Because I am working on my thesis, my thoughts are constantly consumed by the art of writing. Working with Thomas Cobb has been more than rewarding. It is so nice to work with a writer who has the same views about writing as I do. And these “views” have developed with each of our meetings to talk about my work. I have been pondering about two ways of composing a story or a novel. One, you think about what the story will be about, decide on an ending, map it all out, and then write. Two, you just start writing, not knowing the ending, or what the story will be about, for that matter. I mean, I think most writers feel like they need to map everything out before they actually begin writing. My stories are usually prompted by an image, then I place a person in that image, and then I let my fingers go free on my keyboard. Of course, a mere image doesn’t comprise a story. There must be conflict. There must be growth or a change of heart for the protagonist.
One of my recent stories took me quite a while to write. It took me about two and a half months to take it where I wanted it to go, where I knew it had to go. But I will never forget the day that I wrote the paragraph that morphed into this story. It was on May 28th, 2010. On my birthday, actually. My husband took me to the beach, and I lay on my towel, the sun seeping through my skin, sand in my eyelashes, between my teeth… I turned over onto my stomach and pulled out my journal and a pen. Mgo was dosing on the beach chair behind me, and it wasn’t really beach season yet, so it was strangely and enjoyably quiet. There was an image bursting in my mind, and on those occasions, I smile, because I know it will probably turn into something good. It felt like a good one, my fingers fumbling for an empty page, pen cap quickly tossed aside into the sand, hoping that what is bumping around in my head will make it to the page in time to capture it. Here is what I wrote down:
“Claire sat in the sun and pretended she was just like everyone else. Her eyes shut, she observed the tiny black specks in the midst of the red the sun made through her lids. The specks blinked and floated like waves. And though she tried to imagine that she heard the sound of the ocean, her lids eventually lifted, and instead of the sea, she was greeted by her silent vegetable garden. The beach chair felt stiff, pushing against her sore back, but the warmth of the sun contended her.”
Now, when I read through this, I wasn’t entire surprised. I had spent most of May on a beach chair, in our side yard, reading under the sun. I did this because the warmth of the sun became medicinal for my muscle aches caused by my Fibromyalgia. It was very soothing. Granted, this is not a very well written paragraph. For one thing, she tries to imagine that she hears the ocean, but she is greeted by a SILENT garden. Come on, Tam. (head on desk) But when I got home, I went ahead and typed it in a document on my laptop, and now, months later, it is one of the best pieces I have ever written. It is about a woman who battles against her own body–the pain of the arthritis is bad, every single day. This illness damages her relationship with her husband. Though he is very sympathetic and helpful, it sucks the life out of Claire, and therefore her marriage.
I fell in love with Claire. Not only because she carried a piece of me, but because she strung me along for months, and for the first time, I felt a very deep connection with a character that I had created! After a while, I just sat back and watched. I put her in different situations, and a lot of the time was surprised at the things that she did and said. I heard her and Rick arguing, talking over dinner. I heard Claire’s thoughts. It’s like she just needed someone to tell her story. And that’s where I came in.
All of this to say that I choose the second way of writing. I don’t plan everything out before I start. For one thing, what’s the fun in that? It doesn’t feel like creative work. It feels like homework. Like a paper that you leave to write until the last minute, and then suffer through it. Yes, most of my writing happens in my mind, throughout the day, even if I’m not at my computer. But I don’t take hours and hours to contemplate and outline the plot of my stories. What a waste of life?
I choose to enjoy doing it.
And when inspiration hits, I will hold the image in my mind until I find something to write with, and something to write on.