Is It Afflatus? Indigestion? Feels A lot Like Love.


I wake thinking of you. When I’m not with you, I resent the hours and the obligations that separate us. When I run or swim, I create a mental list of all the things I want to do when I’m alone with you again. Today while hiking, I had a sudden vision of our future that was so potent I stumbled, alarmed I wouldn’t get home in time share what so bewitched me. I cursed myself for having no means of reaching you when I needed you most.

There are anxious moments when you don’t seem real, pathetic moments when I fear you are beyond my grasp, vincible as I am to the sussurant black angel on my shoulder who fills my head with doubt. Are you really meant to be mine? Will you be fickle or fidèle? My work in progress. My story. My crush.

These first weeks of writing are as giddy as the early days of a new romance. Since that afternoon in the park overlooking Elliott Bay, cradling my Mac in my lap as I typed the opening paragraphs (chronicled here), I find myself aching to work. I’ve reined in the writing to spend time getting to know my characters, to begin exploring the scope of history and the details of the setting. I downloaded Scrivener – the best invention for writers since the thesaurus (or, you know, Wikipedia) and I’m slowly filling Scrivener folders with Setting Sketches, Research and Character Sketches. I just thought of a new character today – he’s what happened while I was hiking. I think I may have shouted aloud when it occurred to me who he was and how the story pivots on his motivations. I’ve started a Lexicon folder – words and phrases that relate to the eras and settings of the story. I’ve outlined Scenes for Chapter One, which may be one of the last chapters I write. I spent the better part of one evening deciding on a name for my female main character. And it will probably change.

I’m an early riser. 4:30 a.m. It’s my best time to run or unroll the yoga mat. It’s also the best time for unfettered writing. I have a book of writing prompts – one for each day of the year – and I spend fifteen or twenty minutes every morning scribbling free-hand in my notebook, writing without stopping to the prompt of the day. Well, I stop to sip my coffee. Nothing happens before there is coffee. But since starting the novel I have directed my morning practice to my story. I write as a character, I write with a specific setting in mind, I write to work out problems, I write to create problems I hope will further the plot. I write to figure out what the hell my plot is. Suddenly, I have ten pages. Barely legible, but still – ten pages that reveal my story when my mind is most open, not constrained by the logic of a scene or the confines of a paragraph. And each day this work grows.

I find that in the late afternoons and early evenings – after I return home from work, the pool, the grocery store, when the dinner dishes are clean and the laundry folded – I am too tired to craft sentences. It’s a good time to jot down scene ideas, to add to my character sketches, to muck around with research. Scrivener has a cork board function I’m crazy about. I can pin virtual notecards, insert, delete and rearrange them on my Chapter-Scene cork boards. I’m a visual writer, but I hate clutter. Having several cork boards tucked away within a binder within a program within my computer is a swarm of bees knees for me!

Scene/chapter writing is reserved, at least for now, for long stretches of quiet on the weekends, for hours spent in a cafe, a park or my favorite library branch. It’s an indulgence, a respite from the work of building a plot, since I still have so much background work to do. But writing out the meat of the story is a way to let my characters play, to learn how they walk, talk, what they eat, what they are thinking. I spent a couple of hours on Saturday taking a bath and drinking a bottle of wine with my girl, my heroine. Good, clean fun. We were both tired – it had been a long flight –  and a long soak seemed like the thing to do. Oh, and there was a pivotal event just before she climbed into that steaming hot bath with a bottle of wine. But I can’t tell you WHAT. You’ll have to wait. And wait.

I write slowly. I’m a slow writer. It freaks me out that 80,000 78,000 words are in front of me. I know this first draft is supposed to be a brain dump, that should let it pour out, not edit, not fuss.

For the moment, I’m following my own rules. For as Dorianne Laux tells us,

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I’ve found to be true: writing begets writing.


12 thoughts on “Is It Afflatus? Indigestion? Feels A lot Like Love.

  1. Your opening paragraph is beautiful! So is your blog! I love your design, your words, and your purpose for writing. I wrote my first novel last year (going through revisions), so I know what you are going through. I’ve never thought of that…comparing the early stages of writing to the early stages of love. Excellent parallel. Eventually, like a relationship, you’ll reach the turning point…do I stay or go? I stayed. Still working through it. Hopefully you will too!
    Stay in touch.



    • Oh Katie, thank you! I am so delighted to have found you, to know that you are on this journey, to learn from your wisdom. I send you wishes of creative mojo, peace and bliss and you work through the revisions. Yes, I will definitely stay in touch.


  2. Julie I LOVE this post. I needed to read just this, everything you have shared here about the entire process of working on a novel, all the moodling, the playing, the writing, the not writing, even the reining in. I had to do that too, and wondered whether I was fooling myself and merely procrastinating – thank you for reassuring me that what I felt in my bones was right after all.
    I shall bookmark this post and re-read it every time I need reassurance that I am doing it the ‘right’ way, for me anyway. By the way, I too have set up a lexicon notebook for the words and phrases pertaining to my WIP. I like how you have incorporated your daily freewriting into your schedule and will try and figure out a way to do the same.
    I think that you, like me, are gaining a huge amount from Priscilla Long’s writing book. I just need to figure out how to bring all the strands together so that my writing time is seamless and flows from one aspect of working to another. At the moment I am still only finding my way and it is all a bit jumpy.
    I wrote a post at the weekend about writing short stories for women’s magazines and after writing it realized that I don’t really want to write like that. I want to write what I love reading and that is always, always literary fiction. I think I’m finding my way at last.


    • We’re of the same mind, my dear Edith. Priscilla’s book is nearly overwhelming in the way that it fills me with ideas, inspiration, challenge and even doubt! I’m torn between devoting more time to working through her exercises and simply continuing on with my WIP. I feel guilty about “reading ahead” w/out having done my homework! Her Lexicon notebook is simply brilliant, though I’ve managed to complicate even that. I bought a Moleskine notebook for general Lexicon, then started a file online for my WIP – and now have to transfer words/phrases from notebook into Scrivener file and… I just don’t have time for a day job- there is too much writing to be done!!

      As you know, I struggled to settle on one idea. I came down on the side of joy. AND what I thought would have the greatest appeal. I really do want to write something that people will take pleasure in reading. It is the least literary of my options, but the one I most wanted to curl up with and read. 🙂 I am so glad you are following your heart.


      • Oh yes I know exactly what you mean Julie! Priscilla’s book is without a doubt, my one and only desert island book. Sometimes I simply lift it from my writing table (it never quite reaches the shelf) and hold it, flipping the pages, randomly letting one open, reading it before going about whatever daily drudgery is tearing me away from my writing, and her exercises.
        Everything she suggests seems to work, though you have done so much better than me in assimilating it all into a workable daily routine. But I am learning from you too, listening carefully to how you are utilizing her advice.
        Her Lexicon notebook especially is more than amazing. The results of putting it into practice are astounding and evident almost immediately. Today I returned to poetry work for the first time in almost a year. It terrifies me, though it, along with prose poetry and creative non-fiction, as well as literary fiction, are my favourite, can’t-live-without genres. I began with a Word Trap and this combined with a clear idea of what I wanted my poem to be about (that is after it morphed into something else!) left me with a passable poem, which I shall eagerly anticipate revising. If my daughter’s tears were anything to go by after she read it, then I succeeded at least in capturing the essence of the emotional moment (though I have long since learned not to ‘trust’ family and friend’s responses!)
        Thank you for for kind and generous encouragement of my very fragile writing heart. xxx


      • Edith-
        I wish I had a poet’s gift- I’m always in awe of the ability to create such beauty in what is a song without notes. I think it’s lovely you made your daughter cry!

        I’m just discovering the magic of Mary Oliver- where has she been all my life?


  3. Your morning practice is where your work is being done. When I read, “I’ve reined in the writing…” I thought, “Oh don’t do that.” It sounds as though you are getting work done in the morning though, and that’s good. Don’t hold back!


    • Margaret, I feel like I’m releasing so much in that morning practice- both detritus and (hopefully) gold. I haven’t been rereading my scribbles, not yet, but there are bits and pieces I carry with me throughout the day until I can get my hands on the WIP.
      Finding this balance is all so new to me. I’ve written only short stories to this point and small bursts of work here and there were enough to see several pieces through to completion. This is like committing to marriage after a being a roué – I’ve got to dig in and find a way to give, every single day.
      Thank you for the encouragement!


  4. I was excited for you when I read your post about starting the novel, and I’m glad it’s still going so well! I need to find that feeling of romance again for my own (much shorter, with fewer important characters and necessary research) work. I’m at the point where the end of the first draft is in sight, but the last few scenes are so important and scary that I’ve been avoiding the work entirely!


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