Embrace the Jabberwock

Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! –Lewis Carroll

Everyone finds it hard to make time to write. Sometimes squeezing “butt in seat” moments requires hiding from humanity.

Since publication of Little Bookstore last October–heck, since the February before–my agent Pamela, a diplomatic woman of great gentleness, has been dropping hints. “Working on anything?” She doesn’t push, she just … asks. Every once in awhile.

It’s very effective.

Lest poor Pam bear the brunt, I have WANTed to be writing again. A vague idea has swirled into semi-solid form, and the little pin prickles of desire, of inspiration–of guilt–have grown into claws that reach out to pull my butt back in the chair.

Those of you out there who write know what it’s like: toy with an idea, write a scene, think, daydream. Start to build. Force yourself into the chair and silence your internal critic’s voice: “This is stupid. This is crap.”

Beware the jaws that bite.

Then the half-formed beast of an idea’s claws reach out and pull you in, and you’re dropping social engagements to get another hour with your characters. You never want to leave that chair.

It’s not unlike being in love.

Last weekend I fled to a quiet place for two days of butt in chair and fingers on keyboard. It’s funny how writing begets writing in the same way that exercising exhausts you, then energizes you to exercise more. First your brain goes into a post-writing meltdown where you have nothing to say; every last spark of creativity gone, you curl into fetal position under a quilt. Lying in the dark, you start to think “what if he…” and you’re up again, fingers on keys, butt in chair.

And then you hit a bald patch, or the characters take over and drive you into a corner you can’t see a way out of, and you pout and fume and go back under the quilt, and a mental image comes to you, and up you get, and so it goes.

Perhaps it’s less love than lion taming. You don’t want to completely subdue the beast of an idea, but you can’t let it take over, either.  Partnership rather than dominance; you need it and it needs you.

I’m not sure the chair-quilt swing is a healthy lifestyle, but glory, it’s fun. When it’s going well. Or when it’s over. It’s fun the same way half-way through the marathon is fun (my running friends tell me) even though every step is pain. Sometimes it’s about the moment you’re in. Sometimes it’s about the goal you’re reaching.

But it’s always, always a thrill when those claws reach out and catch you, and you see in your mind’s eye what’s going to happen next, and you’re just waiting for the chance to put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard and hear the roar again.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Embrace the Jabberwock

  1. Know exactly what you mean. I adore the “in the zone” times when I suddenly look up and realize that the room around me is getting dark because the sun has gone down. But I often wonder why we also tend to procrastinate getting the bottom in the chair when it is something we love so much! Writers are odd.

  2. I love the way that you write about writing.

  3. serenapotter

    Well your workshop sure got me started, and I think your advice is terrific. I’m up to almost 18,000 words. Regardless of where it goes it has made me feel amazing as well as being a therapeutic experience. I couldn’t be happier. Every time I think it’s awful and I might quit I hear “Wendy” in my head….

  4. I enjoyed our hostess, Jo Anne Jones’, review of your book today. I loved reading of your experiences in Big Stone Gap.
    As a writer, I definitely relate to this blog today. Fortunately, my electrician husband keeps me grounded or I’d be writing all night.

  5. Hah! I didn’t know anyone else called it “butt in chair” time. My version is “glue my butt to the chair,” and that is exactly what is required. No laundry, no cooking, no email, no Facebook for sure. A few hours of productive writing does make a body feel good!

  6. Mimi Crosby

    A sequel to your book filled with your blogs would suit me fine! They make me smile..laugh outloud..and keep my heart singing!

  7. James Ryan

    Good idea, Mimi. And it would be called – The Little Blog Book of Big Stone Gap

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