Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the writing life and what keeps me going through the long stretches that aren’t book launches, or blog tours, or the wildfire excitement of winning awards. Because in between those times there are prolonged periods when the only thing you are doing, as the writer, is sitting at the writing desk every day and hangin’ — or more often than not, wrasslin’ — with your characters and whatever excitement or frustration or derring-do is coloring their world.
And that — to use an Olympian analogy — is no sprint: it’s a long distance endurance event.
So how do we, as writers, stay motivated to keep going no matter what: not the motivation of paychecks and contracts, which however essential and real is still the stuff of the mundane world. No, I’m talking about sustaining the passion that will keep the magic of story spinning “no matter what.”
For me, writing is all about the magic of story, of reaching into the air and pulling out something shining, a rainbow thread that will — if I do my work well — make people I don’t even know not only laugh and cry, but struggle and curse and sweat with my characters, as well as rejoice and love and perhaps even, like Malian in The Gathering of the Lost, feel “wonderfully and gloriously alive.”
The most important thing for me, especially when I’m in the middle of the long distance endurance event event (and both the starting post behind me and the finishing ahead are completely out of sight) is staying connected to that sense of magic. Partly that means staying connected to my own writing. Another, really important part is staying in touch with the magic of other writers — because one place you’re almost always certain to find at least a pinch of enchantment is between the covers of other authors’ books.
So a few days back, on a cold, dull, rainy sort of afternoon when I had to wait an hour or two for an engagement and the “only” place to wait was a book store — I quote mark “only” because of course it’s absolutely the best sort of place to mooch when you have time to kill; and yes, dear Supernatural Undergrounders, I do mean a for-real, bricks-and-mortar bookstore which is, naturellement, a physical place where bona fide hanging out (and what’s more, mooching!) can really, actually happen — I found myself looking for books which might provide that little pinch of enchantment.
I walked out with three in my bag. (I review that last sentence and hasten to add that I did pay for them before putting them in my bag!) But the books—the books, dear Supernatural Undergrounders, were Diana Wynne Jones’ Power of Three, Robert Graves’ Homer’s Daughter, and a new edition of that wonderful classic Tales from 1001 Nights (the translation is by Malcolm C Lyons and Ursula Lyons.)
I have read all three books before so I know “for sure” they contain the very best sort of writing magic. Consequently, I am very much looking forward to rediscovering all three, and also having them in my own personal library to dip into “at will” hereafter.
Currently, I have only dipped into Diana Wynne Jones’ Power of Three—but what a wonder of magical-ness it is. It isn’t just the actual magic given Wynne Jones’ was (and is!) a pre-eminent Kids/YA Fantasy author. It’s her use of language, and the way she captures people in all their humanness, as well as "nailing" a kid’s eye view of the world, and the delight of telling life — as Emily Dickinson would have it — “slant.”
Perhaps most of all, as a reader, it’s the sheer awesomeness of putting yourself into the power of a master storyteller — and knowing you are in safe hands.
Even just dipping my reading toe into Power of Three, I know there’s going to be plenty of magic on hand to help sustain me through the long distance endurance event of writing my current book. And I am sure that Homer’s Daughter and Tales from 1001 Nights will provide equal awesome story goodness, in due course.
So taking one thing with another, dear Supernatural Undergrounders, I feel I shall be OK. But how about you? What are the stories that weave the magic of awesome for you? What keeps you going in the midst of your long distance endurance events, whatever they may be?
If you feel you can bear to do so, I would love to read your comments.
Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, is just published, and she has recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month right here on the Supernatural Underground. and occasionally on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we.