For this first post on Fictional Lessons for an All-Too-Real Life, I started with a piece I worked on for the Savvy Authors blog. It’s about how the writing process creates time warps, and how to navigate them.
As I wrote, it occurred to me that it might not be the writing process that creates time warps – it could be that time warps are simply a fact of life.
Working on my current writing projects whips my brain through time warps from the 1950’s to the present day and back. And back again. Step aboard the writing vehicle, and two seconds later, doors open on Cuba in the 1960’s, when the revolution drove parents to send their children to the U.S. without them. Step back on and two seconds later, an ashram for ex-hippies in Taos in the mid-1980’s awaits. On the next leap, I visit a planet where the locals adore the object of furniture we call a “futon,” and since time moves a lot more quickly on that planet than on Earth, it’s probably something like the year 23,465 there. And then another leap, and I’m in the same geographic place where I started, but now I need to inhabit the mind, spirit, and body of an eleven-and-a-half year old girl, for whom the time clock on childhood is running out.
But this is just like life, right? Every day we step aboard a time-travel machine. Visit your parents’ house, and you’re age twelve again. Commit to a presentation related to your work, and you can see yourself on that date, standing in front of hundreds of people, throwing up on your shoes. The best we can do is find ways to grease the gears of our time machines, to make it easier to slip back and forth through the wormholes.
As an author, I use all kinds of mechanisms for this job: music (lately I’m obsessed with the Beatles’ Let it Be album); location (some works must be written while I’m propped up on pillows on my bed, others require a relocation to the local coffee shop, where caffeine itself becomes a delightful worm hole lubricant); and reading. Getting carried away by a great story is a powerful way to travel to the time-space I need to inhabit.
But each time-travel mechanism also carries its dangers. As I wrote for Savvy Authors, they wake up the little gremlins in my head whose job it is to convince me I’m the worst writer on the planet and prevent me from moving back and forth through time.
The gremlins of fear, inadequacy, insecurity, and the one I like to call “But My Mother’s Never Even Heard Me Say That Word,” are quite skilled in blocking up wormholes. So are their cousins, the imps of procrastination and distraction, led by their king, who is known by the name “I Can’t Possibly Write Until I [Fill in the Blank].” Take a shower, get something to eat, do the dishes, lose fifteen pounds, win a Nobel prize, solve the budget crisis, change the oil in my car, do the laundry, call my mom to warn her about the words in my book she’s never heard before – whatever it is, that imp king thrives on filling up my wormholes with such obstacles.
One other kind of time warp seizes me as I work on a manuscript: the experience of visiting an earlier version of myself, the person I was when I started writing that story. It evokes memories of where I was, who I was with, what I worried about, or looked forward to, when the kernel of the story grabbed me and decided not to let go. Visiting that “earlier me” often leads me to even deeper wells of creativity. Sometimes, it makes me break down and sob.
Navigating the time-warps of writing fiction can be painful, joyful, silly, frustrating, fearful, or full of wonder. And our job is to grease the wormholes that take us to the time-spaces we need to visit, so we can write, create, share who we are with the world as we fight off the gremlins and the imps and the procrastination kings that seek to block our transport.
Come to think of it, that is just like real life.