What can strike terror in the heart of a writer who wishes for a day to write? Getting a day to write. Your wish is granted...now GO!
Ugh. My Muse balks at scheduled creativity, so I fully expect that when a day to write happens, it's going to be hard to jump into the story. I need a warm-up, but finding the right warm-up can tricky. Brainstorming or some form of writing prompt can fit that requirement, but it can often seem counter intuitive to my ideas of time efficiency when it seems unrelated to working on a particular story. I also worry that I'll use up my energy and time just getting organized or in the mood. But once in while I give it a try and just hope it inspires instead of consumes. And by consume, I don't just mean devouring my time for the day. I could also wind up chasing an entirely new story idea.
Today, for instance, I stalled diving into the story by checking out what happened on this day in history. This might seem more like a writing avoidance, but I had a plan, of sorts, to keep myself from getting derailed. Actually, more like a guideline.
I must keep in mind my goal to link something to the story in progress.
That "something" isn't as vague as it sounds. What I look for and find inspiring from historical events is that, from the perspective of the people involved, it was a life changing day. Something happened on this day in history that was important...to someone. And it just might be important, in an "I'll know it when I see it" kind of way to my character.
For instance, I found out that on this day in history the Mississippi River flowed backwards in 1811-1812 following an earthquake in Missouri. Well, the source may be in error and by other accounts the date was actually December 16th, not November 16th, but that's not really the point. What is the point is that it's an interesting factoid that struck my fancy. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be on a riverboat when the current suddenly changed? By an eyewitness account, "In a moment, so great a wave come up the river that I never seen one like it at sea."
The link to my writing: I have a series of time traveling guardian angels. For these characters, I have a bit of a morbid fascination for finding interesting historical natural disasters (or other disasters) to use in the plot. It might be a minor scene or something more. What sort of characters might be on that riverboat? Who needs rescuing on this day?
I could stop there. I thought I probably should stop there because, even though this does link to my writing, it's a future story that is out-competing the story in progress I intended to work on. But I'm not ready to attend to conflicts in progress yet and so another factoid catches my eye. November 16th, it so happens, falls on the eve of the Elizabethan Age. The next day, on November 17th, 1558, 25-year-old Elizabeth was proclaimed queen. Again, my imagination takes flight. What must that day before have been like? Did she accept and welcome her fate? Or did she wish for a different life as she stood for the final fitting of her coronation gown? And it's not such a great leap to ponder other "day before" or even "hour before" situations. What about before a wedding? What if the bride didn't want to marry? What if she feels like only a natural disaster can change her fate in the final hour?
And in a final leap, how about this. What if, in a "truth is stranger than fiction" kind of twist, our reluctant bride is in an arranged marriage situation, or literally a shotgun wedding held on a riverboat on the day the water suddenly flowed backwards? It might make for an interesting escape from fate!
Yay, I have a story idea! Darn, I have another story idea. (Only a writer understands the dilemma!)
Has my brainstorming backfired once again? Possibly, but with a little thought I realize I haven't been derailed by distraction. Those little factoids simply paved the way to where I wanted to go. Even if the situations don't match and the characters are different, I've arrived at the emotions I wasn't ready to jump into when I started the day. My hero does, in fact want to escape his fate. In hindsight, it's forgivable if a writer doesn't feel up to diving into such a task, don't you think? Sometimes we need to find a way to warm up to the process and let it take its course.
If you want to read more about the real life historical event of the Mississippi flowing backwards, here's a link.
From the page: Mississippi River ran backward
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