Paddling Along (and avoiding toxic Shoulds)

Plot springs from character… I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type.
Anne Lamott

Yesterday was not the best writing day I ever had, but it got me excited about writing in general, and Her Last First Kiss in particular. Yesterday was one of those days that wouldn’t. We all have them. If you think you haven’t, wait. They will come. I’d had time on my schedule blocked out for HLFK work, and that was all I could do in that time. Only problem was…nothing.

Opened Scrivener. Yep, those are my words on the screen, and those people do live in my head, but we sat there and blinked at each other, shifting uncomfortably in our seats, answering “what are we doing here today?” with “I was hoping you knew.” Doesn’t matter who said what, when, because it went both ways. Well, okay then, we’ve hit that moment. One of the best parts about relearning my own writing process is learning to recognize the old bugaboos that have stopped too many stories in their tracks. Rolling along, hit a bump or even a wall, and then, well, let’s back up a bit. What went wonky?

Now that I have my office hours blocked out, it’s easier to focus. If it’s not going to be a writing day, it can be a research day. That, too, was a blank, because I’m still figuring out how I research. Leafing through factual history books doesn’t always work, because I end up face down, snoring, all too often. I want to be in that world and feel it all around me. I want the senses of the time, what my individual characters would notice and what would affect their moods, thoughts, choices, etc. That’s because they are in the driver’s seat. They live their lives, I follow them around, sometimes picking up the cryptic breadcrumblike clues they leave in their wake, hoping I’m smart enough to figure it out, though they don’t yet trust me enough to tell me the real stuff and wait for me to puzzle things together.

Yesterday was one of those days. I set up a Pinterest board (private, because all WIP boards have to be private or I lose the scent) which consisted of a couple of character pictures (I don’t normally cast stories, but if a face goes with a character, that’s fine,too) and..ummm…what ele? Clothes, I guess? A house? I am not good at this sort of thing, people. I feel like I should be, but there we are at the toxic shoulds again. Historical romance is my natural writing home, so I should be into research, right? I love books, so I should get all excited about paging through dusty tome after dusty tome until I find the exact umm…something…that will get all my ducks in a row and eh, what were we talking about again? I got distracted. I feel like I should want to read more historical biographies (even the fictionalized ones can be problematic) because isn’t the best way to find out what it was like for someone to live at that time to, I don’t know, read books about actual people who did live at that time? For some, yes. For me, not so much.

There was a time when I would have shaken my finger at my own reflection and scolded myself for this. Something like “bad researcher, no accuracy for you.” I once went on a research trip with two other writer friends to Mystic Seaport. They quite happily settled into the research library, made use of the staff to find books on the events they needed. I thought the library was gorgeous, but weren’t the walls closing in? Oh, just me? Okay. I had to get out. Had to. I didn’t crack a single book that I can recall, but to this day, I remember what it was like to wander the deserted streets of that seaport in the chill gray air and the bracing wind. I still have broken seashells that I scavenged from the shore and stuffed in my pockets. I still remember being the only person in the shipyard, breathing in deep of the scents of salt and sap and sawdust, placing my hand on the ribcage -because that’s what it looked like- of a boat that had been built before my grandfather had been concieved and knowing, knowing why a character in the ms I was working on at the time loved the sea as much as he did and why another wanted to build ships more than anything else in the world. They met me there, and I count that research enough.

Should I have stayed in the library and researched like the others? Debatable. I didn’t know what facts or records I needed for that story (still don’t, which could be one of the reasons that ms is at rest) but I did know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, while walking those empty streets, that I was in the world of Miranda Jarrett’s Sparhawks (okay, maybe a few decades off, but still…) When the wind slammed a heavy glass door into my shoulder when I decided to go into a building and look at an exhibit on …umm, something to do with ships….the pain wasn’t as as strong as “cool, now I know what this feels like. I can describe this.” That got me excited. That’s the way I want to approach research, because that’s what works for me.

I broke for lunch yesterday, after time spent pinning stuff that could have sort of maybe been somewhat related to my people and went to lunch with Housemate. She, kind soul, let me babble, and then dropped a solid gold bomb on me. Well, of course I was stuck on what Heroine would do. Heroine doesn’t like X. She likes Y. Oh. Y. Why didn’t I think of that? So, I gave Heroine Y in my head and darned if she didn’t react totally differently to Plot Point. Okay. I can work with that. She’s dropping breadcrumbs again, and so I must be off.

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