The Pixie, the Pond and the Puzzle: Three peas of writing

Some people say that creativity is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That doesn’t sound very fun to me. My writing comes in three stages, all beginning with ‘P’ and henceforth known as the Peas. When I am writing, I am always at one of these Peas.

1.       The Pixie [1] Stage

The Pixie only comes once or twice a year. She visited recently, and I have to tell you, I am relieved she is gone [2]. I call this stage the Pixie Stage because it really feels like there is this little pixie of inspiration pulling my arm out of its socket as she drags me from idea to idea. The Pixie usually comes in Spring, although this year she came in January.

When the pixie is with me, I might have three different ideas in one short writing session. I get heaps of new ideas, and old ideas I’ve been stewing on for ages bubble to the surface, begging to be written. I’ll spew out a thousand words on one thing and then jump to another idea, write a dozen semi-coherent thoughts and then tear off to the next thing. When the Pixie has me, I absolutely do not finish anything. And forget about editing. I might write a lot, but it’s mostly rubbish. That doesn’t matter, though, because all that energy from the Pixie feeds straight into the next Pea…

2.       The Pond Stage

The Pond Stage describes most of my writing experience. The Pond shimmers at the edge of my consciousness. I picture it as an unformed patronus, or the chink in the force field in Catching Fire (the book). When I am writing, like now, I reach from the pond like you might reach for a cup of tea. It keeps me going, gives me my next sentence, my next idea. I can never grab the Pond in its entirety, or own it. I can only draw from it.

Having the shimmering Pond of unwritten writing is like having a crush on someone. Endless possibility sits within reach. Except that fantasising about a crush is pretty much pointless and potentially life-ruining (see: The Great Gatsby), whereas writing fantasies can lead to an actual object in the world that can enrich people’s lives (one hopes so, anyway).

If I didn’t have the pond, I wouldn’t write. Full stop. But I do have it, and if I don’t pay it enough attention, sometimes it nudges me, interrupts my non-writing everyday life, forces me to connect to that other place.

3.       The Puzzling [3]

It is one thing to gallop off on flights of fancy with the Pixie, or sit by the Pond steadily writing for hours, days, months. But at some point you have to ask the big question: ‘Does this make sense?!’

Are the characters consistent? Does each plotline follow a natural arc and fit into the overall plot line? Is there a big chunk of story missing? Have I left a character in the bathroom and forgotten to get her out again?

Each piece of writing is a puzzle, whether novel, memoir or blog post, and every part of it must fit neatly into the whole. The longer the piece of writing grows, the more complicated a puzzle it becomes. If I let imagination rule alone and forget to Puzzle, I find myself in a big mess. So I have to look at my piece of writing and ask myself these big questions regularly.

Puzzling happens on a totally different level to writing. One main difference is I have to take a step back and be as objective as possible; no longer immersed in the story but looking from the outside. The other difference is that Puzzling not as active as the other Peas. However many times the pixie whisks me off, or however bubbling with potentiality my pond is, I won’t produce a thing unless I pick up my pen or open that word document. But one session of asking the puzzling questions sets off a whole lot of semi-conscious puzzling that will happen while I am washing the dishes, riding my bike, going to sleep, etc.

Puzzling is also more collaborative than writing. I sometimes discuss plot, character etc with other people. When I did Nanowrimo in 2012, my friend Cheryl helped me by providing constant feedback on plot. For my YA novel, I go to The Little One with social relationship questions that my Aspie brain can’t handle.

Once the puzzling is completed, I will either know exactly what I have to do, or I will have subconsciously absorbed the solutions into the pond and they will come out the next time I sit down for a writing sesh.

Smashing the Peas

I like the fact that writing has an inherent balance between creativity and logic.

All of the Pea stages can be a massive pain. Like when the Pixie kidnaps me when I need some serious puzzling or pond time. Or the pond recedes further from my consciousness every time I sit down to write. Or I look at my inconsistent mess of a story and all logic abandons me.

The good news is, when facing the abandonment of one of the Peas, there is usually another one willing to co-operate. And if none of the stages are apparent, (a state commonly referred to as writer’s block) I can always go and do something else. Within days one or several of the Peas will be begging me to come back.

1. Hat tip to Elizabeth Gilbert for providing the pixie image.
2. Touch wood because I don’t want to send her away forever!
3. I know a puzzle is a hackneyed metaphor, but I feel the same way when I’m logically figuring out a story as when I’m working on an actual puzzle. Sometimes metaphors became clichéd because they work.

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4 thoughts on “The Pixie, the Pond and the Puzzle: Three peas of writing

  1. Ahha. I love the image of leaving a character in the bathroom. I’m thinking along the lines of Areal Zed and the Secret of Life… They’re gonna be SO GRUMPY when they are remembered!!

  2. Pingback: Things I find hard about being a (wannabe) writer | Emmeline

  3. Pingback: My writing process — blog tour | Emmeline

  4. Pingback: The wilderness that is outside the library | Emmeline

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