Writing To That Spooky Feeling

Forest Wanderer by Caspar David FriedrichDéjà Vu All Over Again: I had one of those spooky feelings about my work last weekend. I’m sure you writers have experienced something similar, or at least I hope you have. I’ve had several versions of it. I have found myself able to perfectly picture places I’ve never been. I have felt I was in the skin of characters I’ve never met or seen anywhere else. I’ve wondered where story elements came from even as my fingers tapped them out.

It’s been one of the most amazing parts of my writing journey. And even though I have written outlines in the past, and plan on continuing to explore better and more efficient ways to plot and outline in future works, I hope I never stop having spooky epiphanies and instances of literary déjà vu.

Whapped By My Muse: In this past weekend’s instance, I suddenly knew something about my historical fantasy series. I have four finished manuscripts—a trilogy and its prequel. At the end of the trilogy is a built-in spring-board to move the story forward. And I’d always had ideas, nearly a notebook full of them, for the day when I can actually continue the story. My spooky feeling this weekend came when I was noodling and writing my weekly facebook history post about a small group of actual historical figures—Goths and Romans. I started a sentence: “Although none of my characters is specifically based on…” And I got stuck. I stood up, stretched and went for more coffee to work out the rest. I poured the coffee and stood staring out the window, and said aloud to myself, “It’s almost as if the trilogy was about their parents’ generation.”

And voilà. My wheels were spinning so fast, I could hardly get the surge of ideas down on paper. It was as if my muse had whapped me upside my head and was standing there with her arms crossed, nodding in satisfaction, but saying to herself, “It’s about time you got it!” If I can pull this off, it’s going to be as if all four of my manuscripts had been specifically designed to lead into this exact series of events. The stars had aligned, as if it was always meant to be—as if by magic.

Channeling Ancient Terror & Tumult: I said that the spooky feeling is one of the most amazing parts of my writing journey. And my writing journey has been the most amazing of my life. Of course the emotions that surface are not always happy. But the emotions found are my own, and therefore an important part of my journey toward self-knowledge and personal growth. Even the sadness and grief I’ve found in fiction are cathartic. They help me to recognize and order my emotions, as well as to release those that are buried or bound up inside.

The tragic events in Boston this week remind me of my most profoundly haunting and emotional writing experience. It occurred during the writing of book three of my trilogy. Beforehand I’d read an account of a historical atrocity, and I immediately recognized it as a part of the motivation and mindset for my characters’ actions. The account was brief and very prosaic—maybe three paragraphs.

Reading about the atrocity hadn’t particularly moved me. It was just another terrible, cruel thing one group of people had done to another; history is rife with such behavior. But I knew it belonged in my story. When it came time to write the scene, a funny thing happened. Now I knew the characters involved. I knew it meant death for a few and immense pain for many others. I put it off… for weeks.

The day came when I could put it off no longer. I steeled myself and sat to write. The scene poured out of me as if from a broken dam. It came out fully formed, and has required almost no revision since. The moment I finished typing the final, tragic sentence, I leapt to my feet. I walked laps around my house, unable to draw a satisfying breath, tears streaming down my face. I finally threw on a coat and walked to my bench on the beach. I sat and sobbed. Until my black lab, Belle, could stand my odd behavior no longer, and nudged me to play Frisbee with her, as if to remind me that life goes on. She has a way of doing that.

Immortal Feelings: But the experience serves to remind me of the importance of fiction. Terrible events are marginalized by time and distance. Atrocities become history, which becomes prosaic. Until we are brought to the proper perspective. Writers offer that perspective. They say we write to be immortal. They say we write to make sense of the world and to seek ourselves. I think there is truth to those things. But my experience makes me wonder if we write to make sure that events remain immortal as well. And not just to make sure the events are unforgotten, but that the feelings evoked live on, as well. History cannot be allowed to become prosaic. Atrocities should never become statistics, and cruelty should never be a footnote.

Mystical Connection or Cognitive Complexity? I’m still not sure if my connection to the atrocity was somehow mystical, or if I was simply releasing my own pent up, Caspar_David_Friedrich_Cemetery_at_Dusk (1825)subconscious grief. But I know it was a significant moment in my life. Whether my work is published, or whether another soul ever reads it or feels even a fraction of what I felt, it is significant. And I’m grateful.

In my first interview ever, here, interviewer extraordinaire Lara Schiffbauer asked, “Do you believe in everyday magic?”

My answer then applies here: “In a recent discussion about the mystical versus the scientific in regard to writers having a muse, I weighed in on the side of the mystical. I believe there is so much more going on than can be easily explained. Those on the other side claim that the seemingly amazing story elements that occur as if from nowhere are just a byproduct of our brain’s complexity—the result of accessing our cognitive subconscious. Even if the science proponents are right, it’s still pretty damn magical to me. Even if I’m self-deluding, why would I want to live in a world without magic?”

I still stand by my answer, even if I’m still self-deluding.

Have you written to the spooky feeling? Do you think it’s mystical or cognitive complexity? Or does it matter? Would you rather just join me in potential self-deluding than consider it? 

The Way I Like My Rejections – Guest Post

I am so excited to welcome my friend Lara Schiffbauer for my first-ever guest post here on Seeking the Inner Ancient. It’s so appropriate, as Lara and I have a growing history of shared firsts. She was this blog’s first-ever commenter. Then she conducted an interview of this humble writer for her wonderful blog, Motivation for Creation–a first for both interviewer and subject.

Lara  is a talented writer I first met via Writer Unboxed. She and I bonded over our mutual love of Star Wars, and we have since been sharing the road toward publication together, which leads me to her topic for the day. It’s one I’m all too familiar with, and I couldn’t be more delighted by her views and advice on a subject we, as writers, all face.

Take it away, Lara:

This summer I entered the dubious country of Queryland.  I finished my manuscript on May 30th, and crossed the threshold into the world of query letters, synopses and rejections, oh my!

Queryland isn’t exactly a warm, fuzzy place.  Nor is it totally unknown to me.  I started submitting short stories about two years ago, and amassed quite a few rejections before I got some acceptances.  I’ve been querying my novel for a month, and now have four or five rejections under my belt.

Over time, I’ve realized certain rejections are preferable to me, and certain rejections aren’t.  I also realized I’m only at the start of Rejection Trail for my novel, and I better come up with a method to handle all the stress without becoming suicidal (joking!)

Three Ways I Like My Rejections

Quick – The first rejection I ever got, I received less than twenty-four hours after I submitted my story, Bear Hug.  I later submitted to an audio short story book publication which took eight months to reject it .  I learned that quick is better.  A quick rejection allows me to move on, and hopefully get the story to a person who thinks it’s as cool as I do.  The only downside is that you can rack up the rejections faster, too!

Friendly –This is where I like the magazine rejections better.  I don’t know if they had any less submissions than the agents I’ve sent my query to, but three of the rejections for Bear Hug wrote back really nice, encouraging (albeit short) comments.  It was like using a doe-skin glove to slap my face rather than a chain mail gauntlet.

 Do No Harm – At the very least, I prefer my rejections in the form of a form letter.  I know that sounds odd, but the alternative can be evil.  I’ve read stories of scathing rejections.  That kind of nonsense is cruel and unhelpful.

Three Ways I Don’t Like My Rejections

Ganging Up – It doesn’t matter if I’ve sent queries/submissions out months apart, they will inevitably end up back in my e-mail box on the same day, or insanely close to each other.  This has happened frequently enough that last week when I got one rejection on Tuesday, I asked my husband if he wanted to take bets on which day the second would come in.  I was surprised it waited until Thursday.

Well-intentioned Mean Stuff – I have a friend who received a rejection from an agent who, after telling my friend what she liked about the story, told her to “bone up on your grammar.”  My friend does not have a grammar problem.  I believe the agent was trying to be helpful, but it didn’t end up helpful at all.  The upside?  If nothing else, the whole interaction let my friend know that she didn’t want to work with that agent, anyway.

Bad Timing – No, there is no good time to receive a rejection, but there are definitely times that are worse than others.  Remember that rejection I received on Thursday?  It came about ten minutes after I had just had a fabulous plotting session for my next novel.  I was flying high on creativity, and thinking “Yes! I can do this writing thing.”  I didn’t even get a full evening of feeling competent before the rejection came in.  Please, please, please, gentle rejection, give me a chance to feel some pleasure before the pain!

So What’s a Writer to Do?

I have identified three things I do that help me get my brain straightened around and remember a rejection is not the end of the world.  Really.

Exercise – There are two reasons why I think exercise helps.  The first is the endorphins, as well as the serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline, which are released and work together to make us feel happy and have happy, creative thoughts.  The other reason is because by exercising we can burn off the frustration we feel with each and every rejection.  Or, am I the only one who gets frustrated?

Chocolate (or some coma inducing junk food of your choice) –  I have long reacted to stress by eating.  When my date for the senior prom ditched me a week before the event, I ate a half-gallon of cherry nut ice cream in about a half-hour flat.  What I have learned over the years is moderation.  Put a limit on how much you can indulge yourself, and then go for it, if you want.  It’s called comfort food for a reason.  Sometimes we just need Hersheys to kiss the boo-boo on our writer egos.

Write, damn it! – There is no substitute.  Kurt Vonnegut says it best.  “You must stay drunk on writing so reality can’t bite you in the ass.”  That’s the version I live by.  Reality, and rejection, can be a nasty you-know-what.  Writing is a magic pill that takes me out of myself and my insecure feelings, and plops me into a place full of witches, angels and happy endings.  It’s a much more preferable place to be.

How do you handle rejections?

 Lara Schiffbauer is a writer, licensed clinical social worker, mother of two, wife of one, and a stubborn optimist.  She loves Star Wars, Lego people, science, everyday magic and to laugh.  You can find Lara on Twitter at @LASbauer, or at her blog,  Motivation for Creation.