Friday, October 15, 2010

When the Dam Breaks

After all the talk about searching for inspiration, I thought it might be fun to talk about the other end of the spectrum. When the dam breaks, and you are completely overwhelmed with ideas, with energy, with a compulsive desire to create.

I think for a lot of artists, work tends to happen in a cycle. A dry period after the completion of one work when the artist is drained and exhausted - particularly if you have done the work by burning the candle at both ends. Then the miserable period of getting yourself up off the floor again - when it feels like you will never be inspired again, ever.

But the dam does break.

It's because artists regard this frenzied period of work as the normal state that it is usually glossed over. People rarely talk about this active creative phase - for one thing they are busy doing it (and don't have time for a blog whinge - Facebook is the exception) and because they often feel perfectly happy to work in isolation without crowing about it. (Mind you nothing gripes me more than hearing on Facebook about how writer X has done 10,000 words today when I can't open the laptop).

South-east Queensland is experiencing one of the wettest periods in half a century. All the dams (which were bone dry 18 months ago), are literally full to bursting. They are so full that water is being released, even though - in combination with the Brisbane river tide - this is expected to cause flooding in Brisbane. The city and region around it has already experienced significant flooding, with scores of swollen creeks blocking roads, cars abandoned at crossings, mud slides, abandoned homes. The wettest period since the lead up to the infamous 1974 flooding - and it's not even the wet season yet!

The picture is of Somerset Dam, which is one of the dams releasing water at the moment.

Back to the main theme: It's a good idea to do some planning for when the dam breaks. Depending on your situation, it might be worth being ready to negotiate some extra 'alone-time' with the family, perhaps book a room at Sarah's favourite hotel, or perhaps take time off work (if your work is flexible that way).

Having been brought up by harsh parents who were extremely black and white, I tend to think I can go about things like a robot - doing the same amount of work no matter how I feel. That's handy when breaking through a hesitation to write (I don't believe in writer's block), but it has the downside that I don't recognise my own natural patterns. Creativity and 'lumpish' work flow go hand-in-hand.

So how do you prepare for the flood? Do you have a garret ready for when the Muse strikes?


MataPam said...

When the Muse attacks . . .

Staying up late and writing, getting up early and writing, using precious vacation days for writing. Taking it all with you when you go somewhere on vacation.

The pressure doesn't let up, merely because you've gotten "plenty" done already today.

It's dangerous to try to sneak in a bit of writing when you're early getting to your workplace, taking a quick break, scarfing down a quick lunch so you can write. It's hard to stop, to put it away now, no, not in five minutes. The boss tends to not understand.

I have a couple drawers full of handwritten starts from whem I was working and single. Communting to San Francico on the BART. I couldn't write on the train, but the immagination ran freely. I might have managed a bit of writing then, if I'd had no other time available.

But nothing beats writing full time, as a job. And for that, you either need either a large number of sales to give you the confidence that you can make a living writing, a very understanding and employed spouse or to win the lottery.

C Kelsey said...

When there's a ton of ideas hammering me in the brain I will sometimes take five minutes here or there and write the beginning of the stories. Sometimes I come back to them. Other times just one turns out to be the one that needs to be written.

Now, the really bad thing for me is that the creativity for a new story tends to hit when I'm about 2/3 the way through my current story. At that point in the writing I know how it's going to end and in the process of actually writing a story down it's almost like I've told myself a story and now I want another one. Which explains the absolute mass of unfinished stories I have. That last 1/3 is the hardest part to convince myself to write.

Anonymous said...

I've never had a creative dam burst, but I have had creative streams which have flowed well at times. Writing is actually pretty hard work for me, but I do have "movies" running in my head, and it's a challenge to get them down on paper (or computer).


I'm hoping to experience this dam during NaNoWriMo. I'm doing some serious world building right now and trying to get my ducks in a row to allow that dam to arrive. I haven't outlined actual plot yet, but I suspect that my outline will be the major player in the dam plan (Friday pun!). I have no excuses for not succeeding during November, so I am trying to get ready. I believe that the NaNoWriMo is built to force the dam to come to you.

MataPam said...


Yep, same here. Dozens of rough drafts, as in "Just need to flesh out the end and polish it a bit."

But some other idea grabs me and off I go on another one.

My current problem is finding a way to insulate my writer's garret against the new ideas, until I've completely finished the old ones.

Linda, the trick is to have such a pressure of research, data, trivia and cool ideas pooled up behind the dam that you exceed its tolerences and it all comes out in a flood. Breaking down the dam doesn't help, if the water level is low. Mind you, some nice regulated flood gates sound lovely to me, right now.

The metaphore John Ringo uses is a string of idea beads. You keep taking it apart and using the various beads in stories, as needed. If you don't figure out how to collect more beads, pretty soon your stories get thin and contrived or dry up altogether.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. I know what you mean about the pressure never letting up. If it wasn't something that was so core to a writer - i.e. writing, it would almost classify as some sort of major dysfunction!

You can't find the time to write - and it's like you are being torn to shreds from the inside - you write for 5-6 hours and some sort of growling thing inside you says - MORE.

As for being full time - at this stage I can only dream. I am trying to get my ducks in a row and organise my life for more writing time next year. Bit stuck for now - mostly writing on the bus, which sucks, and weekends.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. That's a tough one. Hey - at least you are never stuck for ideas!

My hardest part is always the beginnings. Once I have built up a head of steam I tend to build up pace toward the end - which is why I love deadlines - they help me break the ice to begin with and I barrel on regardless.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Linda. Good luck in November! I think having a plot flow organised is definitely the way to go.

Maybe you could have a long conversation with your Inner Critic and convince him to go on holidays? Maybe he can spend the month of November in the Bahamas:)

Let yourself flow.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. I love that image! New Idea insulation for the writer's garret:)

Maybe we can design a collection system - I sort of double-layer trap so that the new ideas are attracted to the garret, pass through small slits (that they cannot get out of since they swell closer to the writer), then they are trapped. They will bounce around, and are gradually directed to a collection reservoir by the cunning shape formed by the two walls.

I love the idea of building up pressure for the story through research and building up backstory etc. It's very much the way I work, particularly for novels.

All the best:)

Kate said...

I can say for certain that the tinfoil helmet doesn't keep them out, it attracts them. Maybe I need to redesign it to not have the antenna-ey bit on top.

When the dam busts, about the only thing you can do is ride the wave, sneak in writing wherever you can and try to focus on the other stuff when you have to focus on it.

And never, ever write love scenes at work. Especially warm ones.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I was up until 1.30 am this morning, woke up at 6 and went back to work, and didn't think anything of it, Chris.

Personally, I'm thinking of retiring to my bedroom with a lap top and putting a do not disturb sign on the door.

Only the tilers are up there right now, tiling the en-suite. Sigh.

4thguy said...

It happened to me at the end of Summer. I'm still not fully recovered but I'm past the point of I'm Never Going To Write Anything Meaningful Ever Again point.