When Writing Time Doesn't Have to be Spent Writing

Katherine Longshore 1 Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I recently returned from a two-week vacation (read:  “research trip”) in England.  As Donna so eloquently writes, travel – and being away from my normal work space – disrupts the creative process.  But I had just finished a revision and hadn’t yet returned to Book 2, so seemed to be at a natural pause.

Or so I thought.  I knew I wouldn’t find any writing time – between travel, family, visiting friends and research, there was barely time to have a swift pint in the pub, much less create the time and energy buffer I need to put words on paper.

But I learned that it’s impossible to stem the flow of creative thought.  Especially when presented with so much available material in my surroundings.

I went to Lambeth -- the setting of the first third of GIRL IN A DIAMOND COLLAR.  It's very different now than it would have been in 1539.  For one thing, the house my characters grew up in is no longer there, replaced by a glass-and-steel office block and a fire station.  But I wanted to see what the Thames looked like, and Westminster across the river.  I took pictures of everything -- followed, for a time, by a group of Lebanese tourists who thought I was photographing something important.  I ended up snapping a picture of them, too, and they returned the favor.

I traveled with my family to some of the most incredible houses in England – Windsor Castle, Hardwick Hall, Syon House.  Places where some of the most dynamic stories in history occurred.  And where some of the most dynamic characters in history resided.  And still do.  The Queen was in residence when I visited Windsor – as testified by her standard flying above the tower.  Preparing for the wedding, no doubt.

But it was the stories of these places that fed me creatively.  My family remained infinitely patient as I stopped and scribbled notes on 3x5 cards every twenty minutes.  Notes like this one at Hardwick Hall:  LOST BOOK, hidden behind paneling in dining room – possibly after completed.  A catechism – probably belonged to a child, sometime after 1583.  Where did it come from?  Who hid it there?  And why?  Remarkably, it wasn’t found until a few years ago, in near-perfect condition.

And not only did I find material for future books, the down-time served as a petri dish for solutions to plot and structure issues in Book 2.  One minute, we would be driving along the Norfolk coast, and the next I got a brain flash on where my main character really needed to be heading (not the direction in which I was pushing her).  Halfway through the Tudor exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I realized that I had started the book in the wrong place, and really needed to start it on page 50.  And just before stepping on the plane to return home, I wrote the first line.  (I think.  Since the book isn’t finished yet, this may change.)

Sometimes I feel that time away from my writing desk is wasted time.  That if I don’t write every day, I will struggle to get back into it.  And I will.  I know I will.  I’m writing a blog post and rather dreading opening up my Book 2 document.  But just because I break the habit of putting words on paper every day doesn’t mean my time is wasted.  On the contrary, I feel invigorated by the new ideas I’ve filed away for later.  By the hastily scribbled (and nearly illegible) notes I wrote on cards, receipts, an old grocery list and once on the back of my husband’s hand.  I know that when I open my file, I will cringe and squirm.  I’ll make another cup of coffee.  I’ll write three words and delete them again and again and again.  I may hit a total of 100 words today.  If I’m lucky.  I’m out of the habit.  I will struggle.  But I have the ideas to back me up.  I know where I’m going.  So maybe – just maybe – the pain is worth it.


Good luck jumping back into the ms. It is hard but I also agree with you that experiences like you had in England are worth it!

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