It’s a tough call, being an artist. It’s like chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole, into the unknown. We’re not so afraid of what we’ll find; rather we are afraid of what we might never find. We race against ourselves though we don’t always realize it. The competition is with ourselves. How much further can we go down that rabbit hole? How much closer can we get to that rabbit? There will always be a better part – a part that can be played better than the last. There will always be a story that we can write better than the last; a song that can be sung better than the one before. At any point, we could stop chasing that rabbit. Turn around. Change direction. But we don’t. We’re compelled. Driven. Driven to succeed – to create something more – to catch the prize. We never do catch the rabbit. But some of us come close… very close.
My favorite moments are those few minutes just before I start a new project, when I’m staring down at that blank white page… the moment when the paper is untouched and feels smooth, before the pen has created ridges and impressions. In that delay, there is absolutely nothing. Yet the possibility of everything and anything exists. The idea of ‘possibility’ is fascinating. So much is possible, yet only one journey is chosen to fill the pages. A story. An expedition, if you will, into human emotion. Emotion propels the action and moves the story forward.
I’ll never forget writing the opening for ‘The Rubix’. One of my favorite places to visit is a quaint little village called Alma, New Brunswick. Alma is centered on the small delta of the Upper Salmon River and Cleveland Brook, where they empty into Salisbury Bay. There, I sat in a small restaurant called Fundy Take Out, laptop in hand, as my party went on a four-hour kayaking excursion.
It was a cool, wet, humid day. The light rain was intermittent, and the cloudy gray sky overhead just wouldn’t break. I ordered a coffee and sat at a table near the window looking out over the river and the mountains. Fog was descending over the tops of the mountains in the distance. The view was melancholy to say the least, spectacularly low-spirited in such a way that it allowed me to get into the right frame of mind for the scene I was about to write. The Rubix starts off with a murder, a string of murders that take place in a diner, and getting into that ‘mindset’ isn’t particularly easy for me. I had my ear buds in, and though I don’t usually share these details, for the sake of being transparent, I will admit that I had a song called ‘Illusions’ from Cypress Hill playing on a continuous loop. There were other songs in my arsenal that day, but that one (as an example) was a favorite. I wrote the first chapter so easily that the memory of it will always remain with me.
Location and environment directly affect the mood or inspiration/muse when I write. Along with that, music or background noise can set the tone too. That day the location was ideal. It was cold, humid, not sunny, and not very comforting.
Writing the union vows between Johnny and Darion for the book, Midnight Peak, however, was memorable for other reasons. The couple of paragraphs that became the wedding/ union vows that appear in the book were a discomfort to tackle. I had not written my own wedding vows, and couldn’t connect with the scene at all. I had avoided writing it for weeks. Pulling out all the tricks, I watched bridal shows, flipped through bridal magazines, watched romance movies, listened to ballads… but nothing was allowing me to connect with the scene that I had to write. One paragraph. It wouldn’t flow. I thought of deleting the scene—skipping over it—but the story wouldn’t allow for it. It was on the forth night of my ‘got to get this done’ frenzy, that I finally ‘got it’ and wrote the one paragraph that was needed to bridge the rest of the chapter together. How did I get it? I had been sitting in the dark until 2-3 am for four exhaustive nights at this point. The moment I let go of the importance and the pressure of writing a ‘perfect’ scene with ‘perfect’ vows… that was when everything began to flow. The part was never meant to be perfect—just exactly right for the world the characters lived in.
Story is a chronology of events. An account that takes you from a certain point in time (beginning) to another (end). But it is the discourse, the manipulation of that story that marks it for distinction. Use caution when manipulating story—experience teaches us many good things, not the least of which is how to be a good listener. A story carries a vibration, listen for it and you will understand. It isn’t a sound per-se; it is more of an inward inkling. An energy. A pulse.
In my first example I described how setting the mood or tone by using our surroundings ie: location, temperature, environment, and music can lead you to connect with or get into the right mindset to write certain parts of your story. My second example illustrated that sometimes the story wants to go a certain way, like a stream that carves its own path down a mountain, and manipulating the parts that don’t need manipulating means altering the story’s truth.
Practice. Patience. Relax. Breathe. Set the tone. Establish a feeling. Write a story.
All in a day’s work.