Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Waiting for the Paint to Dry

Sharon Wildwind

[My apologies for the delay in posting. My service provider went down last night and no amount of cajoling, spells, or waiving my princess wand around could make any connection to the Internet until now.]

Writing is about grammar, spelling, and a flow of ideas, isn’t it?

Yes, in part, but it’s also about waiting for the paint to dry.

I am genetically-incapable of walking past a Wet Paint sign without touching the forbidden surface. When I pull away my paint-encrusted fingertip and say, “I guess it hasn’t dried yet,” my husband’s stock reply is, “Duh!”

William Perhudoff, a Canadian abstract painter is 93-years old and still painting. His vibrant, colorful works gained national attention in the 1970s. Even as his career flourished, Perhudoff continued to farm in Saskatchewan.

The reason for my life-long dedication to farming was that I had to do something while waiting for the paint to dry.
~William Perhudoff

Unfortunately, as writers we don’t have a tactile clue to tell us when our writing has “dried” or more likely “dried up.” Grammar, spelling, and idea flow aside, a lot of writing is about knowing when to start, knowing when to stop, and having enough productive and fun distractions to keep us from writing the life out of our work.

To be a good writer means developing habitual ways of getting our body in a chair, our fingers on a keyboard or wrapped around a pen, our head in a writing space, and leaving all three there long enough and often enough to do productive work.

I’m getting better at finding the Zen or going into the Zone. This morning I sat down to develop characters. Next thing I knew, it was noon. I swear it had been nine o’clock just a couple of minutes before, but since I had substantial work done on two characters, in all likelihood three hours had past.

I’m not so good yet at pulling the plug before I get tired and cranky. I suspect the underlying metabolism is akin to a runner’s euphoria, which marathon runners experience when they cross the finish line. When writing is going really, really well, I have this certainty that I can do anything, absolutely anything and everything, for ever and ever. About half an hour later I feel out-of-sorts, if not downright depressed, because glucose levels and other chemicals are bouncing around my brain like ping-pong balls.

What I need is an early-warning system, something like those pop-up indicators embedded in holiday turkeys. When the indicator pops up, the bird is done. I want an early warning pop-up that says, “Stop writing this instant. If you write one more sentence, you are going to be so out of sorts that you won’t have any fun the rest of the day.”

At least, like Perhudoff, I have quite a few fun things to occupy myself between the time I climb out of the writing chair and the time I climb back in again. None of which, I’m relieved to say, involve agricultural odors, John Deere tractors, or wheat futures. For which, all things considered, I am very grateful.

Quote for the week:

Writing is a marathon. Warm up, write, cool down. Eat right. Drink water. Exercise for stamina, balance, and staying power.
~Sharon Wildwind, mystery writer, and sometimes artist waiting for the paint to dry

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