Progress and Creativity

It has been some time since I’ve added to this Baltimore Tales blog and I apologize for the abandonment of my readers. While you have been on my mind, I’ve been stuck in a bit of a low tide in my writing, particularly when it comes to my current novel, Aesop’s Fox. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block, really. Rather, I’d say that I just haven’t felt the same push to write as I have in the past, when working out the story would wake me up at night. Some of that has to do with the inertia that comes with sitting on a completed third novel, yet to be published. But, more so, the creative juices that used to be in such plentiful supply have seemed hard to come by over the last year.

If you read writers’ blogs (and I assume you do, since you’re reading this), you know there is a world of how-to-write-a-novel advice out there. The best blogs, however, seem to have a few common denominators. There are two that have stuck with me: 1) make progress every day, any kind of progress, even if its just thinking about the stuff; and 2) find ways to spur creativity. This second requires the belief that creativity can be developed, like a muscle, and doesn’t always arrive in a grand epiphany and isn’t just visited upon those of God’s children who are “creative.”

Regardless of the slowing of my deathless prose, it has been an eventful year for me. In fact, progress has been made and, to take the advice of Grace Slick’s dormouse, I have also managed to feed my head. First, I waded through the editing, design and publishing process once again, and my third book, No Slave To Reason, will now be available by April of this year. Whew. It seems to have taken forever, but I do think it a worthy read. This is progress, not writing progress particularly, but progress nonetheless. With the mechanics of getting a book out behind me, I am once again starting to think about my characters in Aesop’s Fox.

When it comes to spurring creativity, I have moved the ball there a bit as well. Thinkers and researchers, like Daniel Pink and Malcolm Gladwell, offer an array of ways to build creative thought. Among these is the recommendation that writers travel, see the world, experience other places and other people. I have done just that. This winter I was fortunate enough to visit not only Death Valley, California, but I also took a long tour of Southeast Asia. These are vastly different experiences, of course, each offering valuable perspective. But it is their very contrast that provides added value. They are bookends of a sort, different reaches of a spectrum perhaps. Oceans aside, both are unique, almost opposite examples of the world’s geography. The two places also contrast severely when considering the people who live there.

To explain, the vast, open tracts and the huge skies over the natural beauty that is Death Valley allow us to see how big the world is and how small we are. This is pretty introspective stuff but it could well impact character development in stories yet to be written. The people I met there were independent, laconic and tended to want to be left alone. They seemed to be living a bit of the legacy left over from the time of lonely prospectors and twenty mule teams that inched their way over borax and salt flats to some unseen point in the distance. Good stuff for that character who needs to show detachment.

On the other hand, Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in Cambodia and Luang Prabang in Laos provide the other end of the spectrum of human existence. There, people are noisy, energetic, long-suffering and in-your-face close. The sidewalks are packed at all hours, often with squatting people, gossiping and dining on sticky rice or pho. Negotiating the crazy, swirling rivers of people and motorbikes on the streets is just as disconcerting, yet oddly exhilarating. And it’s not much different in the countryside. These are warm people, all about family and relationships, happy to talk to you (even if it’s just to practice their English), each with a story and very comfortable with standing on your toes while waiting for a tram. They exist in a crowd and carve a small space for themselves within it. Here too is character development.

So, now awakened to two previously unimagined ways of life and living, where will my Baltimore characters go? How will they react? What will they say? In truth, I don’t know. But I do know that new experience will surface new ideas about people and new ways to solve the problems they create for themselves. The impact on my writing is likely to be osmotic, seeping into my consciousness and ultimately into my characters. And that is progress. Once again, finally, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.


NEXT BLOG POST: The third installment of Igor’s Hump

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