Friday, January 28, 2011

Creative Idleness

I may have mentioned in this space that my husband rolls his eyes when I insist that I'm working as I walk, swim laps, or take a long shower. Brenda Ueland labeled these activities "Creative Idleness...the dreamy idleness...when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing...or dig in a garden or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew or paint..." ( If You Want to Write, p.33). (Or knit: Phyllis? Or hang out at the track: Ron?)

On the last day of the residency, Marsha Q gave an inspired talk about the "Paralyzed Protagonist." I realized that her title describes the narrator of the YA novel I'm trying to finish. Marsha also said--wisely--that when a narrator changes, his/her close relationships will also be altered. After her talk, I knew I should write a scene showing the change taking place between my P.P (as I thought of Brandon now) and his best friend. This scene could even become the missing crisis point near the end of the novel.

After the residency, I read through my novel, drafted the scene. The day after another big storm, I typed it up, threw it out, shoveled the front steps, came back to my desk, started again, gnashed my teeth. It wasn't working. The sky cleared, and every snow crystal glittered in the sun. I gave up, loaded my skis into the car, and drove to our little park. I was in luck: the town hadn't ruined the skiing by plowing the track. Fresh snow, frothy as meringues, lay waiting. I pushed through knee-deep powder the first time around the track. The second time around was easier, and the third time was the charm. I heard Brandon and his friend Marty talking. I witnessed their fight. I understood what what each boy felt, what each learned about the other as they raged and came out on the other side. I took my skis off, came home and wrote. It's still an ugly first draft, and it may be melodramatic, but it's getting there, thanks to the skis and the soft powder.

Butt in Chair is important. But so are those moments when we're doing something unrelated to writing, when our minds are open and that stray moment of inspiration slides in, like a ski gliding along a fresh track.


  1. Gorgeously said! Even though pure willpower is important, I think it's that stray moment of inspiration that gives my "Butt in Chair" the longest life.

  2. Perhaps we should start a reality show called "Creative Idle" -- the last languishing writer standing (or walking or skiing or knitting or betting...) is the winner.

  3. Inspiration, creativity have their own life and timing, don't they? There's a a bit of peace remembering that.

  4. Ahh, process. I can never read enough about how others work. This post reminds me of Kelly's a few weeks ago where she wrote about turning off the noise that covers up the 'creatively idle' times. How important it was to move but without listening to anything except the swish, swish of skis and the voices in your head. I never knew the power of that until we got a dog and I got to walk him every day. Also, Liza, please know how much I appreciate your reminders that first drafts are not pretty, but certainly serve the purpose. Much like going around your ski tracks I suppose! You're plowing the perfect path.

  5. "Fresh snow, frothy as meringues..."

    What a delicious description, Liza!