Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing the Moment

I'm moving a friend 150 miles away . . . to the beach, lucky girl. I'll have to endure two full days away from the computer, which means my mind will wander while my muscles are hauling boxes. I'm noted for getting distracted while doing physical work, letting my thoughts drift.But that's how I've discovered some of my best work.

Without electronics, we think differently. I'm a firm believer in that, and it's a diversion we should occasionally take the time to do.

For instance, I have a fear of dark water, but there have been moments I've had to venture into it. I grew up near the beach and I currently live on the banks of a lake, but throw me in and I'm likely to either have a heart attack or walk on top of it to find land. So in my second book set in coastal Beaufort, South Carolina, I knew I had to throw my protagonist in the ocean, way over her head. I swear, my own heart raced as I described  her panic.

In a romance scene, I recalled several beach moments, hidden in the sand dunes, back in my younger days. In one chapter, my protagonist relocated from her apartment to a new house. I recalled the details of my own moves . . . so many of them . . . and what the half-moved living room looked like, the cramped maneuvering inside the van, the scratch on my cherry bed, a blanket pallet in the corner for a child to nap, the hyper-activity of kids and the hysteric darts of the cat.

When we stray from our computer, we should hone our senses, paying attention to the most trivial of sights, smells, feelings, and movements. Close our eyes to draw in sound and feel the moment. Note the bulging bicep muscle of lifting a heavy box, the twinge in a calf, the strain of the back, the short breaths climbing the stairs with arms loaded down with odd-shaped items our fingers are about to let slip.

Amazingly, once we learn to pay attention to the minutiae in and around ourselves, we develop the ability to create it in a character, even if we've never experienced it. It's a habit of observing detail and redefining it into fiction, nonfiction, journalism, whatever we're writing.

However, you cannot turn it on and off. Like writing every day, note the tiny stimuli in each moment. Feel the effort of turning off a laugh, hiding tears, lusting over a tight butt in jeans, or silent hungering for attention. Sense the numbness in your butt after hours in a chair, the puffy heaviness of your eyes at two AM, the rocks on bare feet walking across what you thought was just grass.

Pay attention to living. Take moments each day to look around you and realize what you'll no longer have when your dead and gone. You'll find yourself writing better . . . and living richer.


Sioux said...

One of the Donalds (Murray? Graves?) said, "Writers live life twice." It's great when we can use our experiences and sensations to breathe life into our writing.

Fabulous post, Hope, as usual.

Lee Cart said...

Was basically away from the computer for about a week, while in Mexico with family and close friends and the sense of details I received by just living in the moment will definitely carry over into the memoir and novel I am writing--thanks for a good post and have fun at the beach!

widdershins said...

... and always, always, have a pencil (they don't run out of ink) and paper with you!

Janet Hartman said...

Nothing like leaving your computer for a week and plowing through the input backlog to make you realize what e-mail and blog subscriptions aren't really worth your time.