I’m not writing today. I’m tempted. I have a story that’s been talking to me for a couple of weeks now, asserting itself with scene ideas when I’m trying to sleep, keeping my mind occupied when I’m running errands or working out or doing any of the thousand things we do in a day that don’t need our full, undivided attention. It’s alluring, the thought of opening up the word processor and getting some of it down on paper. And I will. But not yet.
A month ago, just before I went away to Scotland for two weeks, I turned in a manuscript to my agent. I’d spent weeks rewriting and editing it, and was thrilled to get it off my plate before I left. Once I hit send, I was free to take a holiday from writing. None of the other projects I have on the back burner were talking to me, and it was time for a much-needed break.
While I was away, I took time to breathe, to look, to see new things and soak in all I could. Apart from keeping a journal of how I spent my days, I didn’t even think about writing until the second-last night, when an unexpected conversation with new acquaintances meandered wonderfully for hours. Even then, I was in the moment, enjoying terrific people I’d never have met if I hadn’t taken this trip. At one point, one of them said, “this will all be fodder for your next novel,” and we all laughed and continued on to other things.
Two days later, on the flight home, I got an inkling that he could be right. A new story started to whisper in my ear, the genesis of it formed in those few hours in the company of strangers who seemed like friends.
In the couple of weeks since I got home, I’ve discovered afresh something I tend to forget in the busyness of life and the desire to fit writing into any available minute, always looking for forward progress: there is a difference between procrastination and stillness.
Writers are notorious for the former. Not writing is so much easier than writing that we can easily become masters of procrastination. But when we try too hard to battle against that, making ourselves write even when we’re not ready, we can get stuck in the idea that only words=progress, forgetting that thinking and listening and percolating are all part of the job, too. Sometimes, it’s good just to listen to the world around us and to what our subconscious sends up for us to think about along the way, to let an idea grow quietly and assert itself until listening isn’t enough and it demands to be transcribed.
I’ve consciously stayed away from starting this story, focusing instead on jotting down notes and ideas as they come to me. If I’d started it when I got home and the idea was too fresh, I’d have struggled through part of a scene, with no idea where I was going next, and stalled. I’ve killed other ideas that way, so I know exactly how easily that can happen.
But now, with a couple of weeks to let the idea grow and gel in my thoughts, I have at least half a dozen characters who are pretty clear in my mind, a setting, a sense of what this story might look like, and ideas for at least a handful of scenes. I still don’t know where it’s going, but I have enough to go on.
Soon, I’ll put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and start. But I’ll try to remember to stop once in awhile, too, and listen.