Trapped by Details: an Epiphany

One of the side effects of a medication I’ve been taking for a couple of months is insomnia — serious lack of sleep. There are moments when I think this could be a good thing because the hazy state between sleeping and waking is often the source of ideas and insights — and there has been a lot of hazy state . Alas, those ideas and insights seldom carry over into the daylight hours. If I could just lie there in the dark and dictate into a recorder, who knows what marvels of novelistic fiction I could create. Well, that’s never going to happen, but once in a while, something worth pursuing does survive until morning and daylight.

A recent night was one of those frustrating on/off sleep/wake stretches that had me wanting to just get up, wander around the apartment, find something to do, and forget about sleep altogether. But I stuck it out and let my mind do the wandering. And what happened was that I had a sort of vision. I haven’t been able to write at all for the last two or three months, so part of the night’s mental meandering is often about trying to select the ongoing WIP most likely to have a chance of sucking me in and getting my fingers back on the keyboard. Gift of the Ancien is always one of those being considering — and discarded.

But last night, I saw that novel in an entirely new way. It was as if I was standing off from an actual, physical construct, and seeing it as an object independent of details like voice or characterization, and stripped of my personal interest in and attachment to it. I can’t regain much of the feelings I had about this new view, but the image itself is still fairly clear in my mind — and its meaning. Although I can’t reconstruct or explain how I came to it, the meaning of the image is that this particular novel (and several others), has been a challenging puzzle to work out, and that challenge is completely independent of the novel’s importance to me. In other words, I’ve been sucked into an ongoing attempt to solve a puzzle (or a handful of puzzles), fascinated by the challenge just as certainly as any game player. It’s the intricacies of that particular story that I’m attempting to work out, without any consideration of whether it has enough value to me to justify the time and energy I’m putting into it.

I also had brief glimpses of a couple of the other WIPs being bounced around as possible ways out of the black hole of wordlessness. Most of the insights are gone, damn it, but there was the sense, however vaguely I can see or express it now, that those WIPs had value apart from the details. Their value — their meaning — to me, personally, was more important than the puzzles they represent, or the working out of the puzzles. Ancien, on the other hand, even though it would have value as a published novel, and possibly of more value than the others, has no other value to me.

On a superficial level, this all boils down to the question of why I write: for money, or for myself. But now I can see it isn’t that at all. The real question is: is this a story I really care about, for its own sake, or is it just a container for intriguing puzzles? I turns out that anything I write for myself has a boundary far beyond me. It’s an idea or collection of ideas, that I hope will draw readers looking for more than entertainment. Of course, every novel is a series of puzzles to work out; maybe that’s a big part of the appeal for writers, especially writers who aren’t particularly successful in the fame and fortune arena.

I still haven’t settled on a WIP to drag me out of the creativity black hole, but at least I have a better basis for making that selection. Ancien, as strongly as its puzzles fascinate me, needs to be put aside where it can’t tempt and distract me. The same is true of several other WIPs in various stages of development. Maybe if I can get them shoved under the carpet and use the imagery from my vision, I’ll find the piece that will inspire me to get back to writing.



14 thoughts on “Trapped by Details: an Epiphany

  1. Wow! You have been busy. Being in such a state – and using it – is alien to me, but it sounded cool (except for the insomnia part).

    One of my kids takes a beta blocker because its side effect IS insomnia – the doctor has her taking it in the morning to wake up. Her melatonin production is off the normal cycle, so they manipulate it. Is there anything you can do with the timing of your meds that might help?

    I just go by what I want to leave behind. For some reason, that’s important to me. And for some reason, the story I’m involved in telling has taken hold in such a way that the only solution is to write it, but I wonder about myself. I’ve either got something worth while – or I’m deluded. But I only have the one.

    I’m glad you’re at least considering where to put your time and effort when you can write again – that would seem to be a required step.

    1. Alicia, I never would have considered that side effect to be useful. Hope it works for her. I take a split dose of the beta blocker, so there’s no way I can manipulate it to avoid side effects at night. I’ve been able to cut it down a little, but one more reduction didn’t work, unfortunately.

      Seems your fans have decided you’re not delusional. Don’t worry about it. You’re writing for basically the same reason I tend to focus on ideas that have no chance of being commercially successful. But you’re doing a better job of it.

      1. You have more books out.

        I’m just single-minded right now, until I finish this task.

        And I intend to be commercially successful, because the next step is to do a better job of advertising. I believe in the books, and I want more people reading them.

        I have a plan!

  2. Absolutely amazing to hear about your insight. I never had that problem; puzzles are the last thing on my mind when I’m writing. I tend to write for troubled readers, hoping to show them a way out – or at the very least, to say, It’s OK, other people have had this problem and survived. For you, though, I see that your paricular insight is valid. What a great help it will be to you in the future.

    1. Danielle, I’d say that you’re still working out puzzles. It isn’t something you have to be consciously aware of. I’d even say that writing fiction is always (almost) a process of working out puzzles. I doubt that it’s a conscious choice for most writers. To some extent, I’ve always been aware that I write to solve puzzles. It just never came up before as a choice-maker.

      1. Puzzles, definitely. I do it consciously, too – it’s called plotting. It makes things lock up tight once all the pieces are in, and I think it makes a much more believable story. Once of my lovely reviewers noticed it, and said, ‘Sometimes – rarely – I have no earthly idea why one of Ehrhardt’s characters has a particular reaction or says a particular thing. Sometimes I catch on later, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I read on. Because I don’t have to “get” everything every time. Because I’m trespassing and eavesdropping on another psyche, and it feels natural that I wouldn’t invariably understand.’

        What she doesn’t know is that the things she doesn’t understand now are not little color touches – they are the deep puzzles which needed to be started there, and, if I manage to finish the whole thing, will be resolved somewhere in Book 2 or 3 of the trilogy. I don’t do things without purpose, and I have to search very hard sometimes for places where that initial clue or hint can go without completely derailing the current bit of story to set something up for later.

        I really hope I get to finish my plan. It was great fun setting up. Hope I haven’t exceeded my own capacity.

        Definitely puzzles – there has to be something in the writing just for the author (which readers can enjoy but we create).

  3. Your reader brings up an interesting point about not needing to understand every single thing about a character. We certainly don’t in real life, but I wonder if novelists sometimes try too hard to bring it all out into the open lest readers be confused.

    1. It’s probably a matter of proportion – too many unsolved mysteries, and the reader gets lost – and you lose the reader. I’m sure some people who don’t like working as they read will not like my writing. I’m pretty sure that’s where the 1* review (which I love because of how it’s written) comes from; she actually says TL;DR. Except it was more negative than that, but I don’t care – those are the negative reviews which lead OTHER people to decide the book IS for them.

      But you should be able to get away with the things I put in – especially once the whole is out, and other reviewers comment on seeing some of those clues resolved.

      It’s a tossup – but you earn the right to do it if you usually satisfy the reader. I think. I hope.

      1. Proportion, yes, but that’s really a matter of guesswork, to some extent. Maybe there should be an algorithm based on how many readers are confused. But we also need to consider than many people who are technically literate are very poor readers. A now-and-then hobby of mine is reading Amazon reviews, and a good proportion of readers who give low ratings are obviously weak in reading comprehension.

  4. I absolutely get it. I have, in the past, imagined a whole novel, start to finish, in the twilight of sleep and scramble to recover as much as I can when I wake up. It is unfortunate that the imagining sucks me in and soothes me to sleep.
    Like the solutions to complex maths questions and puzzles, I can never properly remember the details the next morning.

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