I've been a little . . . stuck. That dang, elusive thing called plot. Starting a new book can be a daunting process - all that blank monitor space, so many paralyzing choices. At some point you just have to take a leap of faith and start writing, make yourself believe that the various plot lines will come together and weave an entertaining story. But I wasn't just beginning the book . . . I was almost 15,000 words into a novel when I realized that something wasn't quite right. So I started to quibble over words and characters and sentence structure the way you'd pick at an annoying scab. Only I was using tweezers when I needed a knife.
What's the old saying about editing? "Kill your darlings." I realized that of the 15,000 words, probably a third required a hit man. Ouch. But which darlings had to go? And why hadn't I noticed the problem earlier?
My crazy life - kids, work, writing, husband, house - got in the way of clarity. Maybe you can relate. Now, I wouldn't trade my crazy life for anything, but what I needed was some time and space to get away - literally and figuratively. On impulse, I booked an inexpensive house in Maine for four nights and told my mother that I wouldn't be home for Easter (gasp!). She was surprisingly cool with it. So after convincing the kids that the Easter Bunny could indeed find them in Maine, off to Camden we went. Two kids, one Labrador and two adults in a small Prius. Nine+ hours. (Did I mention the dog? Note to self: a wet dog in a tiny vehicle is not delicious.)
The house was on the small side, but what it lacked in interior room it more than made up for in warm decor and location. Right on Hosmer Pond, a few miles from the Maine coast, it provided what I (and my wounded plot) needed most . . . perspective.
Typically I write in my home office in the wee hours of the morning. One of my dogs likes to curl himself into a ball under my desk, on top of my feet, and the two of us spend the early morning hours together. Once the sun comes up, I can turn my head and, from the right angle, see the front flower beds and my husband's grapes. That's as much nature as I typically get (besides the two half-dead house plants on the bookcase).
But Hosmer Pond - rural Maine, really - downright enveloped us in nature. I could hear myself think. And while sitting out by the pond on what came to be my favorite rock while the boys were hiking, something magical happened. I relaxed. And as the stress started to melt, I could begin to see where my plot had gone awry. And like that, after a few hours of staring into icy water and listening to the sounds trees make in the wind, I had a new plot outlined. I understood exactly how to make the story work.
I like the outdoors, but this was different. I hadn't realized how cluttered my life and my brain had become. Confronted daily with the demands of others - usually legitimate demands, but demands nonetheless - I couldn't see the forest for the trees (if you'll forgive the pun). It took hours of solitude, an old-fashioned notebook and pen, some biting breezes and the sun shining on my face to help me clear my head. Sure, we ate fried fish and lobster (yum!), watched movies together and played on the beach, but it was those long, lazy mornings on the pond that lent a new lens to my book.
Moral? I guess we could all use a bit of perspective once in a while. Sometimes even vacations can add to the pressure - so much planning and organizing, they begin to feel like a chore. This was an unstructured trip. Besides a destination, we had few expectations and even fewer demands. How often do we do that for ourselves? In our over-scheduled, over-achieving, over-stimulated society, there's still something to be said for spending some quiet time alone, outside. It doesn't have to be in a distant location. A nearby park, your own backyard when no one is home, the beach at dawn . . . any of these could work. I think the important thing is recognizing when we need to refuel on mojo - and not making apologies for finding a way to make it happen.
(And for any of you wondering, the Easter Bunny did find the boys in Maine. That rabbit is amazing.)
As anyone who knows me will attest, I have a love-hate relationship (at best) with structure. Because of that, I won't promise specific blog entries on specific days. Instead, I'll try to share thoughts and ideas on some of my favorite topics (writing, parenting, food, organic gardening, inspirational stories and food (did I say that already? it bears repeating)) as the mood strikes. Catch me here three or four days a week, though. And I would love to hear from you!