I find myself in the writing phase I call Rumination. Julia Monroe Martin’s great post on this topic reminds me that some writers take and find pleasure in this phase. There are times I do, too, when I love the Rumination phase because everything—every character, every plot—is possible. The world feels like my oyster!
But after six months stuck in Rumination, the world just feels like my goiter.
I want to be in the phase called Putting Story on Paper. Or, Now We’re Cookin’. How about Actual Writing Beyond Page 30. In Rumination, the phase of infinite possibilities, I have shared no fewer than ten versions of the same thirty pages with my dear and patient writing partners. I have shared no fewer than five of these drafts with my dear and patient agent. Bless them. It’s embarrassing, really, to keep believing I have finally figured out this story, only to sit with a draft of a few scenes and realize, No. It’s not quite there. This is, for some reason, not quite right.
I like efficiency. I like doing things right the first time. I don’t like dillydallying. I am impatient. I never cook risotto because I lack the patience to stir and stir and stir. It’s a good thing that God or Someone invented Italian restaurants; otherwise perfectly cooked pearls of risotto would ne’er have passed my lips.
But I am determined to out-patience this motley cast of characters, this recalcitrant, tight-lipped bunch that’s driving me crazy. Crazier. They are making me work for this paycheck.
Or maybe they are simply gestating. While I am ready to get this story-baby rolling, perhaps these characters are still too tiny to be born, too comfy in their partially-concealed literature-wombs. I remind myself that I don’t want these characters coming out before they (or I) am ready. Preemies have a hard time thriving in this rough, dark world.
I must be patient.
I am tired of being patient! I am tired of following these blokes around in my head, in my dreams, in my subconscious, waiting to understand them, waiting to write their biography.
Still, I remind myself that when an egg and a sperm meet, it doesn’t look anything like a baby. It takes a while for things to become a baby. Even when the cell-blob starts to look more like a quivering peanut, and then like the subject of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (as my daughter did), it’s not ready to be born.
It’s the same with birthing characters. A lot of waiting must take place, a lot of cell-dividing, a lot of unattractive, unusable words must be written before a healthy character, one able to thrive in this dark-but-beautiful world, is born.
I remind myself that when my real babies were born, I loved them right away. I also thought that I, their mamacita, knew them through and through. But one’s children, like one’s characters, hold tight to secrets. What we see of them is merely an iceberg tip.
An example: I know my son, now eleven years old (with the maturity of an eight-year-old and the pre-teen alligator brain that has suddenly replaced his regular brain) better than anyone. I knew he was oblivious to the opposite sex, borderline grossed-out by even the idea of romantic affection. But at the start of summer, I read an email exchange between him and friend and learned my alligator-brained son has a crush on a girl named Ella. A crush! On a girl named Ella! I have never even heard of Ella! I didn’t know he was capable of these feelings. I didn’t know something so important about my own son.
My husband of sixteen years, he too has secrets. An introvert, he recently read the book Quiet, after which he shared with me this fact: Introverts often rehearse everything they want to say before they say it aloud.
I, also an introvert, was surprised. I am a blurter, not a rehearser. “Wow,” I said. “That would take a lot of time.” I studied him. “But . . . you don’t do that. Do you?”
He looked at the wall over my shoulder. “I rehearse everything I say, sometimes a few times, before it comes out of my mouth.”
Are you kidding me? First of all, Wow! That explained so much. Second of all, I know this man better than anyone, but I didn’t know he test-spoke everything before the words were uttered.
It’s easy to confuse loving someone with knowing him. It shouldn’t surprise me then, that my newborn characters are still keeping secrets from me. So I will wait. I will keep stirring that dang risotto. Experimenting. Trusting the process. Writing character sketches and scenes in which I test-write voice, perspective, and character motivation. I will use Donald Maass and Lisa Cron for inspiration. I will use online, end-of-season clothing sales for distraction.
We can put an itsy-bitsy computer on a pair of glasses, we can receive groceries via drones, but there’s no way to medically induce a cast of characters. They will arrive not on a specific due date. They will arrive when they are good and ready. And when I think about it, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
SOS! Will you share your methods for getting to know your characters? What are your feelings about the Rumination phase? I think drone deliveries are creepy-yet-energy-efficient; do you?