Right now, I'm stuck on a project. A rather big project. I'm a bit behind on my word count because I know that there are big issues I need to fix before I move forward, otherwise I'll end up in the weeds something fierce. I have things I need to figure out, others I need to tear out and re-do, and others I just need to move and give to new characters who are still waiting in the wings (this is what happens when you are writing fantasy/historic fiction set in 5 different time periods, with, well, 'lapses' in chronology).
So I'm thinking. Lots. And reading and re-reading research stuff. And planning to learn how to play faro this weekend (it's for research, I swear). And setting up for some British Library days next week. And did I mention thinking?
Because it seems that there are two kinds of thinking about writing: the active kind and the passive kind. I'm simultaneously doing both.
The active kind is looking at what you have and making a list (on paper or in your head) of what is screwed or missing and writing doodles and notes and drawing pictures and maps and trying to figure it out. You push and pull and poke at it. You are insistent. Sometimes it works. I think of it as the 'hard work' kind of thinking, like how sitting ass in chair is the hard work of writing. It ain't fun and it ain't pretty, but it's necessary.
The passive kind of thinking is the kind that happens beneath that, when you're NOT breaking a sweat about it. And that's often the most productive kind for me. For some of us it happens when we are showering or driving or doing dishes. Or dozing, in the 'in-between', and my editor has shut the fuck up for a minute. It's when you give yourself a break and stop poking a finger in its ear (Mom! She's touching me!). And, amazingly, it works. At least, it does for me, about 90% of the time. It's when I finally come up with that thing--the idea, connection, theme, whatever--that's been eluding me.
But I believe that active thinking is necessary before passive thinking works. To use a baking metaphor (because what's not better when there is cake?), active thinking sets up the ingredients, and passive thinking is the chemical reaction that gives the cake its perfect crumb. Going hippie woo-woo with your creation is cool and all, but some direction is needed or you end up with a mess of stuff and no way to make it a cohesive story.
I did some passive thinking today about the novel I'm working on. I was just resting my eyes, I swear! And I figured some things out. Made some connections. But the poking and prodding I've done over the past several days were necessary for me to have something to work with when I was ready to cook.
Now if only there were cake.