Inklings and Ideas

Datura III

The idea came as ideas do. I was washing dishes. I had soap and water up to my armpits (I’m a wild washer), and a kid wrapped around my thigh. I’d recently finished reading The Half-Blood Prince; I was thinking about Snape and how much I loved his acerbic, witty ways.

And in that moment, I saw him, my main character, standing on a cliff overlooking the sea. Someone else lurked behind him; I couldn’t see her yet but I knew she was there. I stood, lost in my head, until the water nearly overflowed the sink. For a few minutes, ideas and images overflowed my brain circuitry. I looked about for something to write with and found nothing. I dried my hands, threw a few toys in my son’s direction, and grabbed my laptop. As I wrote down what I saw in my head, a wide grin etched its way across my face.  In the next forty minutes, I pounded out the first pages of what would become The Apothecary’s Apprentice.

I shelved the project for the next five years, lost in the melee of parenting and teaching. Over the course of that time, my main character, Silas, would not leave me alone. He spoke to me in the middle of the night, interrupting my dreams, keeping the sandman at bay. Had someone told me that the way to reclaim my life was to give him his, I’d have written like a madwoman to exorcise his demon. But I didn’t know. I’ve always been an accomplished academic writer. I can pound out analytical essays in my sleep. But fiction felt like a bird of a different feather. I knew how to read it, how to analyze it, but to write it? That’s something that writers did. Writers write fiction (in my elementary and narrow definition of the word). I couldn’t do that. And yet, Silas would not go away.

It wasn’t until I created space in my life to think straight (i.e. I left the albatross of student essays behind) that I got serious about exorcising Silas’ demon from my brain. I meandered my way through the first several chapters and found myself…stuck. What had happened to my story? Once I’d finally started writing, he broke up with me. I couldn’t hear him anymore and I couldn’t see his story. Frustrated, I turned to a critique group for help. After having submitted the first few chapters, every single writer told me I had the wrong story, that the story belong to her, my yet-to-be-named plucky sidekick. In the words of my teen doppelgänger, “Really?

I resisted their feedback for months. I loved Silas. He was my main squeeze; how could it not be his story? Don’t I control who is—and who isn’t—my main character? And yet, I could not ignore the fact that my story had fizzled. Stubbornly, I set out to rewrite my story, if only to canonize Silas as the hero of my tale. I wrote. And wrote. And then I wrote some more. The story came alive from Evee’s point of view. This tough, curious, and fiercely loyal young lady waltzed in like she owned the damned place. But I finished my story.

And here’s the secret: all it takes is butt-in-chair time. Once I started to do the work, to sit down and write, my story unfolded like a long awaited bloom. There were days when what I produced felt more like amorphophallus titanium, a plant known as the corpse flower. It blooms infrequently and releases a scent similar to that of rotting flesh. But more often than not, there were days when my writing more closely resembled datura, or angel’s trumpet. Once rooted, these tree-like plants bloom prolifically, perfuming the air with their lemony scent. Writing is writing. It isn’t tweeting about books or talking about the pages you intend to fill. It’s the actual placement of word after word on the page. If you want your writing to blossom, you have to do the work.

It’s taken nearly eight years from that point to bring my story to life. How long will it take you? Better get writing…