Synchronicity

Synchronicity— something writers seek as a positive harbinger indicating they are on the right path. That moment when fleeting thoughts, observations, and scribblings in moleskine all merge into one perfect before-then unknown conjunction. And I’m not talking about ifs, ands, or buts.

I have been evaluating how much mythology I want to introduce in my novel. Whether to stay with historical fiction touched by magic realism or bring it closer to historical fantasy. Having a political background, though not its focus, my novel could go either way. Doing so would add months of research, but I like research so that isn’t a problem. Learning it all well enough to do it justice to the land of my ancestors and to my relatives who still live there, that’s the hard part.

Creative process is an individualistic phenomenon particular to each writer. I look for synchronicity, a merging of my ideas presented in coincident hints that the universe is telling me that I am to investigate further.

The idea of bringing mythology into play struck me last summer but quickly became overwhelming as a writer entrenching herself into a budding literary career. The idea arose again in this morning’s early hours, waking at some godawful time being my punishment for falling asleep at 7 p.m. last night.

I am usually a night owl and most creative when it is inky black outside, save for the moon, and all are asleep in my house. Another part of the creative process, you might say. Such an early bedtime has overcoming a nasty cold at its root, and it not the norm here.

Waking at 1:30 a.m., instead of forcing my brain to shut down and return to dreamland, my thoughts started whirling about what I have felt is missing in the first 50,000 words of my novel. A writer’s mind does not turn off. The protagonist’s personality is not showing through, a frustration, but one I recognized during NaNoWriMo and knew I would address this month. But there was something else missing. That’s when mythology again entered my thoughts and would not let me go.

Remembering my inability last summer to merge my ideas in a way I felt worthy, I tried to distract myself by reading online articles #writing on Twitter is riddled with pertaining to my craft. The first one I opened was J.F. Penn’s article on her creative process found here — a topic I am always keen to read up on, seeing if other writers do things in similar ways to myself. It’s a reassuring shot in the arm when they do. If they don’t, they sometimes have great takeaway ideas I can integrate into my own process.

I loved that she, too, waits for synchronicity to show its face, because she knows it eventually will. Reading the inspiring article did the opposite of helping me sleep though, and I put my phone to the side, remembering that screens are said to suppress melatonin— read it here — and opened my new signed hardcover copy of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Surely, reading a novel would tire my antibiotic laden sore eyes, and I would get back to precious sleep. After all, I had a blog post to write in mere hours, I couldn’t be up all night!

It didn’t help. I struggled through reading, my mind pulled in another direction— in the direction of mythology. The books were downstairs, why not muster up my motivation to leave my cozy down comforter and read that instead? Surely, it would be so new and research intensive that I would be asleep in no time.

When my father passed four years ago, I inherited several books on Irish mythology and folklore, but I have not read them. They are displayed in my bookshelf in the dining room amid family scrapbooks, books about herb and plant identification, and my complete Jane Austen anthology. This is a place of prominence. Deciding at 3:30 a.m. to give up attempts to induce sleep in my creative muse, I went downstairs, made some decaf green tea heavily loaded with clover honey for my sore throat, and went to the bookshelf. I saw three choices, one on Irish mythology, one on Irish sagas, and one on Irish folktales. Which way did I want to go?

Staying true to my original inspiration, I grabbed the one on mythology and glanced at the cover, for I had never paid attention to the author. And then I saw the complete title: Lady Gregory’s Complete Irish Mythology with a preface by W.B. Yeats. Both actual historical figures, both living in the area of Ireland— during the exact year— in which I am having my protagonist spend a good deal of time, both people I have been researching over the months hoping to have them pop up briefly in my novel.

Synchronicity.

The concurrence of these events does not mean I have to include these characters, or mythology at all, in my novel, but it does mean that in investigating these harmonious hints, I will discover information that will help me. I know this, just as other writers recognize that gut feeling propelling them in directions they never anticipate.

The result? Inspiration handed to me on what my blog should be about. The bonus? I get to leisurely delve into the mythology of my ancestors, curled up, recuperating under a warm blanket, tea– or hot toddy– at my side, for the whole of today.

 

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(My writing companions in the wee hours of morning)

A Writer’s Life Post-NaNo

After entrenching myself in writing for the whole of November, I haven’t written in December, besides this blog. Burnt out? You might ask. Slightly, but only from the pace that NaNoWriMo requires to achieve completion. In reality, I have been researching most of December.

No matter how much research an author does prior to writing, they will encounter areas of their work they didn’t anticipate having to learn more about. I am writing a historical fiction novel, so this is something I encountered quite often during NaNoWriMo, despite months of preparation.

My novel is set in Ireland in 1920, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Irish War for Independence, sometimes called the Anglo-Irish War. This is the war that broke Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, newly independent at the end of the war, and Northern Ireland, which remains under British rule to this day. If you encounter a person from this area, you may hear them refer to this controlled land as “The North of Ireland” depending on what side of the argument they are on. Hint: This means they still aren’t happy about being occupied.

In preparation for the intensiveness of NaNoWriMo, I spent August through October 31 constructing a three act structure outline of my novel and researching pre-war Ireland starting around 1900 from the political standpoint of both men and women. This is so I could understand the mentality leading into the war. I also researched the war itself. Reading non-fiction accounts of the time while concurrently listening to fictional novels on Audible ate up many months— the latter helpful in getting an idea of dialogue and phrasing, as well as the thoughts of everyday people. Phrasing I have a little knowledge about since my father was from Belfast, where my characters start out, and I visit family there frequently. However, modern phrasing is not necessarily the same as phrasing in 1920. Insights gained in well-researched fiction are often sparse in non-fiction books, and first person diaries and resources of that era are not readily available for me to read here in the U.S.. Looks like I’ll have to go on a research trip. Darn.

If you aren’t a historical fiction writer, you may ask why I’m researching non-fiction events for a fiction novel. Although most everyone in my book is fictional, as well as many of their experiences, they live in a time of turmoil and that effects what they do, where they go, etc.. A writer can’t ignore the significant occurrences surrounding their characters if they place them in an era of conflict. Especially a historical novelist. Lucky for us, we enjoy doing research.

My point is, starting NaNo, I was prepared. During NaNo, I discovered I have much more to research. Not as prepared as I thought. Knowing I couldn’t stop and read ten hours of research each time I came to a crossroad, and in order to move on with my story, I just marked area’s of my novel with annotations that tell me I need to get more information. I have since read author accounts of that speak of doing the same thing in their first drafts— reassuring to this writer completing her first novel.

An example from my novel looks like this: “Staying on the opposite side of the street from the monastery, I passed the enraged mob, scraping my palm against the brick building at my back. ((FML)) (Find out if there is a brick wall or building in that area.) Rounding the area of the armored car, I crept to the other side when a figure stepped from behind the vehicle into my path.” Please excuse the lack of editing in that passage, but you deserve an accurate look into what first drafts look like. ((FML))= Find More Later. Convenient that after countless times of writing this, I came to think of it as Fuck My Life. It made me smile in the midst of visions of upcoming research reaching unscalable proportions.

Why would I have to find out if there is a brick wall or building in the area of this monastery? My character is at an actual event that happened in Belfast, therefore it is possible that readers from that city will know the neighborhood. Well. Some things an author can fictionalize, but this neighborhood, including the houses and the monastery, still stand, so it is important to be true to the events and area when possible. Yes, tedious to some. Important to historical writers.

Writing at a rapid pace brings out a writer’s weaknesses in craft. This has lead me to spending December reading several books on the craft of writing. Currently, I am reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman and How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript by James Scott Bell before I write another word of my novel. This tells you how I feel about the quality of my NaNo writing.

I will be using these techniques with the remainder of my novel and then go back and edit the crap out of the part I’ve already written. I’ll edit it several more times before I feel it is even close to being ready to show to beta readers. Beta reader= Friend or colleague who agrees to read and critique your book before you show it to anyone “official.” Also see, guinea pig.

As far as content research goes, I am reading The Book of The Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer by Gearóid Ó Crualaich. This gives you a hint about some of the characterization in my novel. I have many more books of research to read/peruse in the coming months as I write, but the good news is that I will be able to stop and look up information as I write. No NaNo timeline to adhere to.

So there’s your peek into what a writer might be doing post NaNo. It also gives insight into what writers do when they aren’t writing.  This month, you can find this writer, sitting by the Christmas tree with a glass of delicious pinot noir, catching up on the books and magazines I didn’t have the luxury of getting to last month. Just don’t ask me how I’ll find time to do the Christmas shopping, holiday planning, and cookie baking.