Inspiration from a blank page

Calvin_HobbesFrom the Last Calvin and Hobbes comic by Bill Watterson, published on December 31, 1995.

I went into this blog post thinking I’d like to talk about inspiration for a minute, and I’ll get there. It is, after all part of this story, but it’s not where I want to start. The other day I was thinking about this particular strip. I have no idea why, but I was. Whenever I try to conjure up an image of the strip in my mind, the only bit of it I can recall with any clarity is the last wide panel on the bottom.

With a few minutes of quiet before my wife arrives home from work, I decided to sit down here at my kitchen table and bang out a quick blog about what inspires me – practically speaking, anything that comes out of anyone’s mouth is liable to become fodder, but I think that’s pretty typical of writers. To get started on this little thing I searched the Internet for the image. I found it right away, but found other people’s thoughts on Calvin and Hobbes. This, of course, led to more searching, which got me to Wikipedia and that led to even more poking around. As you might expect, I found a lot of people saying a lot of really nice things about the comic in general. The whole process got me derailed and thinking fondly about the hours I used to spent reading and rereading the Calvin and Hobbes books. Turns out this is a hard thing for me to do. It’s like reading a letter from a childhood friend who’s passed away. When I read these comics I don’t just see what Watterson wanted to say, I also see my own childhood – quite literally – with every passing page. Even though I didn’t head off to college until a year and a half after this comic came out, I often recall the two things happening at roughly the same time.

Dave?

Yes?

What the hell does this have to do with writing… or anything else for that matter.

Just be patient. I’m getting there, okay. This is serious shit.

Like with any kid going off to college, that’s how it feels. A new adventure, but you know what, I never really felt like that’s what Watterson was talking about, it was always about creative expression. Flipping around through the Internet and reading about Calvin and all of the heartburn Watterson endured over keeping the strip as pure as he could, I came to the realization that Calvin and Hobbes is quite possibly my biggest influence and source of inspiration.

That doesn’t make sense Dave. This blog is about writing dragons, isn’t that your thing?

No, being creative is my thing. It just so happens that I was writing a book on dragons when I made this blog. That project has been tabled for a bit until my skill level catches up, assuming that happens.

Okay, but you don’t write anything like Calvin and Hobbes. I mean, you’re writing about highly fashionable witches at the moment.

It’s not so much about inspiring me to do the same thing or even try to accomplish what Watterson did. First off, you can’t have another Calvin, not even worth trying, and secondly it’s not about doing what he did so I can get rich. It’s about being creative and doing what you want. It inspired me in the sense that it made me feel that being creative was not only okay, it was cool, and I can do it on my own terms. So, what is it about this strip in particular? It’s all of the whitespace that has yet to be filled with things.

When first I read the last strip at 17, I remember being sad and disappointed, but it stuck with me and once the shock of losing a friend passed, it resonated with me. I mean shit, the older I get the more I believe that Calvin and Hobbes possibly has the best ending to anything ever. It’s a new beginning without the weird circular stuff that you sometimes get with ongoing series.

Whenever I start a new project or I’m staring at an empty glowing screen trying to work out how to jump in, the image of that mostly blank page with a couple of characters rocketing into the unknown pops into my mind.

At any given moment, I have a ton of projects going on, a couple of active ones and a bunch that are just rolling around in my head. Most of them aren’t going anywhere, some I’ll finish, and there will be others that will morph from a single witty one-liners into something I truly enjoy writing. I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear something or see something that suddenly threatens to become a story. It makes wonder how it is people ever get writer’s block. Not that I haven’t stared at that page and wondered, what have I got to say that anyone would want to hear? It may not make me a good writer, but exploring that blank page is one of the many reasons I do it, and the fact that I can put anything there that I want, well that’s amazing.

Am I buzy or just lazy?

Yesterday morning I wrote a blog. It wasn’t a super good blog and it was the first in a month. I sat down and wrote it mostly because I was getting ready to get on an Airplane and didn’t want to get neck deep in reworking a chapter of Wine Bottles & Broomsticks before I had to get out of there. So, what the heck have I been up to? You might imagine that I was steadfastly working on NaNoWriMo. That was true for about the first week. I hit just over 10K words and then stopped. I didn’t stop because I got writer’s block or I was stuck or because I’m a whiny little diva who didn’t have the perfect writing conditions. No, I stopped because the story was starting to meander, I didn’t have a good sense of my character development, and the adventure felt too easy, there wasn’t enough tension (Bottom line: I didn’t like where it was going). Early on, I’d decided to pants it, so outside of a vague idea of certian plot points, I wasn’t sure where it’d go, which is fine. At this point (assuming you’ve read this far) you might be wanting to give me the same advice a ton of others continually do: The whole point of NaNoWriMo is just to get it down, finish it up later. 

The bad news is that I don’t really work that way.

I’m way to lazy for that. Many of us (most? all?) need to re-write a lot and I’m well aware of that fact, so I shouldn’t be scared of rewriting a story. I mean, I’m going to do it regardless and I’m glad. That said, NaNoWriMo taught me something I think I already know -That’s just not how I write. I go in jags – write a lot, think a lot write a lot repeat. I like to work out scenes in my head before trying to get them down. It requires a bit of mental juggling and I do run the risk of forgetting witty or interesting story elements, but in a lot of ways it’s just the same as getting down a thousand words of draft and re-working it until it seems to flow. In this process, the actual draft writing is a bit further down the road to a well fleshed out idea than it might have otherwise been. 

Unfortunately, I’ve not been following this process over the month either. I’ve been mostly programming. It’s another creative outlet for me and also results in a tool at the end that I can use for stuff – like work. The project I was working on is super cool and has been a lot of fun. It’s been a writing detox. The trip to Orlando was awesome because it was a reset that on one end paused the programming  project for a while, put some space beteen me and the Nano project that I’ve decided to put off for a little while, and on the other end got me back into Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. Sometime near the end of the week, I started really trying to change gears I think that happened on Friday night. Certianly as I was trekking across country I got back in the groove. It’s not that I didn’t write on the way down or in the spaces of time after class and dinner and things, it’s just that I wasn’t connecting with what I was working on, and it wasn’t going well. I realized I had really hit the groove again somewhere in the first layover. I saw a dude walking around and was inspired for a character in the book. A woman in line felt like good inspiration too. She had this odd expression as she surveyed the crowd. Her eyes would land on a dude and linger for a while. She wasn’t checking him out physically. I felt like she was mentally checking out his wallet. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the frame of mind of inventing intentions and characters on the faces of people I don’t know and it felt great.

So. There I am. Not lazy, just distracted. Also, I think I’m going to try and make a better effort at updating this blog as I bring Wine Bottles in toward the finish. I’m about 2/3rds of the way in now and I can feel the end. Loads of work remains. The rising action doesn’t rise and the stakes don’t feel very high so I’ve got to work on that, but all of the foundations are there. 
Tomorrow I’m off to the coffee shop in the morning to drop a bit of time on the writing, for now – date night.