Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:15 AM
From Teh Wikipedia:
A ruminant is any artiodactyl mammal that digests its food in two steps, first by eating the raw material and regurgitating a semi-digested form known as cud from within their first stomach, known as the rumen. The process of again chewing the cud to break down the plant matter and stimulate digestion is called ruminating. Ruminants include cattle, goats, sheep, camels, alpacas, llamas, giraffes, American Bison, European bison, yaks, water buffalo, deer, wildebeest and antelope. The suborder Ruminantia includes all those except the camels and llamas, which are Tylopoda. Ruminants also share another anatomical feature in that they all have an even number of toes.
I, my friends, am a ruminant. Not literally (though I do have an even number of toes); what I mean to say is that the process of story creation is for me a ruminative process.

I realized this yesterday. Poor Patrick was trying to have a phone conversation with me, and I kept dropping the dang ball and staring off into space. I had been thinking about an idea for a new story when the phone rang, and it was so intriguing that I couldn't keep my brain trained on the here-and-now. Chewing that tasty cud, chewing, chewing...what, honey? Did you say something?

There's a great scene in one of my favorite movies of all time, Blade Runner, in which Detective Deckard is using a computer scanner to examine a photograph for clues. It's a pretty crummy snapshot, but because Deckard takes the time to focus on different parts of the image, then enlarge and enhance those sections for clarity, he finds a crucial clue that allows him to solve the mystery before him. I realize that this technology is now used all the time as a plot device on TV shows like CSI, but believe me, back in the day (that would be 1982), this scene was unutterably cool. (It still is, in fact. Let's go pop it in the DVD player, shall we?)

Most of my story ideas come from dreams. The kernels of both novels I'm shopping around town, The Holly Place and ZF-360, were crazy, vivid nightmares, the details of which I wrote down in my Idea Journal as soon as possible after waking up. I'm the only person I know who enjoys having nightmares, by the way; all I can think about in the morning is whether the dream is a viable story idea or not.

In my experience, it usually is. Yesterday I wanted to start something new, so I went back through my Idea Journal and found a dream fragment from several years ago. The mystery and wonder of the original image grabbed me all over again, but it was only the most hazy of concepts. I methodically worked on the material--focus, enhance; focus, enhance--until details started making themselves known to me.

To work the cud, I have to get myself into an obsessive, almost trance-like state. That's when the process really starts to Flow. Of course, that's also when laundry, appointments, and family members run the risk of being ignored, because in the Flow, Time itself seems to stop and dilate. It doesn't, of course; it just seems that way, which can cause problems. Another problem is that the Flow is so delicious that it's hard to leave it behind and return to reality. It's the best drug ever.

I tell non-writers that writing is even more transporting than reading. Think of a novel that swept you away so thoroughly that you didn't hear the phone ring, didn't realize you were hungry or thirsty or exhausted, and when it ended you either wanted to cry or to start it all over again, because you loved being in that world that much. That's how writing is for me; that's why I do it.

And that is why I wrote almost not at all for the first twelve years of my mothering career. I didn't want to resent my kids for distracting me, so I gave up the cud--went pretty much cold turkey off that Flow crack--until I felt I could handle a more mature balance. Am I handling it now? I think so, but 20 years from now, my kids may tell their therapists an entirely different tale.

Now let me get back to my new story. It's called "The Summer Room," and I'm totally in love with it. Let's hope some editor feels the same way.
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16 comments:

On 3/4/08 , cablegirl said...

Blade Runner... really, do movies get better than that? Sci-Fi as a genre could have ended there for me.

Great description of your rumination process. :)

 
On 3/4/08 , strugglingwriter said...

Good luck with the new novel. :) for the Blade Runner reference.

My dreams are no help for writing ideas for me. I rarely remember them. Luckily I have an active imagination when I'm awake :)

Paul

 
On 3/4/08 , Jenna Consolo said...

ooooh! Great post! I'm so excited for you, and what I wouldn't give to spend the afternoon reading your Idea Journal!

 
On 3/4/08 , Mary said...

Natural high. Awesome.

 
On 3/4/08 , Annette Lyon said...

Idea Journals are awesome--that's where Anne of Green Gables came from: a line jotted down and then looked back on years later by LMM.

Totally agree on the rumination process (although the digestive cud image isn't the prettiest . . .). The more I think out and imagine and come back to something, the better and clearer it gets. Stephen King described it as uncovering a fossil, brushing away the dirt from what's already there and discovering the story like an archeologist.

My best rumination often happens when I'm doing something else that requires no brain power--like blow drying my hair or folding laundry. You'd think I'd dry my hair more often and stay on top of the dirty clothes. :)

Looking forward to hearing morea bout the new project!

 
On 3/4/08 , Karlene said...

Oh yes! I know that Flow. I stopped writing for a little over 20 years because I didn't want to resent my children. My baby graduates from high school next month--and I am going to become a writing maniac!

 
On 4/4/08 , anjmae said...

Speaking of cud chewing, we were at the zoo last week and after Noah asked about a goat chewing its cud, he turned to Dave and said, "Wow. They must really like that flavour!" Dontcha know.

 
On 4/4/08 , Catherine said...

What a creative introduction...I'm ruminating. :)

 
On 5/4/08 , dawn said...

Another wonderful post. As I was reading it, I could relate to that feeling of not seeing anything around me. How wonderful to have a new novel to work on. I hope it goes well.

 
On 6/4/08 , Julie Wright said...

i love your process! I never have anything good come from my dreams. They are so twisted and disturbing and nonsensical that they would never do for writing fodder. I envy you your dreams :)

 
On 6/4/08 , painted maypole said...

i'm so happy for you that you've got something you're so excited about!

 
On 6/4/08 , Candace E. Salima said...

Writers are just unique people, aren't they?

 
On 7/4/08 , rjlight said...

You are a great writer, and I am sure you will be busy with book signings in the next 5 years!

 
On 8/4/08 , sirdar said...

Sometimes I wonder what motivates someone to write a book. I see from your description why you enjoy it so much. I can relate it to something else, but not writing. Interesting about keeping that Idea Journal. I've been told to put a pad of paper beside my bed to write down what comes out of my brain first thing in the morning because your brain figures things out in the night and just lets the ideas all out in the morning when you are conscious. Never tried it. Maybe I should have.

Good luck on the existing and new book.

 
On 10/4/08 , Noble M Standing said...

AHHHHH.... Blade Runner. What an awesome book and movie, I love Sci Fi, it just makes me happy.

I also have the most interesting dreams, I'll wake up and go, WOW! and write it down. I had a nightmare in Highschool and ruminated it over for years. Now 20 years later I have taken the scene and placed it in one of my books. The imagery in my head is still so vivid.

Like Annette I get most of my inspiration when I am doing everyday redundant things, namely in the shower, BLUSH! I have a hundred year old MC that lives in there and he tells me stories when I step in.

Sounds like you and I have similar interests, do you write S/F? If so, we'll have to talk. :)

Michelle

 
On 11/4/08 , Brillig said...

Love your idea journal. I sorta started one too, just to copy you. :-) Or, you know, cuz it's a mighty fine idea.

I rarely have nightmares, but when I do, they're huge. Terrifying. I had a hideous one while I was traveling last weekend and I seriously couldn't get out of bed until Brian sat with me and talked me down from it. My nightmares only happen about once a year, thank goodness. But, you'll be so proud of me. As soon as I was coherent enough, I started thinking on that dream and wondering how I can use it, or at least the terror it brought me, in my book.

Can't wait to read your new story...