After a four-month absence from my work-in-progress, “Penelope’s Pot,” I started up again. This story, set in 2036, is a retelling of the Odyssey, but with Penelope at the center of the action. Instead of a stay-at-home mom, my Penelope goes across a forbidding Waste Land in search of her presumed-dead husband.
Note to self: starting over is more painful than starting a creative project. Resolved: to stay connected daily with this story, even if on some days I can only manage a 15-minute check-in.
Why a daily check-in? I know from experience that any focus and attention will keep the creative fire stoked. Some days, I spend hours. Night before last, though, I could only manage 20 minutes. Doesn’t matter. I’m not in a 10-K race; my creative engine is built for the long haul. If I check in daily, my subconscious will continue working in the background, giving me images, clues and insights.
What are the benefits of a daily check-in?
- The joy of spontaneous insights and inspirations, which contribute to the story, and make it beautiful and interesting. These sparks usually happen when I’m walking the dog or waking up in the morning, or meditating. I remember them, write them down, and then let my subconscious find a way to use them. Some of them go into the “Spark”file —for later use in another place or another story.
- When I check in on my project, serendipities occur—happy coincidences that enrich the story. For instance, I’ve been stuck on one faction of characters in “Penelope’s Pot”: the Benders. Originally, I imagined them as Waste Land bandits, in the vein of “Mad Max” movies (a series forever imprinted on my cinematic imagination). But then an idealistic streak appeared: what if the Benders sincerely believe they have a higher purpose in this dystopic landscape—to save the world from further destruction?
I knew the Benders’ lair would set in the Wasteland. After the west coast of California is destroyed by an asteroid, most of the Southwest has been abandoned and is now home to all kinds of eccentrics, outcasts, and bad guys.
And because Hombre and I once spent time in Death Valley, I researched the area, and discovered there’s supposed to be an underground city in that area. So, what if…?
Then, a couple days ago, I read an article on Minecraft and got another insight. If my story is set in 2036, the Benders, who are mostly in their 20s and 30s, grew up learning to work together by playing Minecraft online. Their idealism, combined with their creative tinkering and shared solution-solving, could be a powerful force for my story.
This process of creative evolution keeps me in the game, and helps me stay playful and motivated. I’ve done the grunt work of outlining, and character studies, etc. That gave me the framework for the story, but it’s not too exciting to plod along on the plot line. I trust that the framework is embedded in my imagination, and therefore I’m free to stay open to inspiration and insight.