On Brain Drain, Craft vs. Art, & Mountains

If you saw the post-that-was-not-a-post I put up yesterday, then you know that while I was off work for the holiday, I was finishing up one of the three outstanding drafts I want to get done before NaNoWriMo starts on November first (now two, thankyouverymuch). I was especially motivated to get this particular draft done for my horror/suspense alter-ego because it’s scheduled for release on Halloween, and with time for editing and formatting, etc, I’m cutting it pretty close. I was supposed to have it done last weekend, but decided to add another plot twist to the end that required extra words/writing time. And then even this weekend as I was writing, I twisted it yet again. Such is the way a pantser works – my plotting often happens right in the middle of scenes, which is a fun way to work, but not necessarily the most efficient.

It’s hard to describe what my brain feels like for the rest of the day when I finish a draft. It’s difficult to really do much thinking about anything, because there’s this…void in my head that makes me feel like every thought is sucked into a black hole as soon as it’s formed, and I can’t quite hang onto it long enough to actually process or dwell on it. Just writing this post is an exercise in extreme determination. I tried several times earlier tonight (it’s around 12:30am on Tues as I’m writing this), but my mind just couldn’t handle the focus required (and it’s still fighting me – crazy).

Once I sleep, I’ll be fine. It’s like my brain just needs a hard reset before it can fully recover from that intense “zone” I get into when I’m nearly at the end of a draft. I feel fortunate that I’m only down for the rest of the day, and not weeks like some writers are.

In any case, as I was finishing that draft this weekend (and surfing social media on breaks), I came to some realizations about the craft of writing vs. the art of stories, and which might be the weaker link(s) for me and how to fix it/them. My brain being the swiss cheese that it is, I’m not coherent enough to discuss it now, but I think there’s probably enough material there for a weekly discussion feature, either here, or over at The Drafting Desk. Your thoughts? Any opinions?

Finally, as I was writing I was thinking about some different discussion topics for Alex’s blog about certain parts of the story – like setting. And thinking about the setting for that story got me thinking about my settings for other stories, which made me realize that I haven’t been up in the mountains for awhile. Like, years. I was born here in Montana, and escaping the heat of the city by heading up into the mountains was just what we did in the summer. Aside from church camp up on the Boulder River every summer when I was a kid, my parents used to take us hiking and backpacking for family vacations. I remember one backpacking trip particularly well – I couldn’t tell  you where we were, but I can still see the multi-colored shale cliffs towering over an impossibly blue river and a dead elk on the trail with bear tracks nearby. I even had my own backpack that trip – not just a knapsack like you toss over one shoulder in college, but a big, bonafide, steel-framed pack I was pretty proud of that year. No, I don’t remember the year, or how old I was at the time. I’ve never been good at keeping memories on a timeline.

And then came adulthood and responsibilities and laptops and yes, laziness.

Long story short (because I need to sleep), I realized that I miss the mountains. I miss hiking on rough trails, hearing the wind in the trees, and the insects buzzing. The sound of a natural waterfall and the river it flows into.  But apparently I’ve become a city-slicker…it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere even remotely wild.

I think next summer I’ll have to fix that. I’m more than happy to skip tent camping, as sleeping on the ground has never been something I liked even as a child, but there are gorgeous mountains just 20-30 minutes from where I live, and plenty of good hiking trails. I should probably warn my husband, so we can both start getting in shape now…but next summer, there will be hiking.

Sometimes, a girl’s just gotta reconnect with her roots. Doesn’t hurt a writer to get a refresher course on how things look and smell and feel and taste either.

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