Tuesday, November 8, 2011

30 Days of Thankfulness in Writing – Day 5: Improvising

It’s easy to focus on the negative in the world around us. In observation of a month many dedicate to counting their blessings, I’ve started a 30-day challenge in which I’ll focus on one aspect of my writing life for which I am thankful. I’d love to have you join by sharing about something that has blessed your own writing life in the comments section below. - Jen

Technically it’s the 8th day of the month, but between traveling for a few days and then forgetting my laptop power adapter, it makes it a little difficult to post. So rather than combining days I’ll stick with my original 30-day plan. What does it matter if I go into December? November doesn’t hold the license on Thankfulness any more than February holds the patent on Love, right? Which brings me to another aspect of my writing life I am thankful for: improvising.

Let’s face it — the best-laid plans always have an Achilles Heel, especially when technology is involved. Aside from losing my power cord, my car decided to go on the fritz even though I’d just gotten the all clear from my mechanic. And when visiting with family to celebrate a major milestone it is often frowned upon to hole oneself up to reach a daily word count. (Not to mention you also miss out on creating memories.)

Not writing wasn’t so big a deal. I had ideas and I’d jot them down in my notebook for later, but when it came to handling the car problems I wondered more than once, “What would one of my characters do in this situation?” I ask myself that question a lot when I find myself in a sticky situation. Would they panic? Would they cross their arms, sit down, and quit all together? Or would they come up with something entirely unexpected?

The answer was unequivocally, the latter. My characters would improvise. When a goal is blocked in fiction our characters don’t just give up. We’d stop writing (or reading) if they did. Instead they find a way AROUND the obstacle and then get back on track as quickly as possible. No matter what happens, what delays they face, they never take their eyes off their final goal or destination.

I recently started re-reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s about a shepherd boy looking for his personal legend — a treasure he kept dreaming about. In one leg of his journey he joins a caravan to reach the Great Pyramids. There are plenty of obstacles to face along the way but as one of the camel drivers tells him, “Once you get into the desert, there is no going back. And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”

Life is a lot like the desert. Especially the writing life. The way forward is rarely straight and direct. There are plenty of rocks to go around, pitfalls to be avoided, and thieves in the night to watch for (I’m looking at you, Facebook!). Sometimes life forces us to improvise. Like our characters, we can’t sit still. There’s no story to tell in that.  So I’m taking a cue from my favorite literary friends and will find a new way around these funky little obstacles. I’ll continue moving forward.

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