Thursday, July 22, 2010

It doesn't always pay to be prepared

As past readers of this blog may know, I find that taking walks is a wonderful way to get my mind working on my books. In the past I have found myself rushing home to write down great ideas so that I don’t forget them, repeating them over and over the whole way. I have used my cell phone to call myself and leave a message, but I find that a little creepy, especially when I have to listen to my voice. So one morning last week I took a pen and some paper and set out for a long walk that would combine exercise with a little research. I felt that for the first time I was fully prepared.

I got nothing. Not a single image or snatch of conversation came to me. My characters stayed silent and inactive, mocking me.

I thought this exceptionally odd, since only a half hour earlier, as I sat in the dental hygienist’s chair, my mind was filled with bits of several works in progress, including a YA book that I have set aside repeatedly at the advice of my writing group. Characters were talking to one another, scenes were unfolding, and I was editing the book that is nearly done. I was still thinking about all of these WIPs on the short ride home, where I changed into walking shoes and got my supplies for the walk (keys and a tissue.) We do not currently have a Seeing Eye puppy in training, so I was going to be alone with my thoughts. I could fully focus.

The research aspect of the walk was to go somewhere I don’t usually travel, to look at the gardens in front of the houses. One of the books I’m working on, although I didn’t mean to until it started to write itself on a previous walk, has a garden theme. It is my Wally Morris series, and right now, at the peak of summer, I wanted to get a good sense of the local plantings. I altered my route and started taking notes, at least mentally.

It is fairly hilly in this part of my New Jersey town, and I was soon asking myself why I had altered my almost flat route to voluntarily walk up a hill. What was I thinking? But I chugged along, hoping to find some unusual plantings. I was let down. They were all pretty run of the mill.

I’m not worried though, since I am also doing more formalized research and since some of the houses around here have truly beautiful, sculpture filled gardens. There will be plenty to write about. But I am disappointed that I couldn’t sneak up on myself and catch my mind working its magic.

Now I’ll have to try to start it up again in the other place where creativity flows like water. The shower.


Elisabeth Rose said...

Walking is such a good way of letting the mind loose. If I'm with my husband we brainstorm sticky plot points sometimes.

I usually wish I'd brought the camera. We walked up the mountain at the back of our suburb last week (when I say up I mean up partway :)) and there were kangaroos right by the path.

Sandy Cody said...

Joani, I think we can all identify with the problem of the elusive muse. I find that sometimes if I ignore mine, she'll come sneaking back.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

I loved this! It's good to know we are NOT alone! I always got ideas driving to work so I bought a small tape recorder to capture the thoughts.

Now, I swim all summer in the pool at our apartment complex and discover the peace helps me work through plots subconsciously. Sadly I have to rely on a faulty memory there.

You wrote, "Now I’ll have to try to start it up again in the other place where creativity flows like water. The shower."

For me, that's the pool.

Beate Boeker said...

Great post, Joani! I often get ideas in meetings, when I notice details about people (like the man who was bald and whose head formed an almost 90 degree angle at the back). I think "I really have to remember that" - and too often, it's gone later. Same with verbal fights and funny habits. I once had a boss who always twirled his eyebrows between his fingers. They made a funny noise, sort of scratchy. I'll never forgot that, though!