Writing a Story is Like Going on a Date

Date Night with Sister Jane So says little known Indian author, Pawan Mishra. But I’m thinking he has a point as I ponder my own style. Here’s the truth: when an idea drops into my mind, it pours out of me like water from a bucket. Let me explain.

I take my grandson, Leo, to the Delaware Children’s Museum in Wilmington (free plug) as often as possible. We both love roaming the wonderful exhibits, but his favorite one is the water cycle. They have created ways to control the flow of water by turning knobs, making it “rain,” and then filling the streams with water that rushes into the lake at the other end. Along the way are channels and locks and all kinds of gizmos to re-route the flow.

This is my style. An idea flows out of me in words and images; I hear voices in my head; and I see places and nature and colors, like a very fast-moving film. But all the while, there are little rocks and gates and blockades along the way that shift the scene, trip up the characters, and without warning, it all goes dark. Then I start again. Re-read what I captured on the page so far and try to re-enter that zone. Or just move on.

I’m a flippant writer in some ways. I catch wisps that float around me and cast them to the page. How does it sound? Not good? Wait, wait, there’s another group. Get them down on paper fast before they fly away.

In one of my favorite Elizabeth Gilbert books, BIG MAGIC : CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR, she tells the story of a poet who senses the muse upon her, but it’s moving like the wind and so she runs as fast as she can from her garden and into her office to capture the words and put them to paper. That’s how I feel sometimes too. If they don’t flow, I know I’m off the track.

But what has all this got to do with dating? Nothing, really, except that a truly good date is when both people are authentic, present, and committed to having a good time. Both people will go to some effort to look nice, either to impress or simply feel good about themselves. And when the conversation bubbles easily, they both feel it. Flow!

My style is fluid, readable, sometimes lyrical, and sometimes literary, generally informal, and maybe too idiomatic on occasion, and yet articulate and chatty when appropriate, and perhaps epigrammatic (that’s a 10-cent word). Of course, that’s what I think, so far. I may feel differently after my next book, THE ORPHANS LEBEDEV, but I have another nine months to ponder that.

In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging SISTER JANE, asking for opportunities to speak and chat and promote this book. And if I’m lucky along the way, I’ll have a breakthrough moment. But if I don’t, it’s still a wonderful ride. Sister Jane is a great date.