Due for release January 2010
Author: Sasha Soren, http://www.sashasoren.com/
Sasha: Writing a novel does take a huge amount of self-discipline, that’s quite true.
It just demands so much focused attention, over such an extended period of time, that you can’t be lazy and decide, well, I’d rather do something easier today – you have to stick with it, even when you don’t feel particularly inspired. You just do it.
As to where I feel most inspired to write, there are sort of two answers to the question.
You can try it, yourself, next time you’re in motion – let’s say you’re on a train, or a bus, or a plane, or a boat and so on; when you look out the window and see something that interests you, try to start imagining how some particular object might relate to a story. You can see the object, but don’t know the back story. Well, you can make up a back story! Quite often, I do that just to pass the time, but you also never know where a new idea will originate, and most of the time, they’ve showed up while I was busy thinking of something else.
That’s the other answer to your question, actually, about where I feel most inspired to write.
It’s a place, but not a geographical place, it’s a certain state of consciousness, somewhere between being fully awake and fully asleep. Having waking dreams, let’s say. It’s very hard to describe, because it’s a state of consciousness, and, so, not easy to just show you a photograph and say, “Here, this is what I mean.” But if you love music, then it’s that point in time when you start to hear the music as part of your own heartbeat. Or, if you love film, it’s where you gasp out loud or hold your breath, because your emotions are genuinely engaged in this shadow story flickering in front of your eyes. Or, if you love reading, it’s the point where you lose track of time, and forget that you’re reading ink on a page in some particular set of characters, and can hear the character’s voices inside your head, or get a chill reading some tense scene, or laugh out loud to yourself and startle your company, and so on.
It’s that particular place. That’s where the stories come from.
That’s really where you start moving from conscious thought about how you’re writing some particular scene, to where you’re seeing it so vividly in your head that you become almost just an onlooker, transcribing something you see. The only difficulty is that it’s hard to reach that place, and the way there isn’t always the same path.
The Bookette: Do you devote a set amount of time to writing each day or is it more of a case of when you feel like it?
Sasha: Actually, it’s both and neither. No, I don’t set any particular word goal for a particular day.
But, no, also don’t just write when I feel like it. Anyone who just writes when they feel like it will never get anything done, because you have to lure inspiration down to come sit on your shoulder and keep you company and make nosy suggestions and tell you when you’re talking rubbish.
And the only way you can do that is if you actually put in the work to get words on paper when you don’t feel in the least inspired.
On the other hand, you’re quite right in observing that in some cases, you might write when you feel like it.
When you’ve gotten past putting words down, adding some new piece of the story, and then you’ve been working for a few hours, sometimes, out of nowhere, the writing suddenly comes much more quickly, it’s easier, as if someone’s opened a tap and the thoughts come spilling down.
So, yes, in that sense, you’d write because you feel it. There were several scenes in Random Magic that just came very fast and almost in complete sections, as if I was just writing as quickly as I could, to catch an actual conversation, or take photographic impressions of a real place.
That’s a rare occurrence, but when it happens, it’s like you’re just writing under some kind of creative fever, forgetting to eat and sleep and anything else, because you’re just engulfed in the story, trying to capture all of it before it vanishes again.
When that happens, though, it’s usually because you’ve been thinking about the story, and working words out on paper, and jotting down some notes about where the path is going, and how to get there.
So, you have to put in an effort to continue the story, even if you have no idea what’s going to happen, or what the characters are going to do next, and feel totally blah and like maybe you should have had the common sense to do something far easier than writing, like maybe go be a lion tamer somewhere.
But, then, when inspiration does take over your hands, it’s like pure ecstasy.
Interestingly, there’s actually a recognized phenomena that’s very similar to this: Religious or spiritual ecstasy, which is a kind of altered state of consciousness. Saints, shamans, yogis, have all been able to enter a particular state of awareness, through the mediums of fasting, prayer, chanting, dancing (as in whirling dervishes), or even drugs (peyote, and so on).
That’s what we were discussing just a little earlier, that there is a place you go to, but it’s not geographical, and that the path that gets you there is always changing.
Now, it’s not necessary to use any or all of these means that more spiritually-focused folks use. You can reach the same place just by letting your mind search for it. You don’t need drink, or drugs, or chants, or anything outside yourself, just the willingness to go along with following some particular thought or impression.
It’s the same series of doors, though. That’s really sort of what the experience is like, and what all of those more non-worldly people are all trying to find: They’re just looking for the door that opens out, and lets them cross over into a frame of mind, where visions are clearer, and time loses its sovereignty over the mind.
Now, that can be a religious or spiritual ecstasy, where the human being communes with the divine, or it can be a creative ecstasy, which is essentially the same thing, just with a slightly different purpose.
For mystics, they might bring back startling realizations or universal truths or just a feeling of being at peace with the world.
For a writer – or any other creative person, actually – they’re also looking to manifest those realizations or truths or other sensations or insights in a tangible form, in our own world. To put it a different way, it’s sort of like sending postcards back from the other side, you know, “Wish you were here.” And then when the workaday world intrudes once more, you have these postcards waiting for you, which you sent to yourself. That’s what you’ve brought back with you. It sounds a bit mad, but it’s easy to explain, in a basic way, by saying it’s almost like being drunk.
Well, nearly everyone’s been drunk at some point in their lives. Now, remember what that felt like, how time slipped away, or how the sounds you heard sounded like they were coming through cotton wool, and how everything seemed slightly removed.
Well, it’s a bit like that – your body is there, but your head’s just…elsewhere. You don’t have to drink to find that particular place, that’s an unfortunate myth about writers, which is parodied in the book. It probably doesn’t hurt to be a little naturally spaced-out, though, because then you can drop into a dream-like state far more easily. If you daydream, for example, it’s quite like that, only magnified.
Aha, but to return to your original question: No, don’t have any particular set goal to write every day. No, don’t only write when I feel like it.
However, yes, do definitely experience both of those things when setting off on a new project. Then, yes, you definitely do stick with advancing the story, piece by piece.
Maybe you might not set some particular exact word count, but you do push yourself to always be writing something new, some additional piece of the story. Every single day, rain or shine, inspiration or no inspiration, you just sit there and scribble and fret and add a line and then erase it, but never stop until the whole story is finally there in front of you. And, yes, during the process, you just pray for inspiration to come pay a visit. Sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t.
But you definitely won’t finish your story if you just wait for inspiration to strike. She’s very ornery, and usually shows up just when you’ve wiped yourself out trying to work out some really tricky bit and have no idea what happens – and voila. She finally shows up and wonders why you’re about to drop on your face in exhaustion just when the big show is just about to heat up.
Inspiration is a bit like that one party guest who never shows up until well past midnight, snogs all the guests, and then falls asleep in your bathtub with your last bottle of wine and a traffic cone which has been mysteriously acquired at some point during the evening, only no one quite remembers where it came from.
So, in effect, she never shows up just when you expect, or does what you expect her to do, but when and if she does show up, well, it’ll be an interesting party.
So. Like that.
Figuratively, of course, this is just the characterization of inspiration. Literally, of course, in the book, because in the book she’s not a figment of imagination but actually exists, in that particular world, this is how she literally might greet you at the door of one of her outlandish parties.
And, for folks who’ve read the book, this probably sounds awfully familiar and now you know just where the personification of that particular character came from.
The comedy party hat, no idea where that materialized from, but, then, at parties like that, well -- no one ever does, really.
Yet in the morning, there always seems to be one…and someone’s wearing it…while snoozing in the bathtub, because this seemed like a good idea at the time...
Chaotic process, writing, really. On the inside of your head, anyway. That’s why the party metaphor made absolute sense.
Someone’s always – figuratively – waking up all fuzzy-headed, tangled halfway up, halfway down in a drapery or under a table. Tsk, tsk.
The Bookette: Which writers have most influenced you and your writing?
Sasha: Other writers aren’t so much a direct influence, as life, itself.
Fiction is usually sort of restricted, in the sense that, even though the story could be a wild story, it still does have to make a certain kind of sense. Also, in a work of fiction, there might’ve been thousands of ways a particular story might have unwound, but it unwinds in one particular way. What I mean is that, while you’re writing a story, you start with a very open story. You might write about anything, anyone, any time, any place, your choices are virtually limitless. But, as you go along constructing the story, you have to make choices, because if you’re going to write a coherent story, you have to make logical paths for readers to follow. Your characters do have to sort of stay in character. They might suddenly do something seemingly out of character, but there’s usually a clear path the reader can follow, to understand just why a character suddenly did something that they might not otherwise have done.
Also, as you go along, you start to narrow down possibilities, because when you’re building a plot, events all have to make sense within a particular framework.
For example: This happens because that happened in the chapter just prior. This character does such-and-such as a response to something that’s just happened. Or might happen. Or might not happen. But all of these things are set down, and happen in just one way.
So, even though fiction can be about nearly anything you can think of or imagine, but the logic has to be self-contained within one particular book. But in real life – oh, anything can and often does happen. Logic, sometimes, goes right out the window.
So, it’s much more interesting to use life, not any particular book or series of books, as a source of fuel. So much more can happen.
I don’t think that you necessarily have to write down something just as it happened, otherwise you’d be writing non-fiction, or an article in a newspaper. But I do think that if you want to understand how life works, you have to observe life, not someone’s rendition of it. If you want to understand how people work, then observe people, not characters in a book.
Although, interestingly, you can also learn about human beings through characters in books. But normally because the writer was making some observation about the way we live our lives, through some particular character – and that character is just a reflection of something that writer has observed in life. But life is the source of the fuel.
For example, in Random Magic, would say that if you wanted to see some of the characters symbolically, then:
Winnie would be an exploration of courage. Also, would say, she’s an exploration of the indomitable nature of the human spirit. She’s bravery personified.
Callie would be an exploration of the mystery of creative ability, its source and why it’s necessary, she illustrates the power of being able to create.
The Red Queen, in contrast, would be an exploration of the human being’s ability to destroy.
Effie would be an exploration of why music is a source of comfort and happiness to us; music is not strictly something we need to survive, like air or food or shelter, yet there’s some mystery about music in that it feeds our soul.
Do we really need music? No. But can you imagine a world without music?
And so on.
So, yes, reading other writers is really a wonderful experience, and you can visit all sorts of worlds – geographical places, or dazzling cities of unusual thoughts, or philosophical explorations of ideas, all kinds of fascinating things, and this is why books are so valuable, and why we should be thankful that we can unlock some particular story because we know a specific language and can understand all the thoughts a writer has to share with us.
Also, when you read a lot, you pick up all the tools you need as a writer; you learn grammar, spelling, how to construct a story, how to write dialogue so that it’s believable and sounds natural, and so on. But as an influence, fiction really isn’t as powerful as drawing from your own life, because, to paraphrase someone whose name I’ve totally forgotten at the moment, and shame on me: Fiction has to make sense. Life doesn’t. Aha, Google. Thank you, modern technology: The quote is attributed to writer Tom Clancy. Another modern mystery solved. But, to continue…
So, drawing from fiction is sort of like enjoying a pantomime of fire, or standing in front of a painting of fire. But life is the actual fire.
The Bookette: I strangely associate Alice in Wonderland with my sister. I remember that she entered a fancy dress competition as the Queen of Hearts when we were kids. Was it your favourite book as a child?
The Bookette: I am still excitedly waiting for Random Magic to arrive in the mail. What should I expect to enjoy most about your book?
I have no idea how to answer this question, because no one’s asked me this sort of question before in exactly this way. I think it’s because I just assume and hope that every person who reads the book will find whatever they’re able to find in the book, by adding their own experiences into the story.
I feel like the experience of reading a book is like plugging in to a huge web of shared thoughts, in a way. You know, I hear a character and visualize them one way, whereas you hear them and visualize them another way. I hope and expect that something will happen in the story, and you hope and expect something else.
It’s the same book, but people experience it in their own unique way. But all of these variations can all be correct. It’s as if you’re standing in a gallery, looking at a series of still life paintings. Now, let’s say this still life has one apple, and one orange, and a bowl, but 100 artists were invited to illustrate this still life. Well, you might see a pleasant watercolor, or a disjointed, frantic oil painting, or a quirky fabric assemblage in multi-colored felt, or some experimental sort who invites you to take a bit of the steel apple and write down your response on a little paper which is attached to a wire apple tree in the center of the exhibit, or an edgy sort who’s left nothing on the table but a moldering apple core to express the futile nihilism of it all. So, of course, there you are. Same exact basic text to read from, but hundreds of different translations of the same basic work.
As for my own intentions, though, if you’re just curious:
There are funny parts in the book, and if you’re having a bad day, I hope they make you laugh to yourself and feel better, because a good laugh can really feel good and make the day so much better.
There are surreal parts in the book, and I hope they make a skewed kind of sense, and alter your way of looking at things slightly, so that it’s like looking into a funhouse mirror.
There are artistic parts in the book, and I hope you find them vivid and colorful and pleasant and wonderful to imagine, as if someone just tripped a light switch, and suddenly you see the entire world in Technicolor.
There are subtle and simple parts in the book, and I hope that it gives you vision to see the magic in ordinary things, because magic does exist, and it’s not always where you expect to find it.
There are literary parts in the book, and I hope that as a fellow book-lover, you’ll get a giggle out of some of the references and oddball literary folks who show up along the way.
There are adventurous parts in the book, and I hope that you have a quick, sneaking desire to run off somewhere and go be a pirate.
Or join a circus. Or just try something you’ve never tried before, going with the general principle: Oh, well, I’ve always wanted to try this, and so -- what the hell, today’s the day.
There are playful and goofy parts in the book, and I hope they let you realize, for yourself, that sometimes it’s totally okay to be silly, just because you feel like it, and that you have a right to enjoy your life, because we all only go around once, so what say?
There are emotional parts in the book, and I hope they move you as much as they moved me when that particular part of the story came to me.
There are darker parts of the book, and hopefully they make you bite your nails and hope that everything will be okay.
There are philosophical parts in the book, and I hope that you find them to be interesting, and make you think, “Hmmm, how do I feel about this?” and find your own answers.
There are deeper spiritual parts in the book, and I hope that you feel like you’d like to put the book aside for a moment, and have a cup of tea and a think to yourself about how you feel about a lot of the things that are important to you in your own life.
There are parts of the book that hopefully are convincing explorations about why courage, loyalty, love, friendship, and faith are important, and I hope that you already have all of these things in your life, and tell people who are important to you that they’ve brought something valuable and irreplaceable into your life and you’re grateful for it.
I’d be very happy if you enjoyed coming along on a totally wild adventure, and were puzzled and delighted and bemused and thoughtful, and, essentially, were able to take a detour right out of life for a few hours, and go right along with Winnie and Henry and believe that you can also accomplish the impossible.
I’d be very pleased if you closed the cover on the last page with a smile on your face, and were glad you decided to take the trip. I don’t expect that these are all the things you’ll find to enjoy in the book, but it’s my hope that you do. Safe journey there, and safe journey back, and hope you enjoyed every moment you spent there.
So, yes, that’s my wish for you. All of these things. And everything else you find along the way.
More information about Random Magic can be found at www.sashasoren.com