made measurement of experience. It’s also considered a measurement related to distance, but still a measurement.
“Mind” time was defined as a person’s individual experiential perception. Each person perceives the passage of time differently according to how fast their mind processes information, as well as the emotional investment used during the experience.
Apparently the research was prompted by someone asking why a person can experience hours or days of time passage within the body of a dream. The brain processes information in nanoseconds, which is infinitely faster than clock time. The researchers decided to look for the truth.
The Experiment
The basic experiment was a simple one. Find subjects who’d always wanted to learn to do one thing specifically—compose music, learn a foreign language, etc. Once the subjects were located [all were mature adults], each one was hypnotized for their instruction.
Example: [Not taken from actual study] During hypnosis a subject—let’s say a civil servant--is told that he’s been given two years to learn how to write music, which he’s always dreamed about. He can stay in his room and learn for that two years. He will be provided with everything he needs to learn. All he has to do was ask.
He’s told that someone will come to tell him when his time is up. He’s left to his own devices to use the resources provided to learn his new field. Whatever he asks for, he receives. He spends his time working on a computer, playing with instruments, and learning.
The Results
Are you concerned? Don’t be. The amount of time he’s in the room, as measured in “real” time, is only a few hours.
The result astounds the researchers. Not only can the man compose music but beautiful music and is ecstatic with the results of his new education. He’s also told that only a few hours have passed since he began.
The ultimate reality is that “mind” time runs and processes information incredibly fast. Learning under this process of mind usage is excellent, takes little “real” time, and has lasting effects. (When rechecked several months later, our civil servant is happily writing music for publication.)
Personal Appreciation of “Mind” Time
You might ask what this has to do with anything. Why is it important? It’s important for a couple of reasons.
When I said that our time on the road seemed to have lasted many months, I meant it literally. It seemed as if the calendar should be pushing toward May instead of February.
The reason for that perception is the number of experiences during that near eight weeks on the road. We’d covered 18 states in that “real” time. Within each of those states were individual experiences that had made an impact on our memories, either good or bad. That’s a mighty load of memories in so short a timeframe.
We’d taken a few notes here and there about most of the major experiences, but not the entirety of the road experience. My poor fingers would never have been still if that was the case. Whether I preferred it or not, my poor old mind had to carry the brunt of the load in memory form with scanty notations along the way.
The good thing about experiential memory is that it doesn’t escape when there are two of us on the drive. Each of us have a slightly different perspective, but that’s why it works so well. We can fill in details better that way. We can use her visuals and my audios. It’s according to who was paying the most attention at the time.
Also, have you ever had one of the days when you’ve worked and worked, gotten tons completed, and then looked at the clock only to see that only a couple of hours have passed? That, my friend, is “mind” time in action. Enjoy it while you have it. It usually accompanies those days when clock time seems to drag along and it seems that the day will never be over. Ever have one of those?
If not, I’m sorry. I used to groan each time until I realized how much I could get written during “MIND TIME.” It’s my writer’s best friend come to call.
I can use it for marketing research, which always seems to take forever. I can use it to draw out a plot or rough out an essay. It’s lovely for poetry. I relish those days now.
Take a minute and think about whether you’re using your mind time to its best advantage. Until we talk again,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Finding Inspiration Wherever You Are

During our trip Sister Jo and I have learned many things and had good and not so good experiences. The interesting aspect of every day so far is that no matter where we've been there has been more than enough to use as inspiration.

The most profound understanding that I've come to is that regardless of where one is inspiration abounds. Whether one seeks it out or not, it arrives on silent feet to rattle one's sensibilities and leave reflection in its wake.

Inspiration comes in many guises and waits only for recognition.

Types of Inspiration

According to the dictionary there are seven different definitions of "inspiration."  Like all concepts, inspiration can only be defined by itself. The current definitions are:

1. an inspiring influence--action, etc.
2. an idea
3. a result of inspired activity
4. a thing or person that inspires
5. theological--a devine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind/soul. The devine quality of the writings or words of a person so influenced.
6. inhalation
7. act of inspiration, quality or state of being inspried.

Synonyms: stimulus, incitement

The Muse deals specifically with inspiration for the writer, musician, poet, artist, even engineer. But what inspires the Muse?

I may not be a typical writer, but I'm inspired by more things than I can ever use. Spectacular sunset colors can bring lines of poetry to mind, unbidden and spotaneous.

Overhearing a snippet of conversation in the local convenience store can create the basis for an entire scene of dialogue for a story.

Seeing how a group of old friends or older relatives interact can give me both characters and plot aspects. It can also give me glorious realistic regional dialogue.

Watching the signs along the freeway gives me place names for stories or ideas for historical pieces in both non-fiction and fiction.

The world has so much to offer by way of inspiration. All a person has to do is keep mind, eyes, and ears open and ideas will flow. The fun thing is that no one has to go far from home to find such inspiration.

For instance, take a walk through the yellow pages. It's remarkable what you can learn about a town through that simple act. I'd be willing to bet that you'll find businesses you didn't know existed in places totally unexpected.

If you find fifteen different computer stores, ask yourself if enough people live in the area to warrant that many computer stores. Perhaps your community has grown more than you thought. Perhaps one of the stores has exclusive contracts with the school districts in the area. There are questions that will come to mind.

What about the Doll Hospital downtown? How long has it been there? Who owns it and why did they begin the business in the first place? What kinds of stories does the owner have about the store and its customers? And what kind of customers frequent the place?

See what I mean? So many questions about one small business in one town can lead you in so many directions, each of them inspired.

You know that old barn down the road? Who built it and was it a dairy barn? How long ago was it abandoned and why?

Sit at the local hangout for the WWII generation and listen to the guys talking about when they were younger. Listen to the subjects they talk about and the emotions that surface. A world of characters, plots, and description resides at those tables. Living history sits in front of the watcher waiting to be absorbed.

Inspiration walks the earth each day to be absorbed, activated, and utilized. It's up to each person to recognize it. I'm hoping that you all can find your inspiration today and each day. Whether it's a highway sign, a want ad in the local paper, a commercial on the tele, or something one of the kids said at Sunday School, keep those senses open to possibilities.

Until we talk again,